Language is a powerful mechanism in shaping our understanding of the world around us and it influences how people perceive themselves and others. The words we use to talk in conversation with and about Autistic people can have a powerful impact in either advancing or undermining disablist attitudes.
With the guidance of the Autistic community, Autism Alliance of Canada (formerly Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance, CASDA) created a guide in 2020 on preferred language to describe or reference autism, in order to create a platform that feels welcoming and safe for the Autistic community.
We recognize there are strong arguments and passions on both sides of the debate between the use of person-first language (e.g., “person with autism”) and identity-first language (e.g., “Autistic person”) in relation to autism. However, there is a growing body of scientific and community literature documenting the dislike, amongst Autistic individuals, of person-first language and its potential for increasing stigma. Identity-first language reflects the belief that being Autistic is a core part of a person’s identity and has been embraced by the Blind and Deaf community for instance.
Based on the literature and the strong preference of the Autistic members of Autism Alliance of Canada, we recommend either using identity-first language, or more neutral terms such as “person on the autism spectrum.” In order to respect the agency and diversity of voices within the community, Autism Alliance of Canada uses such terms interchangeably.
Please note that Autism Alliance of Canada is currently working on developing an updated version of the Language Guide, as well as a French Language Guide, that reflects the progress of strength-based language surrounding autism. Stay tuned!