Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Don't Use The D

Originally posted August 2005

When I discover new web pages by autistic writers, I am often impressed by their pride, their candor, and their forthright assertion that they are healthy and capable human beings, entitled to respect, social acceptance, and civil rights.

But then I see the insidious "D," squatting somewhere on the page like a big potbellied toad passing a turd, and I can't help but to wince. I'm referring to the "D" in ASD, which, as anyone reading this page is no doubt aware, stands for "autism spectrum disorder."

Webster's Dictionary defines a "disorder" as "an abnormal physical or mental condition: AILMENT." It also states that the adjective "disordered" means "not functioning in a normal orderly healthy way."

I'm guessing that the majority of autistics who describe themselves as ASD are doing so because the term is in common usage, not because their actual self-image matches the above definitions. Perhaps they believe that it would be futile or confusing to try to change the prevailing terminology.

A relevant historical parallel can be found in the use of the word "Negro." That word lasted about four hundred years as a routine descriptive term for people of African descent in North America. By the mid-twentieth century, it had acquired an appalling amount of historical baggage. Some civil rights activists began to suggest that it ought to be replaced with "Black" or "African-American." Initially, most people thought they were crazy for challenging the use of a word that had become so ingrained in the American social landscape, but the activists eventually succeeded, and now the word "Negro" is never used outside the historical context.

I propose a similar campaign to do away with the word "disorder" as applied to autism. To the extent possible, just use the word "autistic." If you find it necessary to refer to the autism spectrum (and that phrase has divisive overtones, so I generally prefer not to use it) the word "condition," which is a much more neutral term, can be substituted for "disorder." If you are writing a long article in which an acronym would be useful, a parenthetical definition can be used, like this: ASC (autism spectrum condition).

Here's a homework assignment for you, gentle reader: Do a quick search of your website for any instances of "ASD" or "disorder" and replace them. (If you don't have a website, build one, or more, and I mean right now. We are engaged in a worldwide struggle for our survival as a people, and we need every voice on the Internet that we can get.)



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