Welcome to Anti-Semantism, a section of Angry Autie that tackles language use, especially as it pertains to autism. Words are very profound and powerful things. People know this in the abstract but yet continue using words imprecisely. It may seem like what I’m doing here is just nit-picking to most people but I find the way that people use words to be extremely revealing, more revealing than they may want. It is possible to call people out on bullshit based on their word-choice. I believe that a lot of problems arise from a misunderstanding in communication, which people with autism supposedly lack. In Anti-Semantism, there’ll be diatribes against certain terms, an analysis of how certain terms are used, and more. Any topic that is about language use in autism discourse will fall under the “Anti-Semantism” label.
I like to think of my autism as an incidental state of being more than anything, much like being gay or being born in November. Being autistic is a trait with which I was born and I find to be largely unalterable. If you call it, for instance, a disorder, you ascribe a characteristic onto us that is influenced by your own view of how things should be and we feel ostracized because we don’t quite fit that view of how things should be. And you also turn the impressionable sect of the population (i.e. children and people who can’t think their way out of a paper bag) against us.
Apparently, the nouns used to describe autism nowadays are words like “disorder,” which, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, actually means “a state of confusion.” You really think autism is a state of confusion? Sometimes it is but try telling me that when I’m wrapped up in my composing or writing. To me, this shows that we still haven’t come very far in autism awareness, despite some people’s pretentions. Anyone who promotes autism awareness but still calls autism a ‘disorder’ is full of shit; it should occur to anyone with a decent grasp of English that words like ‘disorder’ are actively hurtful terms in this context.
I will not argue that autism is not a disability; it certainly is in some respects and I actually don’t mind the term so much since it’s broad and includes people who face similar issues related to discrimination and misunderstanding, though I am still rather reluctant to refer to my autism as a disability. We get all sorts of freak talents that make up for our impairments such as super Dalai-Lama-like concentration, ability to notice all the little details, etc. so it’s not a disability in the full sense of the word anyway. It’s more like a Faustian pact of sorts. A disability implies an inability to do something without much compensation. A paraplegic person is considered disabled because they cannot walk. A deaf person is considered disabled because they cannot hear (though that’s complicated as well since they have ways of compensating that result in a rich deaf culture). An autistic person is disabled because… um… uh… they like trains too much and that freaks out normal people. And don’t say that we can’t communicate. Sure, some of us can’t talk but talking is only one of several methods of communicating.
We need a word that acknowledges the fundamentally alien nature (in the eyes of ‘normals’) of autism but still grants that nature equal status, like how one might acknowledge that someone from the other side of the world has a dissimilar system of values. We could say ‘different’ but it still carries a negative connotation. We could say ‘eccentric’ but that puts us on an undeserved pedestal in some minds and it’s a euphemism for ‘different’ or even ‘insane’ in other minds (though I personally blush when someone calls me ‘eccentric’). Terms like ‘neurologically different’ are the most accurate but are too much of a mouthful for regular conversation.
The already-existing term that I like the most/dislike the least is ‘condition.’ It’s the closest to my preferred description of autism as an incidental and alternative state of being. It’s very broad and neutral. Philosophers would describe a state of being as a ‘condition’ when they don’t want to go through the fuss of describing something in great detail. ‘Condition’ is a term for acceptance of things as they are whereas terms like ‘disorder’ assume a perfect potential way of being and that the agent on the receiving end of that term is incapable of reaching that perfect point. In order for this to work, however, it needs to be a two-way street; ‘neurotypical’ needs to be classified as a condition as much as autism, otherwise it would only take us so far. It would seem a little disingenuous if autism is a ‘condition’ while neurotypical doesn’t receive a label. As far as I’m concerned, everything is in a condition. There is no harmony, there is no disorder; everything just is. Understanding this is the key to true acceptance. And since autism prevalence is rising rapidly, we gotta get our acceptance game on!