I remember once being told by another professional “Yes, but you can’t use the word autism.”
We were discussing a child who was having a lot of difficulties at school and their parents were really struggling with understanding their child at home.
The child had autism, okay so I am not a diagnostician, but I would certainly be willing to bet my next mortgage payment on the fact that they were neurodivergent. I had written a report for their parents explaining that certain strategies commonly helpful to people with autism might be useful for them to adopt at home. I was shocked by the venom in the response of my colleague.
Why couldn’t I use the word autism?
The ferocity with which they said it made me feel as if they thought I was insulting the child. They saw offence in the word.
I am autistic. I was deeply saddened by their response and it made me wonder how many professionals are spotting the signs of autism early on in a child’s life but not saying so for fear of using this ‘dirty’ word!
Research shows across the board that with regards to the identification of a learning disability or a neurodivergent condition, the sooner they are spotted, the better the long-term outcomes for the child. If we hold the child’s best interests at heart, then we should all be working to ensure that the early signs are noted. We should work in a world when I can say “I think they are autistic” and if it turns out in a few months’ time that I am clearly wrong, then it is no big deal, no one has minded that word being used in association with that child, the relevant investigations have been done and we move on.
If we act like “autism” or indeed any other condition-associated word is something only to be spoken of in hushed tones, then we all dance around information that would be useful to that child.
Identification of a difference or disability means that support can be put in place that is relevant to your needs, it means teaching strategies can be adopted that match your ways of learning, it means that you can be wholly known and understood for who you are; not misunderstood and judged for something you are not.
People say they are against “labels” but in saying this, they once again reveal their own prejudice towards these conditions. I am female, white, middle-aged, brown-haired, brown-eyed, English, a mother, a daughter, and so on and so on. If you use any of these descriptors in association with me, I won’t be offended. I won’t jump on your back for “labelling” me. Likewise, if you call me autistic, I will take it in the same way as any of these, it is simply a description of me.
We use the term “label” to refer to a descriptive term to which prejudice has been attached.
If I were a child today, I would want to have my diagnosis as early as possible. For me, it would make little difference to my success at school, I was always quiet and focused. I was not a problem to my teachers. Like many autistic women I was a problem to myself. Knowing why I was different would have helped me not to feel bad about being so. I would have loved to have received help making friends, something that I was not able to do for myself until my twenties.
If we were a little less afraid of our own prejudice and spoke more freely and acceptingly about neurological differences and disabilities, perhaps we would create education environments where understanding and acceptance blossomed.
If you want to learn more about autism, or refresh your existing knowledge, why not take a look at our eLearning CPD course “Autism Awareness” here: bit.ly/cpd-autism
About the author
Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects.
Consistently rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted, Joanna has taught in mainstream and special-school settings, connecting with pupils of all ages and abilities. To inform her work, Joanna draws on her own experience from her private and professional life as well as taking in all the information she can from the research archives. Joanna’s private life includes family members with disabilities and neurodivergent conditions and time spent as a registered foster carer for children with profound disabilities.
Joanna has published four practitioner books: "Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic", “Sensory Stories for Children and Teens”, “Sensory-Being for Sensory Beings” and “Sharing Sensory Stories and Conversations with People with Dementia”. and two inclusive sensory story children’s books: “Voyage to Arghan” and “Ernest and I”.
Joanna is a big fan of social media and is always happy to connect with people via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.