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Glossary of terms

Things to avoid saying Things you should say
  • “Person first language”
  • Person with autism
  • Person with ASD
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Autism symptoms and impairments
  • At risk of autism
  • Functioning labels – Low/High
  • Severity labels – mild, moderate, severe
  • Restricted, narrow interests or obsessions
  • Cure, treatment or intervention
  • They have their diagnosis
  • Got their diagnosis
  • Diagnosis of autism
  • Part of their autism
  • That’s their autism
  • Identity first language-Autistic person
  • Autism/autistic
  • Autistic experiences and characteristics
  • May be autistic, increased likelihood of being autistic
  • Specific support needs
  • Specialised, focused or intense interests
  • Specific support or service
  • They are autistic
  • confirmation of being autistic
  • Part of being autistic
  • part of their Autistic experience

  • Say autistic person or they are autistic instead of person with autism, they have autism, or they have ASD

    (Unless the person has told you otherwise.) “Person with autism” (person first language), implies that person can make the decision to put “their autism” to one side and carry on without it, which is impossible. It implies it is a disorder or condition that can be grown out of or cured.

    Autistic person (identity first language) is much more accurate and affirming and implies the perspective of a whole human being.

  • Say autism or being autistic instead of ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder

    Using ASD or the word disorder implies there is something wrong or not working properly. It is stigmatising and pathologizing. Autistic people have a different neurotype with their own ways of being. Disorder implies their way of being is not worthy. Using autism or being autistic is much more validating and respectful. It implies that the autistic person has an identity and neurotype of their own with their own ways of being.

    Something to note, quite often, people say that some autistic people prefer ‘Person with Autism’ as they don’t want autism to define who they are and by using terms such as ‘Autistic person’ implies autism is who they are. If this is their preference it should be respected.

    However, ask yourself before approaching that person what do they think about autism and being autistic? Have other people around them called it a disorder and referred to them as a person with autism? Also be aware that over time, they may have built up the belief that being autistic is something that isn’t positive or valid and therefore they don’t want to be defined by it.

  • Say Autistic experiences, characteristics, may be autistic, increased likelihood of being autistic instead of autism symptoms, impairments, at risk of autism or red flags.

    Using words like symptoms, impairments and at risk of autism has negative connotations and implies that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. Using terminology like autistic experiences and characteristics respects them as a person with their own neurotype and ways of being.

  • Use specific support needs instead of high/low functioning labels and severity levels
    • Functioning Labels dangerously limit the perception and distort the reality of the person being described. It is much more accurate, ethical, and useful to describe strengths and challenges as well as supports.
    • Autism is not linear. Terms such as high or low functioning can be damaging. Fixed labels like this can often overlook an autistic person’s strengths and difficulties leading to the wrong supports. This view is narrow and completely flawed. @Neuroprosper
    • Society has started to question that the autism neurology is inferior. Autistic advocates and the neurodiversity movement have paved the way by sharing their autistic experience.
    • Society has started too question that the autism neurology is inferior. Autistic advocated and the neurodiversity movement have paved the way by sharing their autistic experience. The spectrum is a much more validating way of perceiving the autism neurology.
    • Autism is dynamic in nature
    • Different needs at varying degrees across the spectrum
    • Needs vary based on environment
  • Say specific support needs, strategies or therapies to improve quality of life instead of treatment plans, cures and interventions

    Being autistic does not mean they need therapy.

    Autistic people don’t need treatment plans or interventions as they don’t have an illness and don’t have anything to be cured of. Autistic people have a valid way of being and may require specific supports or services at different points in their life.

    Supports should never actively aim to reduce autistic ways of being or behaviours unless there is a risk of harm. Autistic people may need certain therapies or treatments that run alongside being autistic, for example, anxiety, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

  • Say focused or specialised interests instead of restricted/narrow interests and obsessions

    Using the terms restricted, narrow and obsessions carry negative connotations. It implies that autistic people are one dimensional and struggle with expanding their horizons. When we use terms like focused and specialised, we are affirming their autistic thinking style and how they process and perceive the world. Autistic thinking styles need people to work with them rather than against them.

  • Say they are autistic, or they got confirmation they are autistic instead of saying they have their diagnosis, got their diagnosis or have a diagnosis

    Using terms such as ‘they have their diagnosis’, ‘they got their diagnosis’ or ‘have a diagnosis’ implies autism is additional to them, like an add on to the human they already are. It implies that they have recently acquired autism which in turn implies it can disappear again.

    Using terms like ‘they are autistic’ and ‘they got confirmation of being autistic’ can affirm their identity and allows them to see autism is a part of who they are and always will be. It shows you’re an ally to autistic people and are promoting positive viewpoints and outcomes.

  • Say that’s part of being autistic or part of their autistic experience instead of part of their autism or that’s their autism

    Similar to the above scenario, this one also implies that autism is separate from them and can be fixed. It implies it is an add on that can be forgot about with enough work.

    If we use terms such as, ‘that’s part of their autistic experience’ or ‘part of being autistic’, we are promoting positivity around autism and nurturing their identity as an autistic person.

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