Autistic Language or Language with Autism? A Discourse Analysis of the Preferences and Uses of Disability Language within the Dutch Autism Community
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This MA thesis adds to a relatively small body of existing research concerning autism and language by focusing on the preferences and uses of disability language by members of the Dutch autism community. The methodology of this study consisted of two major parts: a critical discourse analysis based upon Fairclough’s model (1995, 2010), and an online survey. The latter was used to find out what kind of disability language is more commonly used on Dutch medical and non-medical websites (N=6) in comparison to British medical and non-medical websites (N=6). In turn, the results showed that only instances of person-first language (PFL) were found on the Dutch websites, such as the frequently occurring phrase ‘mensen met autisme’ (people with autism). On the other hand, the British websites almost exclusively used identity-first language (IFL), like the phrase autistic people. These findings were then compared to the results from the survey. A total of 307 Dutch adults, of which 273 identified as (self-diagnosed) autistic, participated in the survey. The participants’ responses to quotes from the aforementioned Dutch websites (N=12) as well as their ratings of Dutch autism-related terms (N=10) were analyzed. In contrast to the websites, the majority of the participants preferred the use of identity-first over person-first terms, including ‘autistisch zijn’ (to be autistic) and ‘autist’ (autie). This means that there is a disconnect between the disability language preferred by members from the Dutch autism community and its use on Dutch medical and non-medical websites. However, in comparison to findings from (non-)native English-speaking autism communities (Bury et al., 2020; Kenny et al., 2015), the autistic terms that were most endorsed in the present research partially resembled those prior findings. In other words, the highest and second highest rated terms in this study, ‘autisme’ (autism) and ‘autistisch zijn’ (to be autistic), corresponded to the highest ranked terms in Kenny et al.’s (2015) and Bury et al.’s (2020) studies, respectively.