Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Autistic or Person With Autism?

A Wrongplanet member by the name of tetris recently performed a survey asking autistic people a few questions about how they preferred to be described. The results are posted here, but I'll also describe them here, and compare them with the only similar study I have found, this UK study.

Tetris had 321 respondents and four questions, with each question being responded to by 318-320 people. Only a small proportion skipped any questions.

The first question was 'Do you prefer Autistic or person with autism?' In response, 292 people (91.82%) said they preferred 'autistic'. Only 26 people (8.18%) preferred 'person with autism'.

The second question asked 'Do you mind if people use person with autism? (When it is maybe used interchangeably with autistic, this is not necessarily when it is insisted upon)' In response, 101 people (31.56%) said they would mind, and 219 people (68.44%) said they would mind.

The wording of this second question is a bit confusing to me. I had to do a double-take and read it over carefully, because in my experience, people sometimes answer 'do you mind?' questions in either direction (yes = 'you can do it' or yes = 'you shouldn't do it'). If others were similarly confused, it might make the results of this question unreliable. However, the results of this question do line up well with questions 1 and 3, so it might not be a major issue.

The third question asked 'Do you like it if people insist it should be person with autism?' This question, like the first one, got an overwhelmingly consistent response - 7 people (2.19%) said they liked it, 62 (19.38%) didn't care and 251 people (78.44%) disliked this.

It's interesting to note that, if we assume all those who disliked insistence on 'person with autism' self-described as 'autistic', that still leaves13.38% who use 'autistic' but don't mind others insisting on 'person with autism'. I wonder if these people have only a slight preference for 'autistic' over 'person with autism', and are happy using either term to describe themselves?

The fourth question addressed a different aspect of autism labeling - it asked 'Do you agree with functioning levels/labels? (LFA, HFA)'. In response, 52 people (16.25%) agreed with those labels, 56 people (17.50%) didn't care, and 212 people (66.25%) did not agree with those labels.

The UK study, meanwhile, asked people to tick off multiple labels from a list to indicate which ones they find acceptable for discussing autism. They studied autistic people, family members and professionals, but I will only discuss the results for autistic people. Note that they did not ask which the autistic people used to describe themselves, but more generally what they'd use to describe any autistic people.

To compare with tetris' first question, the UK study also found that 'autistic' was preferred over 'person with autism', but this preference was less pronounced - around 25% endorsed 'person with autism' and 60% endorsed 'autistic'.

Partly, this difference may be due to people being allowed to choose multiple options - so a person who finds both 'autistic' and 'person with autism' acceptable may have chosen both in the UK study, but would have had to choose between the two in tetris' study. This could explain the increased acceptance of 'person with autism' in the UK study, but it doesn't explain the reduced acceptance of 'autistic'.

However, the UK study also had 'autistic person' as an option (endorsed by 35%). It's possible that some people might be OK with being called 'an autistic person' but not with being called 'an autistic' (ie, they're OK with 'autistic' as an adjective but not a noun). The fact that these were two separate options in the UK study might have led people to see the 'autistic' option as implying use of that word as a noun, whereas the way tetris' first question is framed doesn't clearly imply either use. If we assume that everyone who chose 'autistic person' left 'autistic' unchecked, then the two together would make up 95% of the sample, similar to tetris' sample.

With regards to tetris' second question, the UK study found 25% endorsing 'person with autism', while tetris found that 31.56% did not mind if 'person with autism' was used. This similar percentage could imply that both questions are primarily tapping those individuals who use both terms interchangeably - probably preferring 'autistic', judging from tetris' question 1, but not strongly preferring that term.

The UK study did not have an equivalent to tetris' third question. But with regards to tetris' fourth question, the UK study did include 'high functioning autism' and 'low functioning autism' in their list of options. Approximately 30% of autistic respondents endorsed 'high functioning autism', while only around 5% endorsed 'low functioning autism'. This leaves 65-70% who did not endorse either term, lining up very well with the 66% in tetris' sample who did not agree with functioning labels. It is interesting, though, to consider that a substantial proportion of the UK sample were apparently OK with 'high functioning autism' but not 'low functioning autism'. I wonder what term(s) they'd prefer for the non-HFA individuals?

