Autism Language Explained – What To Say And What Not To Say When Talking About Autism

When my son was diagnosed with autism, there was no much for me to learn about. Not only was I learning how to best understand him, anticipate his needs and help him, but I also had to learn how to correctly talk about ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) too. Whether you know someone on the spectrum or not, it is worth being aware of the terms that are used to refer to and discuss autism in order to avoid accidentally causing offence.

It is worth noting that I am not a doctor or a health care professional, just a Mum of a child with autism that has had to learn a lot and quickly. It is my hope that by sharing what I have learned with you, it will help wherever your life is touched by ASD.

Don’t say “He is autistic”

Autism is a part of a person, not what defines their entire existence. Just as a person with diabetes or a broken leg is more than that part of them, autism is just a part of people on the spectrum.

Instead say “He has austism”

This way of phrasing things, although only a slight change, indicates that autism is only a part of what makes up the person, not their entire identity.

Don’t say “normal” when talking about a person without autism

I know that the word “normal” is not very PC any more, but maybe with good reason. By calling someone “normal”, it suggests someone else, with autism or otherwise, is “not normal”.

Instead, say Neurotypical

“Neurotypical” or “NT” is the correct term for a person who is not on the autism spectrum. This is how people with autism refer to people who do not have autism.

Some other autism terms that is is worth being aware of;

  • Meltdown – often confused with a tantrum, a meltdown is where a person with autism becomes so anxious, overstimulated or overwhelmed that they can become very emotional, either angry or upset or both. Whereas a tantrum can often be stopped quite quickly if the child in question gets what they want, a meltdown can take much longer to recover from.
  • Echolalia – Where words or questions are repeated back to someone.
  • Stimming – The use of repetitive behaviours (such as flapping or rocking) means of comfort.
  • Scripted speech – using the words of others (other people, words from books or television) in place of the person’s own spontaneous language.

Are there any other terms that you have come across that are used frequently to describe autism? Maybe you or a member of your family are on the spectrum? Are there certain words that you prefer to use or not to use when describing autism? Let me know in the comments.

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