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Happy Autism Acceptance Month! In an effort to bring more awareness and acceptance to the community, we wanted to help our readers learn how to address those on the spectrum with a proper language guide. Read more below so you can come correct.

Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) intern Lydia Brown published an article on their blog Autistic Hoya under the title The Significance of Semantics: Person-First Language: Why It Matters.

Brown discusses how they attended the Adult Services Subcommittee’s final meeting where several members discussed how to address our autistic friends and family members. In the piece, Brown shares why semantics is important and how person-first language should be prioritized.

“Feedback from one of our members suggested changing ‘ASD individual’ in our report to ‘individual with ASD,’” Brown shared in the article. “The Autistic self-advocate sitting beside me, who also has an Autistic brother, voiced her objection to use of the term. ‘I disagree,’ she said as the suggestion was read aloud. ‘I’m not a person with autism; I am Autistic.’”

Things have changed and the voiceless now carry platforms to speak for themselves. One mother responded that, “I come from a time where that word, ‘autistic,’ had — still has — a negative meaning. It’s offensive. When someone refers to my son as ‘the autistic,’ I cringe at that word; I get ready to defend him.”

Brown cites that autism is a neurological, developmental condition. It is considered a disorder, and it is disabling in many and varied ways. It is lifelong. It does not harm or kill of its own accord. It is an edifying and meaningful component of a person’s identity, and it defines the ways in which an individual experiences and understands the world around them. It is all-pervasive.

Brown’s research suggests that several people are in favor of using “person with autism” and that they strongly oppose language referring to disabilities like “suffers from,” (i.e. “Alan suffers from Asperger’s syndrome;” “Joey, an autism sufferer;” etc.) Most people agree that we must emphasize the value and worth of the person.

“Person-first language advocates believe the best way to do this is through literally putting the noun identifying ‘person’ before any other identifiers,” Brown shared.

The National Autistic Society makes it simple for us, suggesting that the most important thing to remember is that many autistic people see their autism as a fundamental part of who they are. So, it’s important to use positive language. If you are referring to a particular person or group, just ask them how they would prefer to be described.

This preference should take precedence over the recommendations they have outlined below: 

Do say

  • autistic adult/people/child
  • person/child on the autism spectrum (note: this is informed by research, which indicates that there is a growing preference for positive identity first language, particularly among autistic adults)
  • is autistic
  • is on the autism spectrum
  • has an autism diagnosis
  • disabled person/person with a disability
  • disability or condition
  • Asperger syndrome is a form of autism (note: Asperger is pronounced with a hard “g”; see below)
  • talk about the autism spectrum and the varying challenges and strengths people have (for instance, some autistic people have an accompanying learning disability and need support to do everyday things like clean, cook or exercise. Other autistic people are in full time work, with just a little extra support)
  • not autistic
  • neurotypical (note: neurotypical is mainly used by autistic people so may not be applicable in, for example, the popular press)
  • autistic people, their families and friends
  • people on the autism spectrum, their families and friends
  • support or adjustments
  • traits or characteristics.

Don’t say

  • has autism
  • person/child/adult with autism
  • an autistic
  • an autist
  • an autie
  • an aspie (note: some individuals may refer to themselves in this way and this should take precedence when you’re referring to them)
  • suffers from or is a victim of autism
  • retarded/mentally handicapped/backward/mild/severe
  • disease/illness/handicap
  • Asperger syndrome is a mild/rare form of autism
  • high functioning or low functioning
  • severe or mild
  • normal
  • people living with autism (to describe autistic people and their family and friends)
  • treat symptoms

Hope this helps!


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Here’s The Proper Language To Use When Addressing People On The Spectrum  was originally published on