Hello! Below you will find some terms and phrases that are used in the autistic community. Some are used favourably and some are not, but I will signpost which ones you should probably try to avoid. Use this page as a guide to vocab you may not initially know, but I will endeavour to define terms the first time I use them in a blog post.
The terms are in an order such that any pre-requisite terms are listed beforehand, but please press ‘ctrl+F’ to search for a specific term if you want to find something and not scroll through them all.
ASD / ASC
ASD stands for Autistic Spectrum Disorder, while ASC stands for Autistic Spectrum Condition. ASD is the official diagnosis under the current manual but many people in the community prefer to use ASC as they do not think of autism as a “disorder”. Whereas “disorder” may imply that it is inherently negative and with a possibility of a cure, “condition” is often perceived as being just another facet of a person’s personality. This however is contested by some who feel ASC undermines the issues that autism can cause.
Asperger Syndrome / AS
Asperger Syndrome or AS is a former diagnosis that was absorbed under the latest diagnostic review into the overall category of ASD. However, those who were diagnosed with Asperger’s still have this label and many feel that this disappearance of the diagnosis means people will not take their condition as seriously.
Sensory overload refers to when a person is receiving too much external stimuli at once and cannot manage it all. This can be in the form of sounds, lights, smells, sensations, tastes or information: often it will be a mixture of multiple. It is important to note that this is not something that can be controlled without the use of aids such as ear defenders or sunglasses. If a person is experiencing this, it is painful and sometimes incapacitating and they will struggle to recover until these stimuli are removed.
A meltdown is essentially the intense response to a sensory overload, and means that the person loses their usual behaviour control. This may be outwardly expressed by screaming, lashing out or trying to run away to cope, or inwardly expressed by curling up, crying or stimming. Meltdowns look different for different people and may vary slightly depending on the situation. These are also not controllable and are not “tantrums” as some media outlets like to call them. They are an acute reaction to the brain not being able to cope with everything that is happening, and the pain associated with it.
Stimming refers to the repeated motions often carried out by those with ASD. Common examples include rocking, hand waving and tapping. Personally I like to touch different parts of my hands together repeatedly, ensuring what I do is the same on both hands. I also rock on the spot or tap my hand against my torso. Stimming calms people with ASD down and aids with managing sensory overload, and unless it is destructive or impeding on another person’s well being, they should not be forced to stop.
Masking in this context means the way that an autistic person will change their natural behaviour to try and meet social expectations. This can be anything from suppressing stimming to consciously adding more inflection to the voice. It is a very common, very tiring practise and is why the logo for this site is a person with a mask on.
Special Interests are extremely common in the autistic community and are very intense, specialised interests that the person has that are usually researched and engaged in during free time. The person will know a lot amount about the topic and will derive joy from talking about or researching it.
Info dumping is when the person will talk for an extended period of time about a particular topic and tell you a lot of facts and trivia about it. This is usually linked to their special interest and is a term used within the community to describe the almost trance-like state the person goes into while telling you about their interest.
Savant refers to a person with savant syndrome and is often associated with autism. Savants have exceptional skills and the most well known example is Raymond Babbitt from Rain Man. However, i would like to stress that this is not the norm for an autistic person. It is estimated that only 10% of autistic people have Savant Syndrome. (Source: https://healthresearchfunding.org/savant-syndrome-statistics/)
High / Low Functioning
High functioning and low functioning are terms used to describe the cognitive abilities of an autistic person and are strongly rejected by the vast majority of the community. In essence, people feel that they are terms often used to disregard the individual’s needs and struggles and instead put them into a category to be given standard care that is not suited to them as a person. I dislike these terms strongly and I would advise against using them, especially when talking to people with ASD as it is usually found to be belittling.
It is also often used to disregard the opinions of autistic people. Non-autistics decide for themselves that we are either ‘too low functioning’ to be capable of having an opinion, or ‘too high functioning’ for our experiences to be relevant.Taken from a paper discussed in the ‘what should I say?’ blog post
Neurodivergent refers to a person who has a different way of thinking, and encompasses autism as well as other conditions such as ADD, ADHD and Tourette Syndrome. It often is extended to include mental health conditions as well as other conditions such as Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and acquired brain injuries. The opposite is called Neurotypical and refers to people with a “normal” or more common way of thinking and experiencing the world.