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How to Use a Strengths-Based Approach to Talk About Autism

Updated: Mar 23

When we are talking about autism, our words matter. Our language can make a difference in the life of a an autistic child and their family.

In my last post I quoted Rachel Dorsey, an autistic SLP, in saying “Autism is not a tragedy.”

When we talk about autism, we have two choices.

We can either talk about it as a tragedy, focusing on all of the child’s "deficit" areas and how we want to help the child to fit in with their neurotypical peers…


We can tell others that autism is just another way of being human (Another comment by Rachel, who put her own spin on Barry’s Prizant’s original quote).

We can humanize autism.

We can explain that EVERY person in the world has sensory preferences.

We can help others to understand the WHY behind their child’s actions.

We can take a strengths-based approach, where we highlight the child’s incredible strengths, passions, and interests, rather than focusing on their deficits, difficulties, and challenges.

We can encourage people to embrace autistic kids for who they are, because only then will the child grow up to be a confident person who feels good about their place in this world.

Here are some really simple ways we can reframe our language when talking about autistic children.

Instead of: He has severe meltdowns.

Try: He feels emotions intensely.

Instead of: He is obsessed with cars.

Try: He is very passionate and enthusiastic about cars.

Instead of: He is perseverating on the fan spinning.

Try: He is fascinated by the fan spinning.

Instead of: He displays restricted and repetitive behaviors.

Try: He enjoys moving his body in the same way over and over again.

Instead of: He is rigid with his routines.

Try: He prefers consistency and sameness.

Instead of: He is an extreme picky eater with severe food aversions.

Try: He has a sensitive palate and specific food preferences.

Instead of: He is nonverbal.

Try: He is nonspeaking. Here's how he communicates...

Instead of: He is low-functioning.

Try: He needs a higher level of support.

Just remember: Our words matter. And they can make all the difference.

To learn more about Jessie's Inside Out Sensory Certificate for SLPs, click here. To learn about the Inside Out Sensory Communication Program for Parents click here.


Psychology Today, Talking About Autism

Psychology Today, Reframing Professional Language Around Autism

Jessie Ginsburg, M.S., CCC-SLP is the founder of Pediatric Therapy Playhouse, a multidisciplinary clinic in Los Angeles, and the creator of Inside Out Programs, online trainings for Parents and SLPs working with young autistic children.

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