Should I Say “Autistic Person”? Or “Person With Autism”?

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– your author

My seven-year-old niece recently received her paper diagnosis.  To welcome her into her newly-recognized autistic family, I enlisted the community’s help.  We put together a book of welcoming messages, artwork, and short informational articles she could use to learn more about what it means to be, not only autistic, but capital-A Autistic.

This is the third of the three short essays I included.

Should I Say “Autistic Person” or “Person With Autism”?

When some people talk about autistic people, they say “autistic people.”  Others say “people with autism.”  Sometimes, these two groups of people argue over which is the “right” thing to say.

Lots of autistic people prefer “autistic person” to “person with autism.”  For them, their autistic brain is a part of them.  It’s not something that was added on or that they just put on in the mornings, the way you might put on a blue shirt.  They want others to notice that their brain is a special part of who they are and an okay part of who they are.

Many doctors, teachers, and counselors prefer “person with autism.”  They feel that it is more respectful to mention the word “person” first.  They want to emphasize that being a person is what makes someone special and okay, whether or not they have autism.

You can choose whether you want to use “autistic person” or “person with autism” when you talk about yourself.  You can also change your mind!

When you meet other autistic people, the polite thing to do is ask which one they prefer, and then use it when you talk about them.  For instance, I prefer “autistic person,” so if you wanted to talk about me, the polite thing to do would be to say, “My aunt Dani is an autistic person.”  My friend Emma prefers “person with autism.”  So if we wanted to talk about her, we would say “Our friend Emma is a person with autism.”

It is okay to insist that people call you what you want to be called. Some people might get frustrated if you do.  But you have the right to ask people to treat you with the same respect you give to them.


One thought on “Should I Say “Autistic Person”? Or “Person With Autism”?

  1. Thank you for this. I have 3 sons and didn’t know if I should say they have autism, or they are autistic, there are so many perspectives. I decided to use the termsinterchangeably. Maybe one day when my sons are older, they will be able to communicate what term they prefer.


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