When Speaking Openly About Mental Illness

July 13

When speaking openly about mental illness, it’s key to be aware of terms used and how you say them. The National Autistic Society (NAS), the Royal College of GPs, and the UCL Institute of Education decided to take a look at the preferences of people on the autism spectrum, their families, friends, and professionals. On July 1st, 2015, an unprecedented piece of research into the language used by autism communities to describe autism was released. The study consisted of a survey in which 3,470 were analyzed. The results showed that there is no single term that everyone prefers. Not surprisingly, though, the study suggested a shift towards more positive and assertive language.

More specifically, the research found that all groups like the terms 'on the autism spectrum' and 'Asperger’s syndrome'. Autistic adults and families seem to have different preferences; as adults like the terms ‘autistic’ and ‘Aspie’, whereas families didn’t like ‘Aspie’. Professionals on the other hand seemed to most highly prefer the term 'autism spectrum disorder’. Some terms were strongly disliked by all, including 'low functioning', 'Kanner's autism' and 'classic autism'. The language we use is important because it embodies and helps to change attitudes towards autism. The research shows that language preferences are evolving, and we will continue to research and test how different groups prefer to speak about autism.

Take a look at the full research paper: “'Which terms should be used to describe autism? Perspectives from the UK autism community' in Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice” or listen to a podcast of NAS Director of the Centre for Autism Carol Povey and Researcher Lorcan Kenny explaining the research.