Glossary of Autistic Terms


A short list of terms that you may come across on this site. Some of these I wouldn’t use myself, but they’re included because they occur in research papers or other material I’ve referenced.


Autism: See the What is Autism entry. An excellent non-pathologising description by Nick Walker.


Autistic person: not “person with autism”. We don't say “person with homosexuality”. I also use the word autist rather than autistic (noun), but that’s just me. “Why I dislike “person first” language”. Jim Sinclair (pdf)


On The Spectrum: An autistic person is someone who's "on the autistic spectrum". There is no single way of being autistic, thus the idea of a spectrum. Sometimes used as a euphemism for autistic, and gradually falling out of favour in the autistic community because of that.


Asperger's Syndrome (AS): Was a form of autism where there is no delay in acquisition of language as a child. In spite of what you might see on TV, it has nothing to do with having above-average intelligence. Asperger’s covers a range of capabilities and challenges. Asperger’s is no longer recognised as a diagnosis (DSM-V, 2013), and has been folded into Autism Spectrum Condition (see below)


Neurodiversity: like biodiversity, except that it refers to neurology. It's the idea that across the human population there is a diversity of neurologies, i.e. different kinds of brains. The term embodies the idea that there is no single “normal” type of brain, or “right” style of neurocognitive functioning, in the same way that  there is no “normal” or “right” ethnicity or sexual orientation. The term usually refers to autism, but covers other conditions such as dyslexia and ADHD.


Nick Walker covers Neurodiversity in more depth and the following definitions come from his excellent page on the subject.


Neurodivergent: “having a brain that functions in ways that diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of “normal.”” Not to be confused with “neurodiverse”.


Neurodiverse: a neurodiverse group is a group in which multiple neurocognitive styles are represented.


Neurotypical (NT): having a style of neurocognitive functioning that falls within the dominant societal standards of “normal.”


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Refers to the autism spectrum. I don’t use this term as I don’t consider autism a disorder.


Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC): Is increasingly being used instead of ASD, for the above reason.


High Functioning Autism (HFA): Another term I don’t use, firstly because it has no specific meaning, and secondly because it’s inaccurate and stigmatising. Many autistic people find it problematic, explored more fully here: The Fallacy of Functioning Labels and another with the same title: The Fallacy of Functioning Labels