Here’s the thing about being a professional who works with people in any kind of health or social care job:
We go through years and years of training. We are constantly urged to update our knowledge and skills. We amass knowledge in the hope it will service our clients well and ultimately we are driven by a strong desire to help people to improve their lives. We are often highly qualified, overworked and underpaid and I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone who’s in it for the money.
But that does not make us unchallengeable “experts.” And it is dangerous for us to pretend that we have a more valid understanding of our client’s experiences than they have themselves.
If you look at the history of this sector, you can see that we’ve come a long way in a short time. It’s not that long ago that a lot more people were confined to asylums for no real reason. It’s not that long ago that people were put through countless painful operations in order to “improve” their physical disabilities, with no real consideration given to the person’s wishes. It’s still legal in most countries (everywhere except Malta) to operate on an intersex child without parental permission. Even in the early days of medicine, doctors set themselves up as “experts” and a lot of unsafe practice went unchallenged for decades as a result.
This sector has a dark history of abuse and the best professionals work with an awareness of this and a desire to avoid repeating those mistakes. Which means putting the clients’s experiences at the heart of everything, because when things are forced on people without their wishes being considered, that’s when it becomes abusive. You cannot work effectively with a person if you let your view of their situation override their own. My qualifications do not take precedence over first-hand experience.
Like a lot of allistic professionals, I was taught that “person with autism” is a preferable label to “autistic person.” To some extent, I can see there was good intent behind this. However, out of the classroom, most autistic people I’ve encountered disagree. So I have to defer to them, and if it’s uncomfortable to apply the same rule to everyone on the spectrum, I can simply ask people what they prefer. For me to presume that my classroom learning has more validity than the experiences of autistic people would be dangerously arrogant.
I’m not claiming to be the perfect professional or anything, but I am highly shocked when I see professionals on tumblr claiming that their professional knowledge is more legit than knowledge than comes from first-hand experiences. First of all, it’s highly unprofessional for you to be arguing about this in ALL CAPS WRITING on a social network. Secondly, all professionals have to be open to challenge. If an autistic person challenges you on your person-first language, hostility is a completely inappropriate reaction. As a professional, you have obligations that continue after you finish work for the evening. Respecting other people is the most basic one.