Identity-first language, in relation to autism, or any other lifelong neurodivergence, means that it is viewed as being integral to our identity. It’s a positive declaration of who we are.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand the difference between this and the alternative – person-first language – is to read these two sentences:

Identity-first language: I am autistic/I am an autistic person – this is choosing to put our identity as an autistic before our identity as a human being (the latter of which I think we hope is a given!). I am an ADHDer, I am dyslexic.

Person-first language: I have autism – this puts us, the person, first and goes on to describe the ‘condition’ that we have. I have ADHD, I have dyslexia.

I personally choose to say that I am autistic, I’m an ADHDer, hence I’m an auDHDer! It’s snappy, it’s memorable, I’m proud of it, and I always smile when I say it, unless I’m making a complaint relevant to my needs.

I remember speaking to an autistic person at my wonderful anxiety group. I really felt we understood each other (I was yet to have the grand reveal of my autistic diagnosis at that point). I said, “What is it you have again?”. I made it sound like she had a terrible disease that she was trying to recover from. I still cringe about that, though we do now have a friendship as a result of me daring to approach her!

And this is the concern with person-first language, there is a danger that it continues to portray autism as a disorder, rather than simply our neurotype.

In the UK, identity-first language is more commonly preferred by autistic people and less commonly preferred by medical professionals, though this is by no means the rule. Some autistic people don’t like to think that autism defines us, so we consider that we are people, who also have autism. It really is a matter of personal choice as to which you prefer.

The most important thing here is that you feel comfortable with the language you choose to use, because you’ll probably be saying it quite a lot!