As autism is discussed more often across social media, television and the press, and as the awareness of the condition grows, we must recognise that the language we use to talk about autism is very influential.
Our organisation, Specialist Autism Services, advocates for the needs of adults with autism and their families and have done now for almost 20 years. We seek every opportunity to raise understanding of autism and we are passionate about doing so. We work to empower those with autism and the language we all use around the subject is significant.
Words influence how people with autism feel about themselves. Words influence how people with autism are viewed by society in general. Although words and publicity are key to raising awareness of this condition, it is important for readers to receive correct information using the right language for this awareness to grow in a positive light.
When scouring the web for news and stories we regularly come across great information and articles that we would love to share with our well established audience, but all too often they are full of inaccurate descriptions and language that promotes (often negative) stereotypes. Words and labels stick to the person with autism and misrepresent the condition as a whole.
Many articles and publications talk about autism as a condition linked only to children. It is obvious that these children grow up. Autism is a life-long condition and all too often adults with autism are a forgotten part of society. Autism – the only disability with a government white paper, yet still no statutory funding – needs the support of the press, social media, radio and television. But let this attention be positive. Yes, it is important to draw attention to stories with dramatic headlines – a good headline engages a larger audience. But please remember behind the headlines and the condition, is a person. A person with autism who already experiences the world differently from you or I.
We would like to see the language we use around autism evolve along with it’s awareness. Let’s progress and take responsibility for what we print and say. We would like to see people’s beliefs and language around autism create social acceptance, tolerance, understanding and a better social identity to create a positive society for those with autism to live safely and positively amongst everyone else.
Using phrases like ‘autism sufferer’, ‘victim of autism’ or words like ‘epidemic’ and ‘plagued by’, ‘deficit’, ‘disorder’ and ‘impairment’, ‘locked inside themselves’, ‘from a different planet’, all suggest that the person with autism will never be good enough and is ultimately counterproductive. We respect the views of the individuals that we support by choosing the term ‘autism spectrum condition’, opposed to broadly favoured ‘autism spectrum disorder’.
If we give those with autism a positive identity, we allow them to be their self and not just simply ‘autistic’. Many adults with autism believe their autism is an important part of them – they do not need a cure; their lives are worth living.
This article was written by one of our colleagues, Dawn Crabtree.