Language is powerful.
Language can be used to affirm value, support understanding, and celebrate individuality. The language we use matters and that’s why we wanted to break down some of our terminology, and why we use the words we use.
At Bridges Learning System, we use identity-first (“I am autistic”) language.
Autistic voices and opinions are central to what we do and who we are as an organization, and that includes respecting preferred language. While person-first language (“I am a person with autism”) was originally introduced as a way to honor the person before their neurodiversity or disability, autism is also an inherent and foundational part of many individuals’ identity. Many self-advocates and allies are empowered by and celebrate their autism through identity-first language. Of our own autistic collaborators and staff, over 85% use identity-first language. That is why we use identity-first language.
With that in mind, we promise to respect and honor the language any individual uses to identity themselves. Identity is not bound by the binary of identity-first and person-first, and, first and foremost, every person is an expert on themselves.
Additional reads on the importance of identity-first language from self-advocates:
Functioning labels are harmful.
Functioning labels, like high/low functioning, are often given upon diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, we find that functioning labels are based on ableist and neurotypical ideals of what abilities should look like and entirely discount the strengths each individual has. Instead of labeling, we encourage specifying unique needs or accommodations for each student to help us ensure that every student gets what they need.
Communication is a human right.
While not every autistic person can talk, every autistic and neurodivergent person communicates in their own way. Some may use an Augmentative and Alternative Communcation (AAC) device as a way to communicate without talking. We believe that speaking in a nontraditional way does not limit what students are able to achieve. However, words like “nonverbal” can affect how students are perceived.
Instead, we use the language, “non-traditionally speaking,” “nonspeaking,” or “alternatively communicating” for nonspeaking individuals, and “traditionally speaking” or “mouth speaker” for those who use their mouths for communication.