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  • Writer's pictureZoe Wiltshire

Changes in Language Around Autism and Neurodivergence

As Autism Acceptance Week draws near, we wanted to highlight the importance around the language that is used around autism and neurodivergence and discuss how it is evolving.

Language is constantly evolving, reflecting shifts in societal attitudes and understanding. Nowhere is this more evident than in the conversations surrounding autism and the wider umbrella of neurodivergence. In recent times, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of language in shaping perceptions as well as more accurately reflecting lived experiences of neurodivergent individuals. Keeping up with changes in language around autism and neurodivergence is crucial for fostering inclusivity, promoting understanding, and respecting the diverse experiences of neurodivergent individuals - something the Holmewood School is passionate about.

The language used to describe autism and neurodivergence has undergone significant changes in recent years, reflecting a broader shift towards person-first language and a recognition of the dignity and worth of all individuals. Terms like "autistic person" or "person with autism" are increasingly preferred over outdated and stigmatising language like "person with ASD" (autism spectrum disorder) or "person with ASC" (autism spectrum condition). This emphasises the individuals with autism, rather than the negative association around the word 'disorder' or 'condition'. Similarly we have moved away from 'low/high functioning' as this denotes only strengths or deficits across all areas, which isn't accurate. Instead, we should move towards referring to specific strengths, challenges and areas of support needs.

Wider efforts to promote inclusive language around autism and neurodivergence have been gaining momentum in various sectors, including education, healthcare, and the workplace. Schools and universities are adopting policies to ensure that autistic students and those with other neurodivergent conditions are supported in their learning environments, which includes using respectful and affirming language. This includes using language that respects the preferences of neurodivergent individuals and fosters a culture of acceptance and understanding.

However, despite these positive developments, there is still much work to be done. Stigma and discrimination against neurodivergent individuals persist, fueled in part by outdated and harmful language. It is therefore essential for individuals and institutions to stay informed and responsive to changes in language around autism and neurodivergence. This means actively seeking out the perspectives and preferences of those individuals themselves, rather than relying solely on outdated stereotypes or assumptions. It also means being open to feedback and willing to adapt one's language and practices accordingly. This is an area we are focusing on at the moment whilst we build each of our students tailored 'Welfare Support Plans' (WSPs) to ensure we are allowing our students to advocate for themselves.

Ultimately, keeping up with changes in language around autism and neurodivergence is a reflection of our commitment to creating a more inclusive and equitable society for our students. By using language that respects and affirms the dignity and worth of our students, we can help to break down barriers, challenge stigma, and build a world where they can better advocate for themselves and be valued and accepted for who they are when they leave the Holmewood School and embark on their next stage of life.

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