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  • Writer's pictureThe Autistic Realm Australia Inc.

Language Matters.

The adjective - describing word - for Autism is Autistic

Recently there has been a weird uptick in the use of the term ‘(my) asd c

Before a diagnosis or when first encountering matters Autistic, probably the only people hearers have heard talk about Autism are teachers, professionals, or those involved with Autism as a problem. They commonly use terms like “on the spectrum” ‘with Autism’ ‘has Autism”. And now this newest variant, ‘asd child’.

This is called “person first language”. It is used so as not to frighten parents and carers. Those who use it say it is to empower the person to feel they aren’t their diagnosis. To soften the blow as it were. Essentially, it is a way of saying “Autistic, but…. “.

As for ‘asd child” this means my “condition” child. No one says my asthma child. Or my diabetes child.To be frank this is hurtful and distressing. Even offensive. Autistics aren’t a disorder. Neither are any Autistic children. You come to The Autistic Realm to learn, and we know that you want to do the best you can by learning from Autistic voices.

In TARA, we believe in leaning in. We all do better when we know better. That is what we are going to some length to educate on this matter. Please don’t feel blamed or shamed. Unless explained, how could you know. And unless the reasoning is clearly spelt out you may not realise why it is so important.

Language matters. It tells the Autistic people you know how you see them.

Here, we use the word Autistic. This is using identity first language. Identity first language embraces the idea that Autism is an integral part of us. Many Autistic people acknowledge that without our Autism, we would not be who we are. Person first language dismisses an integral part of our selves.

Visibly Autistic. Unashamedly Autistic.
Unapologetically Autistic.

Most Autistic people use this word. Those who don’t are free to use whatever term they want - but that is because they are the Autistic person and they get to choose. Multiple studies on the use of language has found that Autistic people tend to prefer identity first language. It is carers, family, and professionals who don’t. Consciously tor not, they think Autism is something not… quite good enough. Sadly, there is still so much stigma.

From now on, in all the TARA support communities no post using “asd child/boy/girl” etc will be approved until edited. We would very much like to see the disappearance of all the other person-first terms too. Admin always messages writers when posts need editing for any reason, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise if it happens.

You could just say “my child”. After all, you wouldn’t be a member if your child wasn’t Autistic. And remember - this isn’t about about blame. It is about learning to do better when you know better.

So, finally…

How does it feel as you read this post? Maybe this is the first time you have thought about the words you use to describe your diagnosed child. Are you comfortable or uncomfortable when you hear Autistic? And if it is uncomfortable, why is that? Could it be a sign that you’re only part way on your journey to full acceptance? That is fine! It takes time to understand the fullness of such knowledge, and to undo all the negative messaging you have received.

If you feel the need to defend the use of person first language then why is that? Especially when the people who ARE Autistic have made their choice known to you. Being in Autistic space is challenging. We know that. This community exists through the generosity of Autistics. We share our lived experience and hard learnt wisdom because we want all the children here to live the best Autistic lives they can. And language frames those lives.

For those who would like to learn more here are some links.


“Some people around young Autistic people will say they asked their young person about their preference – to be referred to as an Autistic person, or a “person with autism [spectrum disorder]”, stating that they went with their young person’s preference for person-first language – or even that the young person didn’t care about it.

The above scenario is not an acceptable reason to ignore the politics of a young persons’ life. Absolutely language should not be forced on the minority in question – but that does not preclude you from learning about the importance – the psychological and political importance – of identity-first versus person-first language regarding yourself, your young person, the people in your care, in your class, in your employment”

“Identity-first language was overwhelmingly preferred by Autistic respondents. Person-first language was overwhelmingly preferred by non-Autistic respondents with no Autistic relatives (likely to be professionals.”

“…we argue that the use of language in autism research has material consequences for autistic people including stigmatisation, dehumanisation, and violence. Further, that the debate in the use of person-first language versus identity-first language should centre first and foremost on the needs, autonomy, and rights of autistic people, so in to preserve their rights to self-determination. Lastly, we provide directions for future research.

“When someone insists that I am a “person with autism” they are telling me that they believe I “have” something that if science could eradicate would mean I would be “normal”. It is not non-autistic people’s fault, the “culture of autism” (Anderson, 2013), the dominant narrative – one of many, and not even the most persuasive – tells you, tells me, that I “have an autism spectrum disorder”. “disordered”. “

“Person-first language is most frequently to refer to children with the most stigmatising disabilities”

The reality is that PFL is not about us. It is about the neurotypical and non-disabled imposing a way to address us – something we didn’t ask for and that they never consulted us about – so that they can feel good about “protecting” and “guiding” us.

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