Monday, June 24, 2013

Call it What it Is

There's a lot of talk around the blogosphere about the word.  So many people are divided by it.

"Person-first language" they say.

"He's a person, he's not autistic."

"Ryan has autism," they say, "it does not have him."

Well, if you'd been outside our church service yesterday when I merely told him to go straight to the van instead of playing on the hill, you'd feel differently.

I've read about the debate from different angles, and I can see the reasoning in both sides.  After careful consideration, here's what I think.

He's Ryan.  He's autistic.  He's also silly.  He's caring.  He's blue-eyed, brown-haired, and he's a native Texan.

All those things describe him, including autistic.

You can use any word to hurt.  With the right spin, motivation, and heart behind it, so many words can hurt.  I'm not going to say that someone saying the word "autistic" never shot to my heart.  But it's not the word, in retrospect, that hurt.  It's the feeling, the intent, behind it.

If used as a descriptor to make fun of anyone's behavior, "autistic" stings.  That's my boy you're using to make fun of another person, and it's not cool in this mama's book.

If used to identify me, Ryan, my husband... well, it's the truth, right?  Again, the heart behind it can hurt, but when you just want to know if I'm the mom of the autistic boy in a group of kids, why yes, I am.

And that's okay.

"Autistic" is a word that, with other forms, has been a key to unlocking Ryan.  It's been the ticket to services we need.  It has helped us understand him, relate to him, and learn to love him in a meaningful way.

If you know a friend who is bothered by this, by all means respect that this hurts them and use language they deem appropriate.  But from this family to anyone who would like to talk to us, ask questions of us, go ahead.  He's autistic.  It's not the word that hurts.  It's watching him struggle.  And if you want to know more about him, that's unlocking your understanding and awareness of him and others like him, and I would not slam that door in your face for the sake of terminology.

There are times that autism is an albatross.  There are other times that we look at him and thank the Lord for bringing us into this, because honestly we're better people for it.  Do we wish he didn't struggle?  Yes.  Absolutely.  But autism... being autistic... is not like having a cold.  It's not going away.  It explains his behaviors.  It's part of who he is, whether I like it... whether advocacy groups like it... or not.  And with all the stress in my life, in his life, and the life of our family as a whole, I just don't think fretting over terminology helps.  The word and so many other things, like choices between therapies, diets, and the like just further divide a community that so desperately needs itself for support and encouragement and empathy.

So if you talk to us on a regular basis and you've heard that "autistic" might be offensive, we're one less family to be concerned about as far as that goes.  We're quite proud of our Ryan, autistic and all.  Go ahead and say it, it's cool.  Because that may be the key to you seeing Ryan beyond autistic, too... and he's far too awesome to keep to ourselves.

Thanks be to God for our all our kids, the brother and sister of the autistic boy and the autistic boy himself.  And for all of you who choose to take a step into our world.

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