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Making sense of language

Person with autism or autistic person?

“Person first language (“person with autism”) aims to put the person before their disability. In contrast, “identity first language” (“autistic person”), which is favoured by many autistic people, reflects the belief that being autistic is a core part of a person’s identity. Similar examples of “identity first” language can be found in the Blind and Deaf communities, respectively.

Some people have strong preferences about their language choices, while others do not and use terms interchangeably. Regardless of your own choices, it’s important to respect that everyone has their own opinion and preferred way of communicating.

There are many blog pieces and articles dedicated to the subject of which language choice is more suitable, correct, acceptable or better. Whilst we can appreciate both sides of the argument, we believe in using them interchangeably throughout all our communication.

Functioning Labels

Functioning labels (e.g. “low functioning” or “high functioning”) are used by some clinicians, educators, parents, or even some people on the autism spectrum themselves.

The use of labels like high and low functioning are not official diagnostic terms, but rather, tend to be used more as qualifiers when people are trying to describe a particular kind of profile on the autism spectrum.

There are many reasons why functioning labels do not provide the most constructive view of a person on the autism spectrum, the most notable of which is they don’t speak to the specific challenges or abilities of the individual.

Autism versus ASD versus Asperger's, PDD-NOS

It can be confusing to make sense of the various terms used to describe autism. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published by the American Psychiatric Association and serves as the primary manual used by clinicians in the U.S., Australia, and many other countries to provide the formal criteria for various diagnoses, including autism.

The Fourth Edition of the DSM issued in 1992, articulates a list of Pervasive Developmental Disorders that are considered “autism spectrum disorders” (ASD). These include autistic disorder (also known as “classic autism”), Asperger’s disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS, also known as “atypical autism”).

Under the latest DSM-5, rolled out in 2013, there is just one umbrella term, autism spectrum disorder (ASD). There were also some changes to streamline the diagnostic criteria.

Some people still use the DSM-4 terms — like Asperger’s — to describe themselves or their children, while some people might use terms like ASD, autism, and Asperger’s interchangeably.

To learn more about the changes brought about by the DSM-5, please visit the Raising Children Network website.