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How To Talk About Autism

Most people who are in the know about autism or have loved ones with the condition are more than happy to talk about it regularly; when you live something daily, talking about it is second nature. It is also important to talk about autism outside of one’s small circle of family members and friends. Discussing autism is a crucial way to spread information, debunk myths and help others learn how to understand a person with autism. When people have adequate knowledge and appreciation of what autism is (and isn’t), it makes a more inclusive, welcoming society.

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A vital aspect of talking about autism is education about the condition. Keep in mind that not everyone has the same knowledge base; that is an important factor to keep in mind when you consider how to talk about autism.
Those who are out of the loop about the disorder, for example, may not realize that it is a neurologically based condition. Having greater understanding of autism as a spectrum disorder, based on neurological differences, can help bridge the gap between neurotypical and non-neurotypical people.

One of the most pressing components of educating others about the condition is explaining how to understand a person with autism. People are often intimidated by differences and the best way to combat that fear is through education. Neurotypical people rely so much on non-verbal communication that it may not be self-evident that those with autism operate differently. Helping neurotypical people understand that social interactions, eye contact and communication style are likely to present differently for people on the spectrum is instrumental in improving those interactions.

As more neurotypical people become aware of these communication differences, it will expand their comfort level with regard to how to talk to people with autism. The knowledge of how to interact with adults with autism will break down barriers that lead to isolation.

How To Use Proper Language When Discussing Autism


Most people want to use correct wording but may not know the best terms to use when talking about autism. Proper language for autism is best done by role modeling. As you talk about autism and share knowledge and experiences with others, use inclusive, person-first language. Encourage others to ask questions about your experiences and offer a non-judgmental stance to show others that you are open to sharing information. If someone uses outdated terms or is operating out of limited understanding, try to remain patient and respectful as you offer a more informed perspective. When people are offered respectful and compassionate guidance rather than criticism, it bodes well for learning. Defensiveness puts up barriers that are harder to navigate, which defeats the purpose of talking about autism.

People learning how to interact with adults with autism will benefit from knowing what not to do, as well as what to do. Here are some suggestions:

  • Talk to him or her as an adult: Even with the best intentions, people can make the mistake of talking to an adult with autism as if they are a child. This is demeaning and reinforces incorrect assumptions about the disorder and varying levels of ability and understanding.
  • Take time to listen: Being an active listener allows others to feel respected and validated. Ask clarifying questions if you don’t understand.
  • Communicate with clarity: Because of differences in understanding of nuances and sarcasm, the best way of communicating with someone on the spectrum is to be clear and direct.
  • Don’t assume your non-verbal cues are being understood: A key factor in autism is the differences in interpretations of facial expression and other non-verbal social cues.
  • Understand stimming: People on the spectrum often use stimming behaviors such as hand flapping, rocking or other self-regulating behaviors. As people who are neurotypical learn more about stimming as a coping skill, it can help reduce the stigma associated with the movements.

If you or a loved one would like to learn to communicate about autism or learn more about it, reach out to the Adult Autism Center. As information and discussions about autism are shared, greater inclusion and quality of life becomes the standard. If you have a family member or loved one who is looking for adult autism services, we offer a hands-on training that focuses on daily living and growing vocational skills. Our mission is to help these individuals to continue to learn and adapt in the world around them.

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Julia Hood, Ph.D., BCBA-D is the Director of the Adult Autism Center of Lifetime Learning, the first center in Utah to provide individualized services for autistic adults.  Here, she uses her rich background in psychology to empower clients.

Julia has guided the Carmen B. Pingree Center, the center for assisting kids and adolescence, through critical stages of growth, including developing its architectural layout and clinical programs.  Under her leadership, the center has also established local partnerships that allow clients to contribute to society. 

In the future, Julia envisions building more adult autism centers, as well as providing group home residential services.  

Julia holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Westminster College, and a Masters and Ph.D. in School Psychology from the University of Utah.

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