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How to talk about autism

How to talk about autism

Updated: August 29, 2023 · 1 Minute Read

Vivien Keil, Ph.D.

Reviewed by:

Vivien Keil, Ph.D.

Highlights

  • Ask each person with autism how they want to be described. Some might prefer identity-first language like autistic, neurodivergent, and disabled.

How to talk about autism has changed a lot throughout the years. Let’s examine some common ways to talk about autism.

 

Person with autism or autistic person?

Most doctors and schools use person-first language like “people with autism” or “person has autism” while many others prefer identity-first language like “autistic people” or “person is autistic.” 

 

Some people prefer to say “on the spectrum” or “on the autism spectrum” when describing people with autism. To specify how much support an autistic individual might need, “low support needs” or “high support needs” are helpful options. Other common terms to describe how significantly a person is affected by autism includes mild autism or severe autism. Many in the autism community do not recommend using “low” or “high functioning” as these labels cannot accurately describe someone’s needs and abilities. 

 

Many advocates in the autism community prefer to describe people with autism as neurodivergent. The intention is to celebrate the vast human experience and different neurological profiles. Though some don’t find the term “disabled” appropriate to use, many people prefer using this identity-first term.    

 

It’s ultimately up to each person to determine how they want to describe themselves. Always ask each person for their preference! 

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