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Is vs. Has

Ben has autism, but it doesn't have him.

Is vs. Has

It’s two little words.  What’s the difference anyway?

Well, are you a car; or do you have a car?  Are you a pair of jeans; or do you have a pair of jeans?

You wouldn’t likely say a friend who battles cancer actually is cancer, but rather that they have cancer, right?  So why do so many people refer to those who live with the challenge of autism spectrum disorders as autistic rather than having autism?

Perhaps it’s a strange little nuance.  We all have our quirks and maybe this is just mine.  I won’t browbeat you with a lengthy dissertation if we’re chatting and you happen to say my son is autistic (or even that he is autism; yep, heard it before) rather than that he has autism or that he lives with autism, but I do hope this might cause you to stop and think about things a little more.  Really that’s the entire focus of this column, to get people to think a little more, even just once a week.

See, our son has autism.  It doesn’t have him.  He lives with autism.  He faces challenges because of it every single day and we, as his family, face them with him.  We never really know what the day is going to bring.  Even now as I wrap this up, I hear our older children gathering for breakfast, chattering about the fun they had at a concert with their dad and friends last night and I wonder how Ben will be when I go to wake him up.  Has he slept well?  Is he well rested?  Will he arise happy and cheerful, ready to take on the day or it will be another morning of opposition and shrieks of, “I don’t want to go to school!  I’m not going to school.  I don’t want da bus.” all the way through breakfast until he flips his switch and says, “I want to sit with ‘Jacyn’.” as he heads out the door to greet Mr. Terry and the other kids on the bus.

My guess is this isn’t terribly different from any of your homes.  Perhaps, a different intensity and a different cause, but my guess is most parents have to talk their children through a rough start more mornings than they’d care to think about.  Our son is very much the same as our “neurotypical” children, very much the same as yours.  He just goes about things a bit different because his brain is wired a bit different.  And that’s okay.  How boring would it be if we were all the same?

Ben has autism, but it certainly does not have him.



  1. Michelle says:

    Thanks for posting this! I was never sure how to say correctly. I’m so glad God made you Ben’s Mom. He’s a blessed boy.

  2. Thank you, Michelle. Everyone is different. I can’t speak for others, but for me and my son, thinking he has autism rather than he “is” autism or even that he is autistic seems a more manageable prospect. We know there’s no known cure, but we’re hopeful that the progress we’ve seen through therapy will only continue.

  3. Suzanne Chatterton says:

    This has and is an important point. This family has a child (child being the most important word) with autism is very different than saying This family has an autistic child, which sounds like autism is the most important characteristic feature of this child. Thank you for blogging about this. It is important to be respectful, courteous, and thoughtful.

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