The National Autistic Society is here to transform lives, change attitudes and create a society that works for autistic people. Working with journalists and producers is crucial to this work. We have produced the following guidance to help you make sure your reports are as accurate and sensitive as possible.
This guidance is based on our language research on the preferences of autistic people, their families and professionals, as well as the feedback and insight we get from our supporters and wider work.
The most important thing to remember is that many autistic people see their autism as a fundamental part of who they are, so it’s important to use positive language. And, if you are referring to a particular person or group, ask them how they would prefer to be described. This preference should take precedence over the recommendations outlined below.
person/child on the autism spectrum (note: this is informed by research, whichindicates that there is a growing preference for positive identity first language, particularly among autistic adults)
is on the autism spectrum
has an autism diagnosis
disabled person/person with a disability
disability or condition
Asperger syndrome is a form of autism (note: Asperger is pronounced with a hard "g"; see below)
talk about the autism spectrum and the varying challenges and strengths people have (for instance, some autistic people have an accompanying learning disability and need support to do everyday things like clean, cook or exercise. Other autistic people are in full time work, with just a little extra support)
neurotypical (note: neuroptypical is mainly used by autistic people so may not be applicable in, for example, the popular press)
autistic people, their families and friends
people on the autism spectrum, their families and friends
support or adjustments
traits or characteristics.
person/child/adult with autism
an aspie (note: some individuals may refer to themselves in this way and this should take precedence when you’re referring to them)
people living with autism (to describe autistic people and their family and friends)
How to talk about Asperger syndrome
Asperger is a German name and should be pronounced with a hard 'G', as there is no soft 'G' in the German language. As a guide, Asperger should rhyme with the surname of the famous racing driver Gerhard Berger. Someone wrote to us to say that that people might see negative connotations with the wrong pronunciation when a soft 'G' is used. She pointed out that 'Asperges' with a soft 'G' (as in purge) is the name of a religious rite, a purging ceremony, concerned with the purging of sin. 'Aspergere' is Latin for 'to wash or sprinkle'.
In 2018, Herwig Czech (a medical historian) published a research paper on Hans Asperger. The paper focuses on Asperger's troubling relationship with the Nazi party. He was not directly associated with the Nazis, although the paper does point to some involvement with their regime. We realise that these findings will be upsetting for a lot of people, particularly autistic people and their families. Troubling as this news may be, we want to reassure you that it is not a reflection on people with a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. You can read the paper here.
Which terms should be used to describe autism?
A piece of research published in the Autism journal in 2015 looked at the preferences of autistic people, their families, friends and professionals around the language used to describe autism. You can read the abstract to find out more.