Ask the Editor: What is the Most Appropriate Way to Talk About Individuals with a Diagnosis of Autism?

  • Giacomo VivantiEmail author
Ask the Expert

Question: What is the most appropriate way to talk about individuals with a diagnosis of Autism? Should we stop saying “person with autism”, and use “autistic person” instead?

Response: The terminology that should be used to describe individuals with a diagnosis of autism has been subject to increasing discussion in recent years. The question at the heart of the debate is whether identity-first language (i.e., “autistic person”) is preferable to person-first language (i.e., “person with autism”). Far from being mere semantics, this distinction has practical implications, as the words that we use to describe individuals with an autism diagnosis influence societal perceptions, public policy, clinical practice and research directions. An additional element to this debate is the uncertainty experienced by the growing number of JADD authors who are asked by reviewers to replace person-first language with identity-first language in their submitted manuscript, or the other way around.




I wish to thank Dr Paul Shattuck and Dr Heather Nuske for their comments on the ideas expressed in this response.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


  1. Baron-Cohen, S. (2017). Editorial perspective: Neurodiversity–a revolutionary concept for autism and psychiatry. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58(6), 744–747.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bettelheim, B. (1959). Feral children and autistic children. American Journal of Sociology, 64(5), 455–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bickford, J. O. (2004). Preferences of individuals with visual impairments for the use of person-first language. RE: View, 36(3), 120.Google Scholar
  4. Drew, N., Funk, M., Tang, S., Lamichhane, J., Chávez, E., Katontoka, S., et al. (2011). Human rights violations of people with mental and psychosocial disabilities: An unresolved global crisis. The Lancet, 378(9803), 1664–1675.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dunn, D. S., & Andrews, E. E. (2015). Person-first and identity-first language: Developing psychologists’ cultural competence using disability language. American Psychologist, 70(3), 255.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Gernsbacher, M. A. (2017). Editorial perspective: The use of person-first language in scholarly writing may accentuate stigma. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58(7), 859–861.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Jaarsma, P., & Welin, S. (2012). Autism as a natural human variation: Reflections on the claims of the neurodiversity movement. Health Care Analysis, 20(1), 20–30.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Kenny, L., Hattersley, C., Molins, B., Buckley, C., Povey, C., & Pellicano, E. (2016). Which terms should be used to describe autism? Perspectives from the UK autism community. Autism, 20(4), 442–462.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Lane, H. (2005). Ethnicity, ethics, and the deaf-world. The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 10(3), 291–310.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Mitchell, J. (2019). The dangers of ‘neurodiversity’: Why do people want to stop a cure for autism being found? The Spectator Blog. Retrieved
  11. Ortega, F. (2009). The cerebral subject and the challenge of neurodiversity. BioSocieties, 4(4), 425–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Pellicano, L., Mandy, W., Bölte, S., Stahmer, A., Lounds Taylor, J., & Mandell, D. S. (2018). A new era for autism research, and for our journal. Autism, 22(2), 82–83.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. People First Spokane Valley (2005). People first history. People first of spokane, Washington. Retrieved from
  14. Robertson SM, Ne’eman AD (2008) Autistic acceptance, the college campus, and technology: Growth of neurodiversity in society and academia. Disabil Stud Q 28(4)Google Scholar
  15. Sinclair J (1999) Why I dislike ‘person-first’ language. Available at
  16. UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2017). Report of the investigation related to Spain under article 6 of the optional protocol. Geneva: United Nations, June 4,

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.A.J. Drexel Autism InstituteDrexel UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

Personalised recommendations