Milestones Autism Resources

4853 Galaxy Parkway, Suite A
Warrensville Heights, OH 44128

Phone: (216) 464-7600

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The Transition to Identity-First Language

The language used to describe individuals who have disabilities is a sensitive topic many people in the community feel passionately about. Many of us were trained to use person-first language to focus on honoring the person as a whole, rather than their disability - for example, “person with autism” or “on the autism spectrum.” Emphasizing the person rather than their disability was a way to combat a history of associating disability with hurtful stigma and treating people with disabilities as “less than” other people.

Milestones Autism Resources is dedicated to helping each person reach their unique potential, honoring their strengths and challenges. We believe in presuming competence rather than assuming limitations. This is also central to Milestones’ commitment to celebrating neurodiversity, which is part of our diversity, equity and inclusion values.

The disability community adopted the expression "Nothing about us without us" to demand that their opinions, perspectives and best interests be at the center of the issues that affect their lives - that their voices lead the way. This mantra has fueled the disability rights movement for years and it continues to be incredibly relevant today.

We have been listening to many in the autism community express their desire to use identity-first language, using “autistic,” instead of being addressed as “individuals with autism.” Milestones has heard these individuals loud and clear. Autistic individuals share with us that “Autism is intrinsically part of who I am and how I am wired. I can’t separate my autism identity and me.” Autistic individuals are proud to embrace their identity and feel strongly about identifying as such.

"Like many autistic individuals, my diagnosis is not just a medical label. It is an integral part of who I am. My autism shapes the way I interact with people and how I perceive the world through my sensory differences. I cannot imagine being a non-autistic person and I am happy to be who I am. "  - Nathan Morgan, Director of Autistic Supports, MSSA, LSW, Milestones Autism Resources and Self-advocate

Autistic self-advocates have pointed out that while person-first language is well-intentioned, using it with autism the same way we might say “person with cancer” or other diseases equates autism with a disease. If someone has cancer or another disease, we want to get rid of the disease to make the person healthy again. Autism is so intrinsically part of a person’s identity that to remove autism would change who they are. 

We feel it is important to honor the wishes of autistic individuals. After careful reflection and listening to the voices of the community we are proud to serve, Milestones has decided to implement the use of identity-first language across all organizational communications and platforms.

"Using identity-first language highlights the inextricable nature of autism: it's not something I have, or something I carry with me. It's ALL of me." - Carly Jalowiec, Self-Advocate

Milestones is proud to be a convener and connector of the entire autism community. We care about and respect the voices of all autistic individuals, family members and autism professionals. Your perspectives and insights are important to us. Milestones understands that while many will be happy with this change because it corresponds to their preference, others may feel strongly about continuing to use person-first language. 

While we have adopted a new language policy for our organization, we will continue to encourage Milestones conference speakers, partners and contributing writers to use the language they prefer when contributing to or participating in the work of our organization. Just like with the movement for using preferred pronouns, whatever way you want to be referred to, we will use that when describing you or sharing your content or presentations. 

As language preferences evolve, we know it can be uncomfortable to make changes, and mistakes may be made along the way. If you’re not sure what language to use, ask the people in your life that this affects. Ask the autistic individuals you love, support or work with to learn about their preferences and how you can make them feel as comfortable as possible. 

To establish and maintain a supportive, inclusive community, we must never stop listening, learning and evolving together. These conversations and changes are important, and we thank you all for doing your part in welcoming this progress. 

Additional Resources 

Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) Language Policy

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