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Terminology and Autism

Our preferred term for the people we refer to most on this website is "people on the autism spectrum". We use this term because we think that it is the most helpful, as it tells you that each person on the autism spectrum is a unique individual. We know that some people prefer other terms such as "autistic people" or "people with autism", and this is fine.

A recent research paper (see below) reported on a large-scale online survey designed to find out from members of the UK autism community their preferred terms to describe autism and their rationale for such preferences.

It found that there is no single way of describing autism that is universally accepted and preferred by the UK’s autism community and that some disagreements appear deeply entrenched. However the term "autism" and "people on the autism spectrum" were the term most widely accepted by all groups within the autism community, including by autistic people themselves.


Kenney et al (2016). Autism.

Summary

"Recent public discussions suggest that there is much disagreement about the way autism is and should be described. This study sought to elicit the views and preferences of UK autism community members – autistic people, parents and their broader support network – about the terms they use to describe autism. In all, 3470 UK residents responded to an online survey on their preferred ways of describing autism and their rationale for such preferences. The results clearly show that people use many terms to describe autism. The most highly endorsed terms were ‘autism’ and ‘on the autism spectrum’, and to a lesser extent, ‘autism spectrum disorder’, for which there was consensus across community groups. The groups disagreed, however, on the use of several terms. The term ‘autistic’ was endorsed by a large percentage of autistic adults, family members/friends and parents but by considerably fewer professionals; ‘person with autism’ was endorsed by almost half of professionals but by fewer autistic adults and parents. Qualitative analysis of an openended question revealed the reasons underlying respondents’ preferences. These findings demonstrate that there is no single way of describing autism that is universally accepted and preferred by the UK’s autism community and that some disagreements appear deeply entrenched."

Conclusion

" ... the data clearly show that there is not one preferred term to describe autism. Rather, the terms used vary according to complex multiple factors, including people’s beliefs about autism and the context in which they find themselves. Being attentive to how we use language to describe people, that is, ‘being aware, for example, of how different words impact on different speech partners in different situations’ – in the research laboratory, in the clinic, in schools and in the community – should go some way towards improving society’s understanding of autism and the well-being of those on the autism spectrum."

Download

You can download the full paper at the bottom of this page.


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Quick link:
http://www.researchautism.net/terminology
Updated
25 Oct 2017