Why Language is Important to me as an Autistic

“Why Language is Important to me as an Autistic” has come up many times for me to writing a blog and a book. This leads me to what I really wanted: to help change the thoughts and perceptions around the disability community. This is done by focusing on how language is used to describe individuals and the community. Changing one’s language is not enough to make genuine change for racism, homophobia, ableism, etc. Language is a good place to start though in one’s journey in understanding in the meaning behind the words.
When lending perspective, and educating others about language, we can start change how marginalized groups are treated and viewed. This will lead to true change. Individuals who want to make this transformation can do so because shifts start at an individual level. There are many disabled advocates who have produced books, blogs, vlogs, and podcasts that talk about this issue.

Why Language is Important to me as an Autistic

Why Language is Important to me as an Autistic

Language is so important; it is more than just syllables. Words, they have power and influence and when strung together, language makes people think. One may ask, how are they are just words? Let’s break this down a bit. My area that I have done a thorough analysis on and have lived experience is disability. Words and language have been used to dehumanize marginalized groups and the disability community did not escape this. Ableism is an over-arching concept around disability and discrimination. The continued usage of horrific words and euphemisms haunts every group of the disability community differently because, as we know, no marginalized group is a monolith. I would even argue within a subsection can be unique as well.

Language and the power of it

Back to Language and the power of it, words and phrases have been used to dehumanize disabled individuals as less than the neurotypical individual With this dehumanization firmly implanted in society, horrific acts have been allowed to happen to the disability community. For instance, take the medical labels ‘idiot’, ‘moron’ and ‘imbecilic’–these are medical relics of the past. These are no longer medical diagnosis used after the American Eugenics movement popularized them. This made the case easier for Nazis in the Holocaust to remove individuals with such labels. For instance, the experiments in the T4 program (Tiergartenstrasse 4) and under the Nazi regime this included infants to seniors. The sad thing is you still hear ‘idiot’ and ‘moron’ almost daily to describe others or even using these words to describe ourselves without knowing its horrific beginnings and corrupted use.

The Reality of Disability Language

Please do not pretend or think this is a thing of the past. Dehumanizing language and the horrific treatment of the Disabled and Mentally ill is still a thing of today. There is even a split within the Disability Community of whether people should identify using person first or the other option of identity first. Personally, I use identity first as I am Autistic you cannot separate it from me, it’s not beside me and follows me like a little dog. In my writing, I use both identity and person first when speaking about the community.
When I started my education back in 2002, this concept was laid out with authority, thus being drilled into my head to use the person first concept. However, times have changed. A good rule when talking with a person who has a disability is to first always start by using their name and then ask their preference on if they prefer identity first or person first because it is not unanimous. Even within the Autistic community, with the majority of Autistic individuals using identity first, some will still use the person first concept.

To Note

The Disability Community may be one of the few communities that family members/ parents and professionals get a say on how we label ourselves and even speak on our behalf. I have not quite figured out this reason. I used to do this as I followed the norm of the community with my younger sister who has an Intellectual delay, then I realized that this was wrong. Now I say that I am amplifying her voice for what she wants and needs when others do not understand what she is asking for.

Ableist language is so prevalent, one only needs to look at a television or social media and find that disabled individuals are objects of pity or charity. Even on the evening news, anchors will use the word “crazy” which really has taken on a life of its own. Or that shows and the news portray individuals with disabilities having to overcome a tragic and disabling condition. Or, conversely, presented as superheroes for doing typical daily living activities. My yuck is when the prom king asks (insert disabled person here) to the prom there is a name for this action the late Stella Young gave a TED Talk (Link below) where she called this “inspiration porn”.

The Euphemisms

Let’s talk about some euphemisms like: “differently abled”, “special abilities”, “handi-cappable”, “special needs”, and “differently abled”. These words just need to be forgotten. Based on my research, it is my understanding that the Disability Community did not make these words. These euphemisms are not for the community. Or saying something like “the only disability is a poor attitude”. This statement may sound great, but it really it devalues and belittles the disabled person’s experience. A “good attitude” will not change the fact that a wheelchair user cannot get in one’s building/ restaurant because of the lack of a ramp and accessibility aka stairs everywhere. Seniors who use walkers probably will have issues at well.
My change in attitude will not change the fact that certain smells make me sick and give me a headache or a migraine. I do not speak for the entire Disability Community; however, these words are not what we use in Disability Justice. I will not change my language to make another more comfortable with the truth. Especially if that person does not have a disability. Disabled/disability is not a dirty word. They have their place.

