Autism vocabulary

Explication simplifiée

When talking about autism or autistic people, some words can be respectful and others hurtful. Debilitated, abnormal or any other negative word can damage the esteem of autistic people, and they do not describe autism. The word autistic should never be used as an insult. Being autistic is not something someone does wrong, it's simply how the person functions. Autism is not a disease.

The importance of accurate, respectful terminology

The words used to describe autism and autistic people have a direct impact on society’s perception of this difference. They can even have consequences for how the autistic person perceives him or herself. What’s more, it’s important to use the right terms to give an accurate picture of the situation. The wrong choice of words can also lead to unnecessary, costly and dangerous treatment, discrimination, abuse or mistreatment.

How do you talk about autism?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition, variation or difference. It is neither a disorder nor a deficiency.


As in any system, there is diversity, and neurologically, there is also diversity, which is called neurodiversity.

Autism levels

You’re either autistic or you’re not. It is not possible to be mildly autistic or severely autistic. Levels 1, 2 and 3 describe the level of help needed in each category, not the level of autism.

Autism is not a disease

It’s important to distinguish between a condition and a disease. Some charlatans take advantage of this misperception to swindle families with promises of miracle cures.

Insult or negative connotation

Describing someone’s inappropriate behavior as autism is unacceptable. The word should not be used as an insult or derogatory description.


Describing autism as a tragedy or a social blight is stigmatizing and does not reflect the reality of autistic people.


The term Asperger’s is no longer used; it also contributed to creating an undesirable discrimination, as if there were good autistic people and bad autistic people. The diagnosis is now autism, and thereafter there are specificity markers that describe in more detail the challenges that the autistic person has to live with.

How to talk about the person?

Saying that someone is autistic or that he or she is an autistic person are good ways of mentioning it.


ASD stands for Autism Spectrum Disorder. That’s the medical term, but it’s not the term for an autistic person. A human cannot be ASD, a human cannot be a disorder.

Autism is part of the person

It’s not an accessory, it’s how the person is.

Table of good terms

Words to use

Words to use when talking about autism, the autistic person and traits

Talking about autistic traits

Words to avoid

Words to avoid when talking about autism, the autistic person and traits

Talking about autistic traits


The choice of vocabulary is not a law. It reflects the opinion of the majority of autistic people and allies, but some autistic people may have differing opinions. For example, a person may prefer to say "ASD" in public, for greater discretion about his or her condition. It's up to the autistic person to decide what vocabulary to use when talking about themselves. However, it's safer to refer to this guide if you want to communicate as respectfully as possible about autism.