In case they don’t print my letter to the editor, I decided to post it on my blog as well.
I am writing in response to the letter by Kathie Kurtz in the August 2016 issue of The Mennonite magazine.
While I appreciate the intention behind Kathie’s letter (that we should seek “to honor the humanity of those who struggle”), I disagree with her on the issue of identity-language, in which she says we should say “a person with autism” rather than an “autistic person.”
I am an Aspie (meaning I have been diagnosed with what was once called Aspergers but today is part of the rubric of Autism Spectrum Disorder) and I am proud of it. God made me this way and God doesn’t make mistakes when it comes creating the wonderful diversity of humanity.
I have of course challenges (sensory issues, communication challenges, executive functioning problems, as well as the related issues of depression and anxiety), but I also have an intense and relentless curiosity about the things I am passionate about, deep and abiding friendships with a few people and a fellowship of fellow misfits. Much of what I like about myself comes from my autism. That is why I don’t like using the language of pathology (“having autism” sounds like I have a disease) but prefer to claim and celebrate my identity. And when we think about it, all of us are bundles of strengths and weaknesses. This is just part of being human.
I am not alone in feeling this way, but I also know other autistic people who prefer “person with autism” for the same reasons that Kathie argued for it in her original letter – (see http://autisticadvocacy.org/home/about-asan/identity-first-language/ for a discussion of the controversy), so I would suggest that the best thing to do is to ask the Autistic people in our lives what they think, and then respect that.
James M. Branum
Minister of Peace & Justice
Joy Mennonite Church
Oklahoma City, OK