Terminology: “Autistic,” “With Autism” and “Asperger’s”

People use different language when talking about autism. Some prefer to say “a child with autism” because it emphasizes the child’s identity outside of their diagnosis. This is commonly called “person-first” language and is often recommended as a respectful way to talk about disabilities and other health issues.

However, other people, including many autism activists, prefer to use the term “autistic.”

This is known as “identity-first” language. Autistic self-advocates assert that being autistic is in fact part of who they are — just like other labels like Catholic, African-American, gifted, and so on. They argue that saying “with autism” implies that autism is a negative thing that has happened to a person, rather than an integral part of their identity.

In this guide we use both “autistic” and “with autism” to acknowledge the diversity of people’s opinions.

Some people also refer to their child having “Asperger’s disorder.” That diagnosis is technically outdated, because in 2013 the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) combined Asperger’s disorder into autism spectrum disorder. However, many people do continue to use the term Asperger’s to describe autistic children who are typically without language or intellectual impairment.