Understanding language preference: Autism knowledge, experience of stigma and autism identity

Simon M. Bury, Rachel Jellett, Alex Haschek, Michael Wenzel, Darren Hedley, Jennifer R. Spoor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Prior research has studied preferences for identity- or person-first language among persons with an autism diagnosis. The current study differs from this previous body of research by specifically examining quantitative predictors of language preferences through a social identity theoretical approach, thereby leading to a better understanding of psychological and social factors that might underlie language use and preference within the autistic community. Australian adults with an autism diagnosis (N = 198) completed the measures of autism knowledge, internalised stigma, and autism identity to determine whether these factors predict language preference. Results indicated a stronger autism identity was associated with a preference for identity-first terms (autistic/autistic person) and finding these less offensive. Contrastingly, stigma was associated with finding identity-first language less favourable and more offensive. Person-first terms (e.g. person with autism) were not associated with any of the predictors. Together, these findings suggest decision-making around identity-first language is influenced by a strong sense of autistic identity and experiences of stigma. 

Lay abstract: There is ongoing discussion around what language is acceptable when talking about someone with an autism diagnosis, especially regarding person-first (e.g. person with autism) or identity-first (e.g. autistic person) language. We asked 198 Australian adults with an autism diagnosis what terminology they prefer and what they find offensive. We also asked questions to understand their experience of stigma, their autism knowledge and how much they endorse an autism identity, to investigate if these factors were associated with their language preferences. Overall, there was no significant association between these three factors and person-first terminology. For identity-first terms, those who endorse a stronger autism identity tended to find identity-first terms more preferable and less offensive, whereas those who reported greater experiences and internalisation of stigma tended to find identity-first terms less preferable and more offensive. Previous research has tended to ask what language participants prefer. The findings of this work help provide some context as to why people prefer or find offensive specific terms, at least for identity-first language.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1588-1600
Number of pages13
Issue number6
Early online date13 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


  • autism
  • autism identity
  • label preference
  • stigma
  • terminology


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