My reality

This is my daily reality, and I may have sounded harsh. I have said that I had a disability, and someone commented that I must be stupid. I hold 3 degrees, one being a Masters. Also, I stated I am an Autistic Person and I have actually had someone correct me saying I am someone with Autism. This person was a psychologist. Now I ask in what other marginalized groups will they be told how to label themselves? This comes back to language and how we, as disabled people, are viewed in the world. Now some may write this off as being “woke” or being politically correct, it’s not this. It is treating every human being with value and respect and their value is not determined by what they can produce but by who they are themselves.

Holocaust & Genocide Website

Stella Young’s Ted Talk

Changing the language and euphemisms

Changing Intellectual Delay Language

Euphemisms to Change

  • You belong on the short-bus or that is short bus material
  • Like a 4 year old in a 40 year old body
  • I’m such an idiot, that was really dumb
  • Oh duh, I’m an idiot, sorry that was so dumb
  • I swear like I am r*****
  • You are so r****
  • They area total moron
  • This class is so stupid
  • This song its so r**

Labels to Retire

  • Mental R*****
  • Anything to do with R***
    • ex. Libtard, F***tard
  • Mentally Handicapped
  • Mentally Defective
  • Mentally Challenged
  • Imbecile/Idiot/Idiotic
  • Dumb
  • Moron/Moronic
  • Mouth Breather (Uniformed)

The Why to Change ones language

  • There is No non-ableist way to insult someone’s language.
  • Replacing words like “r*” or “idiot” as insults replacing with synonyms still preserves the harm to the disabled people & community.
  • All people over 18-years old who need help with decisions and they are still adults and need to be treated with dignity and spoken to as any other adult.
  • Imbecile is an ableist term and cannot be changed to be non-ableist. Imbecile classist term as well as it was used in the early to mid 1900s to justify institutionalizing and sterilizing young women who were poor or consider having low IQ’s.
  • Idiot, moron and imbecilic are relics of the past. These words are no longer in use by the medical world after the American Eugenics movement popularized them. This made the case easier for Nazi’s in the Holocaust to remove individuals with such labels.

What to use instead of Euphemisms

  • First address a person by their name or use the following….
  • Person with an intellectual disability
  • Person with a cognitive disability
  • Intellectual Disability
    *IDD-Intellectual & Developmental Delay
  • Uniformed
  • Reckless
  • Impulsive
  • Ignorant
  • Tacky
  • What were you thinking?
  • What the hell were you thinking?
  • Risk-Taking
  • Feckless
  • Narrow Minded
  • Frustrating(ed)
  • Annoying
  • Irritating
  • Obnoxious
  • Uh yeah that makes total sense now that Im thinking of it
Book Reviews

Highway of Tears Book Review

By: Jessica McDiarmid Published 2019

The Highway of Tears

This book is a journalist take on one aspect in the legacy of Indian Residential Schools. The main part of the book deals with the brutal truth of British Columbia’s systemic issues, which have affects the main public systems. Which has leads to a culture of indifference and what the author stated Indigenous women are over-policed yet under protected. The different takes on how when Indigenous Girls and Women went missing and the reaction of the community when others go missing. The book also gives a glimpse of the family’s loss and their fight for justice.

The Target audience for Highway of Tears

This book is a nonfiction reader and really any other reader who want to understand the second Genocide that Canada has pushed on the Indigenous peoples.

Genres (categories):

nonfiction/ crime/ history/ true crime/ challenging/ informative/ Race (Indigenous) /reflective /medium-paced (audio)

                I know about the Missing and Murdered Women, Girls, and 2-Spirit People (MMIWG2S+) more abstractly for some time. However, this book gave names and pictures to the individuals’ and their family’s stories. Specifically, along a stretch of road dubbed the Highway of Tears, this is a small snippet in the overall issue MMIWG2S+ that the main report has a supplementary legal analysis that made a case for MMIWG being a genocide.

The book shows how systemically deep that the MMIWG2S+ is part of the genocide of the Indigenous people of Canada that has not ceased. Jessica was blunt and did not fluffy the events or the responses in the book. Showing a side of the victims that needed to be shown many times over till we as Canadian society humanizes Indigenous women. Jessica shows this when she talks about Tamara Chipman and her love for her grandfather, Jack, who was a heavy-duty mechanic. Tamara was “nicknamed Jack’s shadow. She spent hours with him in the shop, playing, chatting, helping as he worked on big machines. They went everywhere together.” Page 148.


