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Words matter and using respectful and inclusive language can make a big difference. The goal of inclusive language is to respect people across race, class, gender and ability. This is also true when discussing Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Each autistic person experiences the world in a different way. This includes how they think, interact with the sensory world around them, communicate, and more. Being respectful of these differences through the use of inclusive language can have a positive impact on everyone.
It is also important to avoid ableist language. Ableist language assumes disabled people are not as good as nondisabled people. This is harmful as it excludes, devalues, and ignores disabled people.
Below are some common phrases that can be adjusted to be more inclusive. These phrases are preferred by many in the autism community, but autistic individuals may have specific preferences that are different from these examples. As with anyone, asking an autistic person their preferences should take priority.
|Instead of …||Try This ….|
|Autism Symptoms||autistic characteristics/traits/features|
|person with autism||autistic person|
|person with a disability||disabled person|
|sufferers from autism||impact/effect of autism|
|normal||neurotypical/non-autistic/person with autism|
|typical person/typical peer||non-autistic person/typically developing peer|
|mental retardation||intellectual disability|
|high functioning||low support needs|
|low functioning||high support needs|
|autism as a “puzzle”||autism as a part of neurodiversity|
|cure||supports/accommodations/quality of life outcomes|
|special interests||focused interests|
|at risk for autism||increased likelihood of autism|
|burden of autism||impact/effect of autism|
Autism is a broad spectrum and impacts everyone differently and because you can’t “see” autism, it may surprise you when someone discloses they are autistic. This is not a compliment. You should respect the individual who shares their diagnosis and if you need to say anything, ask if there is any way you can support or accommodate them in that moment.
Again, each autistic individual is unique and the word normal is offensive. If you are surprised by someone who shares their autism diagnosis rather than comment, you could explain that you know very little about autism and ask how you can support or accommodate them.
This perpetuates an often misunderstood stereotype. Ask
instead, “What are your interests?”
Instead you could ask, “From your experience where can accommodations and the disability experience be improved, where are people and places doing a good job?”
Asking a question about the autistic person to a parent, caregiver or support professional when the autistic individual is standing right there. Presume competence.
|Inclusive Language: Considerations for Use||Words matter and using respectful and inclusive language can make a big difference. The goal of inclusive language is to respect people across race, class, gender and ability. This is also true when discussing Autism Spectrum Disorder.||Download file: Inclusive Language: Considerations for Use|
This resource created by Philadelphia Autism Project: Guided by the Autism Community