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  • Katie Jarvis M.S., CCC-SLP

Autism and Identity First Versus Person First Language?

You might have noticed there have been a few shifts in how we talk about people with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, so how do we know which language is right? First, let’s talk about what each means:

Identity first language - “autistic person” - arguments for this language include that being autistic is a core part of who a person is and how they interact with the world

Person first language - “person with autism spectrum disorder” - arguments for this include that they are a person before anything and their personage should be placed before their disorder.

While I was in graduate school, the emphasis was on using person first language but in the last few years, there has been a shift toward identity first language. A big reason for this shift is that we have begun listening to autistic voices and asking them which they prefer. A survey done in 2020 by Organization for Autism Research shows that of 1,072 respondents (847 of whom are autistic) 81.4% prefer identity first language.

With that being said, both of these are rooted in disability advocacy. So how do we know which is right for our loved one? We ask! While much of the new research shows that the majority of autistic people prefer identity first, every autistic person has their own perspective and preference. My aunt is on the spectrum and she has chosen person first language because that’s what feels right for her. Listening to autistic voices is how we learn and make the world a safer and more comfortable place for our neurodivergent loved ones.

*You might have noticed that I default to identity first language; this is because, as previously stated, the recent research shows that it is preferred by the majority of autistic people. However, when I meet or work with an autistic person, I ask them which they prefer and use that language for them.

Below are a few autistic voices I love to listen to and learn from:

Rachel Dorsey - Austistic SLP

Sam Rowntree -Autistic SLP

Lyric - Neurodivergent Rebel:

Courtney Johnson

The Autistic Life


Organization for Autism Research. (2022, April 12). 1,000 People Surveyed, Survey Says…. Organization for Autism Research. Retrieved April 21, 2022, from


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