In a random Facebook post the other day, I stumbled across a phrase that *figuratively* sent me into a tail spin.

Instead of saying “I was diagnosed with autism” (emphasis mine), it said “I was identified as autistic”. That blew my mind.

Think about that for a minute. The word ‘diagnosis’ seems to carry connotations of ‘disease’ and ‘disorder’. That there is something wrong. Something to be fixed. Cured.

To many in the autism community, autism is NOT something to be cured. It is not a disease. It is an intrinsic part of who they are, or who their loved one is. So why do we refer to it as “being diagnosed”?

Now, to be fair, autism is included in the DSM-V as a diagnosis and in the medical and insurance fields it is also referred to as such. This is by necessity, to some extent, as funding for services is often tied to that diagnosis. And it is, after all, called Autism Spectrum Disorder.

But in everyday, idiomatic speech? Why not refer to Simon and George as being identified as being autistic? After all, they’ve been autistic their entire lives, right? It wasn’t until they were two that they were identified as being on the spectrum. That’s a huge breakthrough for me.

(I also want to note that homosexuality also used to be a diagnosis in the DSM. Of course, we now understand that being gay is not an illness or disorder, but is, in fact, just part of who a person is. Maybe someday, autism will also no longer be marked as a disorder.)

There is also the question of are they autistic or do they have autism? Do you see the difference?

People choose to identify differently for different reasons. Some people use “has autism” because they feel that they (or their loved one) are such much more than autism, much like a person with diabetes is so much more than that. Others, including a large number of autistic adults, prefer “I am autistic” or “S/he is autistic”, because it’s an integral part of who they are.  Others prefer “on the spectrum”, although I have found that can be problematic when talking to people who aren’t familiar with that phrase (or familiar with autism at all) and ask ‘what spectrum’ and then you’re back at square one. Other people don’t talk about autism at all in daily conversations.

Personally, I often switch between “Simon is autistic”, “Simon has autism”, or “Simon is on the spectrum” (when talking to educators and medical personnel), depending on who I’m talking to.

But, in reality, autism is not something Simon (or George) HAS. It’s part of who they are.

So, yeah. My boys weren’t diagnosed with autism  They were identified as being autistic.

It’s a world of difference. Semantics can be funny things sometimes.


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