Preferences for identity-first versus person-first language in a US sample of autism stakeholders

Amanda Taboas, Karla Doepke, Corinne Zimmerman

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Although person-first language is commonly used in many professional settings, this practice has received criticism from self-advocates and scholars who believe that identity-defining features, such as autism, cannot be separated from the individual. Arguments have been made that person-first language may perpetuate stigma by drawing attention to a disability through unconventional language. Increasingly, disability advocates have expressed preferences for identity-first language. We surveyed US autism stakeholders (n?=?728) about their usage of and preferences for person-first language and identity-first language. Preference and use of terms varied across stakeholder groups (adults with autism, parents of autistic children, professionals, family members/friends, and a comparison group of people with little to no experience with the autism community). Autistic adults preferred to self-identify using identity-first language (87%); however, a sizable minority of adults with autism prefer to self-identify with person-first language (13%). Professionals were more likely to use, like, and choose person-first language terms, which is consistent with current guidelines for usage in professional settings and prescribed by style guides for written communication. As the language we use shapes our conscious and unconscious perceptions and beliefs of individuals with autism, it is critical to identify the terminology that is preferred by individuals within the community.Lay abstractThere is currently disagreement among professionals (such as teachers, therapists, researchers, and clinicians) about the most appropriate and respectful way to refer to individuals with disabilities in general, and those with autism, in particular. Supporters of person-first language feel that it is important to emphasize the person rather than the disorder or disability, and promote the use of terms such as, ?person with autism? or ?a person with ASD.? The goal is to reduce stereotypes and discrimination and emphasize the person?s individuality rather than their disability. However, some people within the autism community have questioned the use of person-first terms because they are awkward and use an unconventional style of language that draws attention to the disability. Moreover, autistic individuals and their families are beginning to support the use of identity-first language that embraces all aspects of one?s identity. Surveys in the United Kingdom and Australia support the idea that both types of language are preferred by different groups of autism stakeholder groups. In our study, we surveyed autism stakeholders in the United States. Overwhelmingly, autistic adults (n?=?299) preferred identity-first language terms to refer to themselves or others with autism. Professionals who work in the autism community (n?=?207) were more likely to support and use person-first language. Language is dynamic and our findings support the need for open communication among autism professionals about how we communicate with and about autistic individuals and their families.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)565-570
Number of pages6
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


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