Autism-related language preferences of English-speaking individuals across the globe: A mixed methods investigation

Connor Tom Keating*, Lydia Hickman, Joan Leung, Ruth Monk, Alicia Montgomery, Hannah Heath, Sophie Sowden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Over the past two decades, there have been increasing discussions around which terms should be used to talk about autism. Whilst these discussions have largely revolved around the suitability of identity-first language and person-first language, more recently this debate has broadened to encompass other autism-related terminology (e.g., 'high-functioning'). To date, academic studies have not investigated the language preferences of autistic individuals outside of the United Kingdom or Australia, nor have they compared levels of endorsement across countries. Hence, the current study adopted a mixed-methods approach, employing both quantitative and qualitative techniques, to explore the linguistic preferences of 654 English-speaking autistic adults across the globe. Despite variation in levels of endorsement between countries, we found that the most popular terms were similar-the terms 'Autism', 'Autistic person', 'Is autistic', 'Neurological/Brain Difference', 'Differences', 'Challenges', 'Difficulties', 'Neurotypical people', and 'Neurotypicals' were consistently favored across countries. Despite relative consensus across groups, both our quantitative and qualitative data demonstrate that there is no universally accepted way to talk about autism. Our thematic analysis revealed the reasons underlying participants' preferences, generating six core themes, and illuminated an important guiding principle-to respect personal preferences. These findings have significant implications for informing practice, research and language policy worldwide.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAutism Research
Early online date6 Dec 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Autism Research© 2022 The Authors. Autism Research published by International Society for Autism Research and Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • autism
  • disability
  • language
  • neurodiversity
  • policy
  • terminology


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