The Author

The author supports one of the main points of the book with family’s accounts of their loved ones. Also corroborated with the newspaper articles that were printed or not written around that time that the teenagers and women went missing. The author also spoke with private investigators and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers that were involved with the missing women and teenagers on the highway of tears. The facts are relevant as up to the time of publishing this non-fiction book, as many of the teens and women who went missing the cases are still open investigations. The book is as relevant as it can be.

The author, who is also a journalist she relied on recollections of people who were involved in the missing teenagers and women’s lives. When one finishes reading the book, one may understand this book discusses traumatic events that can be directly linked to the horrific atrocities that occurred at the Indian Residential schools that were throughout Canada.

 My Opinion  

This book changed me in that we, as settlers, need to do so much more than we are doing now. Reading this book, it emotionally moved me to tears and anger. I will not go into this as it will give away part of the book. The book was mostly chronological; however, the author did some jumping around with each individual’s story. It was hard to follow. Especially to tell the stories that society has forgotten and, in the author’s words, “not nearly enough people gave a damn when these girls and women went missing. We did not protect them. We failed them.” page 7.

                There is no such thing as a perfect book in saying that I believe the author put out the best she with a topic that was a nightmare for every family went through. Then relieved while telling the story. As this is a true crime book that is putting forth the continued genocides of Indigenous communities, specifically MMIWG2S+. So, I agree with the author’s thesis enough was not being done. I am not exactly sure what has changed to ensure girls do not encounter these same situations just trying to live their lives.


I would recommend this book to others who want to understand about the current reasons there is more “Indigenous children in the welfare system than at the height of residential schools. In fact, the system has been called a second generation of residential schools” page 229. This is a tough book, but if you do not take the time to understand the history of one’s country, what will stop it from being repeated?

Other books I would recommend—I have read all 4  

  1. 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality By Bob Joseph
  2. The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America By Thomas King
  3. Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City By Tanya Talaga
  4. Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance By Jesse Wente

Language note:

*There is a quote the author used in the book that used Schizophrenia as a descriptor: “This dichotomy setup of a problem of organizational schizophrenia, a state which …” page 116.

*On Page 139, the author even brought up the ramifications of language. Many of the “victims (were referred to in the articles) as “young women” … the victims, their respective ages, were sixteen, twelve, fourteen, and fifteen.” I agree with the authors take on this as children are innocent victims and then receive more public concern. However, when you say the victim is a woman, it “unintentionally … tendency in our society to judge victims rather than perpetrators, to find reasons not to care.” 

Other Resources



Welcome! My name is Shelley Nearing, and I am so happy to share a little of my journey with you in the hopes you will find common ground. I have spent my life as a disability activist while also being disabled myself. Like many in the community, I want to reach out and find moments of intersectionality and common fights with others. I’m just beginning the journey to root out ableism in our community.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself.

When my sister was born, a complication robbed her brain of oxygen which resulted in a lifetime of developmental disability and hearing impairment. Growing up around a high-support-needs person gave me a unique viewpoint. My sister enriched the lives of those she touched. I watched her be dismissed again and again because of her differences. I realized then what I wanted to do.

My path into disability activism started at 19 when I became a Community Support Worker. I spent my adult life working for the compassionate treatment of all people regardless of their “category”. With a Master of Disability and Community Studies (MDCS) in Disability Studies and 20 years working for equity in Calgary and the surrounding community, I am ready to bring share my knowledge from being on the front lines of activism with my education and passion for reaching a larger audience. Hint: that could be you! See more about my education and experience here (link resume)

I felt Different

From the time I was small, I knew that I experienced the world differently than my peers. It took nearly my whole life to find out exactly why. Perhaps because of a lifetime of feeling different than others, I have always been drawn to those whose lives are made harder because of our shared values about what it means to be normal and useful. What I found is an amazingly supportive group of people who enrich the diversity of humanity by their very existence. Whose abilities may not be “useful”, but they certainly are wonderful.

During my diagnosis (after successive misdiagnoses) as autistic, everything in my experience clicked. I wasn’t broken; I was just one of many who experienced the world differently than the norm. If you want to hear more about my story, the tricks I use to navigate the world as an autistic woman, follow me here on my blog, or on Twitter link. If you would like to talk to me about a speaking engagement or how to be a better ally to the disability community, I am always available via email(link) or just send me a note using the contact form.

