I have faith in people. I have watched from the sidelines on social media as my dedicated neurosiblings, backed by peer-reviewed journals, made the case for their preference of Identity First Language, only for their voices to not be considered strongly enough to result in linguistic change.
Arguing about IFL vs PFL (‘Person First Language’) is exhausting and by not having our voices heard, is a stigmatising act in itself. The efforts on social media and beyond could be considered social awareness of our autistic identities, and the responsibility that entails. MacDonald (2017) adds:
“(...) the acts of stigma may even have a greater impact on more able adults on the autism spectrum due to greater social awareness (Shtayermman 2009) or increased exposure to stigmatiz- ing experiences, such as through inclusionary practices.”
Of course the first problematic issue here is ‘more able’ as our abilities are fluid hour-to-hour, year-to-year and everything in between. For a lot of the autistic community on Twitter it feels like we are gaining no ground at all on IFL. But, by refusing to adopt IFL, are that many people being consciously harmful?
Kenny Lorcan er al’s study (2015) found similar results with IFL:
“The term ‘autistic’ was endorsed by a large percentage of autistic adults (61%), family members/friends (52%) and parents (51%) but by considerably fewer professionals (38%).”
With recent, definitive evidence to support IFL implementation, what could be causing the delay? Below I investigate the cognitive biases I believe play a part in PFL prevailing in the face of opposition.
Anchoring Bias: People are over-reliant on the first piece of information they hear. Could this explain why many health professionals eschew our call for IFL? Trained with PFL, they believe it’s the ‘right thing to do’ as that’s what they were taught. Can we improve this by improving training? The answer is complex but it certainly involves autistic people designing and delivering courses.
Availability Heuristic: People overestimate the importance of information readily available to them. Because autism is ‘new’ (it’s really not!) a lot of people focus on autistic children, who are largely spoken for by parents, who were once instructed that PFL is the most empowering option.
Groupthink: The probability of someone adopting a view greatly increases with the number of people who hold that belief. PFL has roots in healthcare and parent-led discourses. Roots are numerous and hard to dig up.
Choice Supportive Bias: Feeling positive about a choice even though it has flaws due to value on autonomy. Because so much of the movement is new and self-taught, the choices may be affected by this bias.
‘Failing to Recognise Bias’: Not acknowledging your own bias is one in its own right. It doesn’t mean your motivation and reasoning isn’t valid but again I think the autistic community should have first say here.
‘Confirmation Bias’: The belief that we only listen to information that confirms our preconceptions. On social media this is all too easy with the echo chamber effect and being able to validate resources that use PFL by sharing socially.
‘Conservatism Bias’: People favour prior evidence over new. If you’ve lived with textbooks and speech in PFL for 10-15 years, you’ll find it difficult to accept emerging stats.
‘Overconfidence Bias’: Putting too much stock in own abilities, common in experts. Take the example of a GP with 30 years experience. Their medical knowledge eclipses that of autism layperson so they overestimate the value of their input. We have all met this doctor...
‘Selective Perception Bias’: Meaning we are more likely to have our expectations influence what we are experiencing. If we are used to PFL as a ‘kind’ way of talking about autistic people, we are more likely to label IFL as unkind or ‘othering’.
‘Zero-Risk Bias’: We love certainty, even if it is wrong or counterproductive. This is the one I put most stock in. People are terrified of offending or hurting so they stick to what they know. This gives me the most faith in others and makes me more likely to overcome my biases to try to educate them about IFL.
Which terms should be used to discuss autism? Perspectives from the UK autism community. Lorcan, K et al (2015). SagePub Journal. Published online 1/7/2015. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1362361315588200. Accessed 3/10/3017 21:26.
Discriminative and Criterion Validity of the Autism Spectrum Identity Scale (ASIS).
T.A.M MacDonald. Published online: 6 July 2017
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017
https://link-springer-com.openathens-proxy.swan.ac.uk/content/pdf/10.1007/s10803-017-3221-2.pdf 3/10/17 18:42.