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

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

When we are talking to parents who have a child who has been recently diagnosed with autism, our words matter. Our language can make a difference in the life of that child and family.

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

When we talk to families 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 families 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 to families that EVERY person in the world has sensory preferences.

We can help parents 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 parents to embrace their kids for who they are, because only then will their 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 not yet speaking.

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 ASD from the Inside Out treatment approach and course for SLPs, 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 ASD from the Inside Out, an online course for SLPs working with young autistic children.

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