Let’s get started!



Why Create this Blog?!


The reason for this website is that language plays a large role in all marginalized groups. I am a multi-neurodivergent individual who also has moderate to extreme anxiety; specifically, I have social and general anxiety and panic. When inching towards burnout, depression starts. Since I am a settler, disability is where my experience is at so I have taken it upon myself to do a thorough investigation of outdated words so I can clean up my language. This quote by Maya Angelou made so much sense to me, “do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

A little history…

Attending kindergarten to grade 12 in the 1980 and 1990s in a conservative province, my understanding of Canada’s and the world’s history was unfortunately one sided and whitewashed. When I started college in 2001, an introduction to political science course introduced me to a new genre of books, Nonfiction. I know I was being tested for a learning disability that was missed before beginning college, however the shock of the mental illness part took many years to accept and understand. However, there was always that was missing for me. In September of 2002, I started my education in Disability Studies.

I did not know that the road I embarked on would take 13 years to finish, but it was worth it. During that time, I worked with people that had a variety of disabilities and support needs. I continued to work in the field while I completed courses towards a diploma to a bachelor’s and finally a master’s degree. I always kept myself grounded by working the front line. Only once did I become a supervisor. I quickly realized that I did not really like being a supervisor. The paperwork was not a problem, but the people were.

Standing still zone…

Fast forward to 2015 when Trump announced his intentions to run for President of the United States, which had me yelling at the television. Once he won, I decided I could no longer just be an armchair politician. That yelling at the television would not change one thing, as the televisions do not answer when you yell at them or so we hope. I didn’t know what to do to volunteer, but I knew I had to do something. This is when I also got back into reading, specifically nonfiction books on anti-oppression. I had a colleague who I knew previously was running the Amnesty International Canada local Chapter. They needed a bit of help, and I did not know where I wanted to start, so it was perfect.

New Chapter…

I started attending regular meetings in October 2016. I volunteered with Amnesty International Canada Chapter until 2020. During that time, I had a few roles and then became a national field worker. I learned so much from the other volunteers who were from all over the country and had a wealth of knowledge and experience in the human rights area. The biggest take away was toward particular volunteers who pushed (more nudged me along) to see I may actually be autistic through many conversations. My time at Amnesty showed me what areas I wanted to spend my time volunteering in and what areas I did not. I found that I really wanted to focus on disability.

I was not one hundred percent sure where I wanted to be. What I found at Amnesty was that they have so many pokers in too many fires. I could not keep up with all the information, and when asked by someone when I was at an event, this would cause great anxiety. So, some events pushed me to go more local and grass roots. Michelle Robinson (@N8V_Calgarian), my informal mentor, put a call out for volunteers in 2020 and I have been with the Reconciliation Action group since then.

Growing Lists

For about two years, there has been a collection of lists and words, micro-aggressions and stereotypes growing on the computer and in a notebook with not exactly a purpose. I had ideas but little direction or a why, with many conversations with friends and my partner. I always seemed to want to partner with another person or group.

In a conversation with Michelle, she stated, “do your own thing, make a website..” There was also a thought of a PHD. After long consideration and debates with family and my partner and being out of post-secondary since 2013 and liking the lifestyle that I had, writing a book, and starting a blog is where I put my efforts. A thorough analysis on YouTube about the writing community was in progress.


Words have power and language, and phrases make one think. I want to do my part to help educate people who want to learn about disability and other dehumanizing language to change their vocabulary. This blog is not for being politically correct or what the right wing says is “woke”. I am working on this blog to change attitudes and stigmas towards the Disability Community, with the goal of treating people better. I was a part of the Disability community from an early age and sadly have seen little change.

When we work on ableism, we can work on all other “isms”. To fight alongside all other marginalized groups because ableism is so tied up with racism and hate toward the Queer Community, so helping other groups which Disabled people belong to also is fighting against ableism as well. I am not here to shame anyone; that is not what this blog is. It is here simply to educate and provide an alternative to common euphemisms that are used against the disability community. I am speaking from my point of view and from my research.

The Disability Community is a very diverse, unique community… we are not a monolith. This is my experience. This blog does not speak for the whole disability community, nor could one person or blog ever do this. I speak as a disabled person, a sister to a developmentally delayed sister with higher support needs and as a worker who has worked in the field for 20 years with three degrees. I have a different perspective, but it is not the only one.