top of page

What is autism?

Autism is not a mental health condition or learning disability, although these can occur alongside. Autism is a type of neurodivergence, meaning:

  • differences in learning & thinking

  • differences in feeling

  • differences in speech, language, and communication needs

  • diversity of the human mind

  • differences in attention and cognition

  • neurological differences

  • differences in sensory processing

The top of a child's head who is lying on a wooden floor with their hands on a red heart

Autistic people are often multiply Neurodivergent, meaning they can also be dyslexic, dyspraxic, and ADHD for example.

LANGUAGE: Autistic person? Person with autism?

"Person with autism" - person-first language

"Autistic person" - identity-first language

A young child has their back to the camera standing on a road that is painted as a rainbow - red, orange, yellow, blue, violet

Here is what you need to know: the general consensus is that the majority of Autistic people prefer identity-first language; so "Autistic person" rather than "person has autism / person with autism". This is about human rights and undoing the societal stigma that Autistic people have faced for decades. The disclaimer here is that not every single Autistic person prefers identity-first language, and so we always want to honour the individual's preference. Not sure? Just ask the person.

1. Why is the preference "Autistic?" 

Identity-first language makes it clear that being Autistic is an inherent part of a person's identity. in the same way you would say "Chinese person" or "gay person" - not "person with Chinese" or "person with gayness". It's about empowerment and is a radical shift from how society has viewed Autistic people. It's about social justice and challenging the ableist and stigmatising narratives that have sought to cure Autistic people from "their autism". It is imperative professionals use the language that autistic people prefer and listen to Autistic people.  

2. How do we know this? What's the research?

LANGUAGE: Shifting away from the Medical Model

Language is powerful. It shapes people's beliefs. Deficit labels continue to stigmatise Autistic people. The medical model of disability views autism as something that needs to be fixed andtreated. Historically autism has always been viewed through a medical model whereby professionals treat it, fix it, correct it (just with health conditions). 

The Neurodiversity Paradigm has its roots in a Social Model of disability and is radically different to a medical model. It's actually the environment that disables people. The social / neurodiversity paradigm focuses on removing barriers in society that exclude and oppress neurodivergent people.

  • impairments / deficits

  • autism levels e.g. 1-3

  • severe / mild autism

  • functioning labels (high, low)

  • symptoms

  • person with autism

  • attention seeking

  • challenging behaviour

  • challenges / difficulties

  • autistic person

  • characteristics

  • traits

  • strengths / needs

  • disabled / disability

Multi coloured autism infinity symbol
Medical Model
bottom of page