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How to talk about autism

Autistic people describe themselves and autism in different ways, so it is always best to ask the individual themselves what their preference is.

Some people may not have the ability to communicate their preference in a way we can understand. If you can't ask them, try asking someone who knows them well or use the language they use. 

There are many terms used to describe autism. These terms are used by autistic people themselves, their supporters and in education, health and social settings. These terms may include:

Autistic person

Person with autism

On the spectrum

Autism Spectrum Condition

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) 



Speaks little to no words


Why someone uses the term that they do is dependent on how they've been taught and their connection to autism. For example, healthcare staff are taught about conditions, diseases and illnesses in a medical way and so the language they use may reflects this. They may use 'disorder', 'spectrum' or 'person with autism' more frequently.

A child often uses the language they hear around them or read, so their choices will reflect how autism is presented to them. An autistic person may use the term 'autistic' as a reflection of their identity while another may refer to themselves as a 'person with autism' because they feel it is only one aspect of themselves. 


Our language 

The conversation between the use of ‘person first’ (with autism) or ‘identity first’ (autistic person) language is ongoing and one in which there are many differing opinions.

A piece of research published in the Autism Journal in 2015 looked at the preferences of people on the autism spectrum and their families, friends and professionals around the language used to describe autism.

The findings confirmed that there is no single term that everyone prefers.

A few years ago we asked our supporters about the language they would like us to use and their feedback indicated a preference for 'person first' language in our communications.

However, our Youth Council - who influence our decision making and policy priorities - have told us they prefer the term 'autistic'.  Reflecting this preference, we now use this term when working with, or talking about these young people. 

We will continue to use a mixture of 'person-first' and 'identity-first' language and we respect and support every autistic person to express themselves in whichever form they wish to.


Further information on how to speak about autism 

Read more about language and support in our Include Autism toolkit

Read our top tips for communicating effectively with autistic people.