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Neuro-Affirming Language

Let’s talk about language.

The autistic community is reclaiming their identify to be positive, respectful, and inclusive. This boils down to kindness and compassion. 

Many autistic people strongly prefer to use identity first language, such as 'I’m an autistic person’. However, some people like to prefer to refer to themselves as 'having ASD' or 'being on the spectrum', and this is to be respected as well.

For the neuro-affirming folk, here is a little summary of reflections...

No, I’m not standing on a rainbow… (as in ‘a person on the spectrum’)…

No, I haven’t caught a disease (as in, ‘a person with autism’)… 

No, I’m not living with some monster (as in, ‘a person living with autism’)…

Instead, it’s simply: ‘I am autistic’. 

And hopefully proudly autistic too! 

Autism dictates many things. How you think, feel, and interact with others and the world. It’s not just a part of you, it’s all of you. You can’t remove a brain or change a neurotype. 

Let’s also clear up some other points about language… 

  • '‘tism’ or ‘a little bit of the ‘tism’

    • Please don’t use this term unless you’re autistic. It’s not kind as it’s often used as a put-down and is therefore insensitive. 

  • ‘ASD’ and ‘disorder’

    • Autism is simply a different way of thinking, feeling and interacting. 

  • ‘Red flag’

    • There is no need to use a term like ‘red flag', such as: ‘hyperlexia is a red flag for autism’. A ‘red flag’ signifies danger, or a warning. 

  • ‘High functioning or low functioning’

    • This creates an ‘us vs them’, where "high functioning autistics" often have their support needs ignored, whilst "low functioning autistics" generally have their strengths ignored. We need to use ‘low needs’ and ‘high needs’ instead. 

  • Mild or severe 

    • It's not about having a mild or severe case of autism- it's simply 'autistic'.

  • ‘Special needs’

    • This feels infantilizing to describe needs as “special.” Instead, use the term “disabled” on the grounds that it does not gloss over struggles. 

  • Diagnosis or ‘self-diagnosis’. 

    • Diagnosis is used for a medical condition or disorder. Let’s start using ‘identification’ or ‘discovery’ or ‘self-identification. 

  • Asperger’s or aspie 

    • I would imagine that most people have now heard about what Hans Asperger did to huge amounts of autistic people- if not, please check out the research. 

  • ‘At risk’

    • At risk of what? Being too kind? Being too empathetic? Being really perceptive? Where is the risk? 

When using language, we need to ask ourselves: if I was having a chat in person with my autistic friend, would I use this term? Is my language kind and respectful? Is my language sounding like autism needs to be fixed or cured? 

It's simply 'He/she/they are autistic'.

It's about thinking, feeling and interacting differently. 

And neurodivergent people deserve respect from others. 

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