The semantics of #Autism

Every once in awhile I feel the need to focus some attention on something that really needs to be addressed. 

My trip up the soapbox today is brought to you by the semantics of #Autism.

When I refer to the Semantics of #Autism, I’m referring to the splitting of hairs over word choice.  This has really become kind of disheartening and I’ll tell you why. 

Before I share why I find this disheartening, let me explain what’s going on first. 


Basically, this splitting of hairs is over whether one should say “a child with autism” or “an autistic child”. In other words, if you are talking to someone about your child and Autism is brought up, should you say “Jonny has autism” or “Jonny is autistic”?

In my opinion, either one is perfectly fine.

However, there are people in the world that put what I feel is way to much weight on a persons choice of words.

For example, some people are extremely offended if you refer to someone as having autism. Yet there are others that are equally offended if you refer to someone as being autistic.

As you can probably guess, there’s no way to know who prefers what, short of them wearing a sign that states their personal preference.  It can literally be like walking through a minefield at times. 

I’ve lost track of how many times someone has felt the need to correct my choice of words. In fact, it happened again today. 

Sometimes the corrector is polite and other times, not so much.

What I really don’t understand is why people are letting something as simple as word choice, get under their skin to the point that they get really upset. I really want to understand why this is so offensive.

I know all about the person first language.

Personally, I think it’s absurd that we choose to bicker over something as petty as semantics. I mean, I consider myself a pretty sensitive person. I care a great deal about other peoples feelings, thoughts and opinions.

Having said that, I just can’t wrap my head around the person first language.

What I really find disheartening is the fact that semantics can and often times does, drive a wedge between us. I get the point of the person first language. However, I think the notion of putting the person before the disorder is often times misguided.

If we spend so much time trying to seperate the person from the autism, doesn’t that give the impression that having autism, or being austic is somehow bad?

We spend all this time preaching about acceptance or understanding and yet we can’t even agree on terminology.

I feel like, if we truly accepted autism and embraced it, we wouldn’t care whether some said with autism or autistic.

I worry that this community will continue to be fragmented by our petty differences..

As a father to 3 boys in the autism spectrum, I truly hope you can prove me wrong.

This was posted via WordPress for Android, courtesy of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 2. Please forgive any typos. I do know how to spell but auto-correct hate me.

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Rob Gorski

Full time, work from home single Dad to my 3 amazing boys. Oh...and creator fo this blog. :-)
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Cassie Zupke

Rob — I can't agree with you more. How can we tell our (autistic) kids (with autism) that they're wonderful if we keep saying that autism is terrible? And get over the semantics wars. The other day I heard a mom say, "Well, the teacher seemed wonderful and like she really cared about my child and wanted to help him. But then she called him autistic and I knew she was prejudiced so I asked that my son be taken out of her class." Really?

My recent post Autism Education Photo — Don’t Tell Me Only My Flaws

Joe Spencer

Regardless of semantics, I just wish sometimes that autism was so encompassing in my son's life. I feel robbed.


I can totally relate. Kudos to you for being so honest. I admire that.

First Lee

As someone with autism, I agree with Rob.


Thank you.


If I am EVER corrected when saying my child is Autistic, then that person just might find their behind on the receiving "end" of a size 10. That is MY CHILD! and no one has the right to correct me over such silliness…to do so tells me that you aren't really that comfy with ASD or the fact that your child is part of the spectrum to start with…you just want everyone to think you are oh so enlightened….so you hide behind some useless BS. My child has Autism…my child is Autistic…she can be a hellion…she can be an angel…she can be a comedian…she is amazing. unless I am saying something that is actually derogatory …do not DARE approach me with corrections…or you might just find out you "bit off more than you can chew." I only seem nice…on the surface…for so long… 🙂




Honest to Pete-I think if anyone has the time to worry about someone else's semantics about their child, then they don't have enough to do. Once in awhile, you run up on someone who really earnestly believes they're educating you, but most of the time it's people with their backs up, getting butthurt about things that don't concern them. If you want to call your child a special snowflake who's aut-tastic, knock yourself out. I learned early to cling to words and literal definitions of things because when I started on this journey, my pediatrician said "yeah, we don't handle this kind of disability, go home and call your school district" (Captain Autism in my house just turned 18) and so words like "autism" and "retarded" are literal definitions and they got me help at a time when I had no idea what what up or down, all I knew was that my son didn't talk and wore socks on his hands, and made the most damn annoying "eeeeeeee" sound. You know what? He could not care less what I call him. He'd answer to pretty pretty princess if it got him diet coke and baby carrots with peanut butter. My son's self esteem is FINE. No one gets to tell me, or anyone else how best to take care of their child and what words to use for them. I get to make that call, and every parent gets to do it for their child. We have so much more in common with each other than we do differences and to pick and poke and get anyone's underwear in a twist because of a word is idiocy. Pardon my vitriol. I've been up with my autistic son who has an Autism Spectrum Disorder and a Speech and Language Developmental Delay, and Autism. (did I cover them all?) all night, and normally I have some more diplomacy than this.
Sorry you're having to deal with this, Rob. It's a cranio-rectal impaction issue. 🙂

PS: Personally, I find the term "Aspie" silly, but since it's not me, I don't tell anyone who identifies as one that it's silly.


I realize I am definitely the odd "man" out here as I don't have a child on any spectrum involved, but I have to say I wanted to cheer reading this! Rob you too! I have seen Rob post on this before and I agree with him. I always think ( yes I used always) that these semantical arguments are just silly Monty Python-esque items to hide behind rather than just dealing with the issues at hand. It's almost political debating. Randomly silly. These are words and yes words can hurt; those are intentional words. These words are trying to be descriptive to be helpful. It's time people opened their minds a bit so problems could be solved rather than debated.
OK, I'm off my soapbox…;)