In any case, both studies agree on one important point - most autistic people prefer being called 'autistic people' rather than 'people with autism'. Although both studies found a few who preferred 'person with autism', over half of each sample endorsed 'autistic' or 'autistic person'

So which shows more respect - to use a phrase deemed by non-autistic people as 'respectful', or to describe people the way the want to be described?

Friday, February 05, 2016

Evolution is Not Incompatible With Religion, Part 1 - Why Literalism Is Wrong

I'm getting really sick of Creationists. And the thing that especially bothers me is how they equate creationism with Christianity and evolution with Atheism.

Well, there are plenty of Christians who believe in evolution, my own parents included. You don't have to hide your head in the sand and ignore the overwhelming evidence in favour of evolution, just to keep your belief in God. You can instead see evolution as the tool that God used to make all life, including us.

A related idea is the idea of taking the Bible literally, thinking every bit of it is the literal word of God. Which is quite frankly ridiculous, given the history of the Bible and its' stories.

When I was a kid, at some sort of summer camp (might have been Girl Guides, I can't remember), one of the camp leaders led us in a game called 'telephone'. In that game, the kids sit in a row, and the teacher hands the first kid in line a note. The kid reads the note and whispers what it says, word for word, in the ear of the kid beside him or her. Each kid down the line then whispers the message to the next kid, doing their best to copy it precisely.

Of course, the message seldom comes through exactly the same. Every single time we played this game, the message was changed - sometimes it was almost unrecognisable. And the same must be true of the Bible.

Historians are not certain exactly when the books of the Old Testament were written. We do know that by the time they were first written down, most of the tales they contained were already very old. Before the Bible was written, these tales were passed down by oral tradition. And no matter how precisely people tried to maintain these stories, the game of telephone shows us what happens when a message is passed from person to person orally - it gets changed.

Even siblings can disagree on what happened during a memorable childhood event - neither of them lying, but instead simply remembering the same events differently. And this can be seen in the New Testament, which was written by a mix of the Apostles and some of the early Christians. Most, if not all, of the New Testament was written many years after Jesus' death. Even the parts written by the original twelve Apostles don't all agree, just as any story told by many people will not perfectly agree. And other parts were written by men who had joined the church later, such as the Apostle Paul (who was not one of the original twelve).

Furthermore, the Bible was not written in English. The Old Testament was written in Old Hebrew, the language of the Israelites at the time, and the New Testament was written in Koine Greek (an older form of Greek, which was used in the eastern half of the Roman Empire during the time of Jesus). Both testaments were translated into Latin in 400 AD (though Greek translations of the Old Testament were available, the Hebrew version was used, as it was felt to be more accurate).

This Latin version continued to be used throughout the Middle Ages, long past the death of Latin as a living language (which meant there were only second-language speakers of Latin). During that time, translation of the Bible was forbidden, for fear that a Bible that could be read by laypeople would be misinterpreted by them. Although a few translators broke this rule, it was not until 1604 that the most widely accepted English Bible, the King James Bible, was written, translating from the Latin version.

In 1604, of course, English was spoken differently than it is now. This was during the lifetime of Shakespeare, and just as many people today find Shakespeare's plays hard to understand, they have similar issues with the King James Bible. So many versions of the Bible today have been translated yet again, into a more modern form of English, using the King James Bible as a base.

So, the Bibles owned by most people today are either a translation of a translation, or a translation of a translation of a translation! This is important because translations are also a source of error. Many concepts don't map perfectly across languages. I'm French-English bilingual, and I can think of some examples where French concepts don't map perfectly to English - for example, there are certain verb tenses that are not shared across the two languages. (A more relevant example is that in the form of Greek used in the New Testament, homosexuality and pedophilia are both described by the same word, arsenokoitai, making it unclear whether the Apostle Paul condemned gays, pedophiles, or both.) The more distantly two languages are related, the worse this incomparability becomes. While Greek, Latin and English are all Indo-European languages, Hebrew is a Semitic language, so the Old Testament Hebrew->Latin translation must have been especially tricky. This makes any literal interpretation of the English Bible especially prone to error.

Besides that, from the quotes of Jesus' parables, it's clear that Jesus did not speak literally. When he talked about a man sowing seeds that either grew or failed to grow, he wasn't just giving farming advice - he was drawing an analogy between seeds and believers. Since Jesus' parables are so clearly intended to be interpreted rather than taken literally, why would we expect the rest of God's word to be literal? Why can't Old Testament tales be just as figurative as Jesus' parables?