You may not think the language you use is that important, however, the language used around autism and developmental disabilities, in general, does actually make an impact in the real world Here are a few examples of language changes that you can make to help society move towards autism acceptance.
“Suffers From Autism”
Terms that frame autism as something inherently bad is not accurate and perpetuates the idea that autism is more like a disease that needs to be cured rather than a neurotype. While of course autism is a disability and changes the way someone lives their life with proper support autistic individuals can live full successful lives. Rather than saying things like “suffers from” it’s preferred to refer to autism as part of the individual by saying “autistic person”. I’m aware that to many who were taught to use a person’s first language it may be uncomfortable to refer to some by their diagnosis. But most autistics actually prefer identity-first language as our diagnosis is part of us anything to be ashamed of.
For quite a while functioning labels like “high functioning” and “low functioning” have been used to describe the needs of autistic individuals. Do you notice that there isn’t really a functioning label for people who exist in-between “high and low functioning”? It’s strange because from my experience this is where the majority of people fall. Functioning labels also limit people. If you are told that someone is low functioning you might make assumptions about their abilities, or if someone is labelled as high functioning they might get denied accommodations. Rather autistics now prefer describing support needs, support needs are fluid and don’t limit people to a binary view of the autism spectrum.
Saying Normal When You Mean Neurotypical
In a lot of spaces that are describing the differences between neurotypical and autistic individuals the neurotypicals are referred to as “normal adults” or “normal children”. However, making the distinction with the word normal insinuates that autism is strange or unusual furthering the ostracization of autistic individuals. But if you’re saying neurodivergent or neurotypical it’s important to understand the differences, neurodivergent refers to anyone with any neurodivergent (these include autism, ADHD, OCD, turrets syndrome, and much more) so if you’re specifically talking about autism just say autistic, and neurotypical means someone who is not neurodivergent rather than allistic that refers to someone who is not autistic. So if you are separating between autistic and not say allistic rather than neurodivergent.
The language you use matters whether you realize it or not so educating yourself is one simple way to help break the stigma around autism. And if you meet an autistic person who does not what to be referred to in these ways, use whatever they prefer, after all, it is up to the individual to decide how they self-identify and how they want the world to see them.
For further reading on language around autism read this neat article about reframing the way we talk about autism professional settings. https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/insights-about-autism/202006/reframing-professional-language-around-autism?fbclid=IwAR2TNWJDINSw7ssYFt8YUYj70kD2WBk9K69nIZSUHfzOajvBg3reWbEsgSY