Person with Autism vs Autistic

Lately, I’ve the noticed there’s been some discrepancy on how to refer to someone with autism spectrum disorder. Some refuse to use “autistic” when talking about or to someone with autism. I used to be one of those people. I believed that using “autistic” was descriptive AND definitive. I considered it to be an adjective. I backed my logic by comparing it to someone with cancer. I thought one wouldn’t refer to a person battling cancer as a “cancerous person” but that’s comparing apples to oranges. To be clear, I was never offended when a person used “autistic” but I preferred not to.

Recently, I’ve read about how many self-advocates would rather be called autistic than a “person with autism” or “on the autism spectrum”. Soon after, I began talking to various adults on the spectrum. I learned that many referenced themselves as autistic without any hesitation but others preferred to be a “person with autism”. Those who didn’t like being called “autistic” was because they felt it referred to being disabled. They don’t believe autism is a disability but rather different.


Those who preferred being called “autistic” was mostly in part to feeling that their diagnosis didn’t define them. Yet, they recognized it is a part of them. It’s no different than me saying I’m an African American woman. African American describes my race, ethnicity, and culture. Being a woman describes my gender. My son refers to himself as “having autism” and he doesn’t feel any shame about it. He knows he’s different but he doesn’t want people to treat him differently because he has autism. He wants to recognized for the person he is.

In conclusion, using “autistic” or “person with autism” are both acceptable. It’s a matter of preference. If in doubt, it is perfectly okay to ask. Both DESCRIBES the person, but neither DEFINES them.


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