Journalists, reporters and other media need to stop saying “suffers from autism” when referring to an autistic person.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we Autists are overly sensitive or have hurt feelings about this.

Rather, this is something that needs to be addressed, and the solution costs nothing to those in the media who commit this error.

Or to put another way, last time a host on TV said “suffers from autism,” I thought, “You bonehead. Learn proper reporting.”

Journalistic language carries immense power in shaping public perception and understanding of various issues, including conditions like autism.

The phrase “suffers from autism” is commonly used in the media by neurotypical people — but should be reconsidered for several reasons.

This language not only perpetuates negative stereotypes and misconceptions but also undermines the dignity and agency of autistic individuals.

©Lorra Garrick

The phrase “suffers from autism” inherently implies that autism is a uniformly negative condition, associated with pain and suffering.

While it’s true that Autistics may face challenges, it’s also true that many people on the Spectrum lead fulfilling, successful lives and do not view their condition as a source of suffering or disability.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by differences in social interaction, communication and behavior.

Autistics think and see the world differently.

These differences can present difficulties, but they also contribute to the diversity of human experience and should not be solely framed in a negative light.

Using neutral or positive language, such as “has autism” or “is autistic,” acknowledges the condition without imposing a value judgment.

Secondly, the phrase “suffers from autism” contributes to the stigmatization of autistic people.

Language that frames autism in terms of suffering can evoke pity rather than understanding or acceptance.

This pity can translate into low expectations, discrimination and exclusion from opportunities in education, employment and social life.

Furthermore, the use of respectful and accurate language in journalism or the media is essential for representing the autism community’s perspectives and experiences accurately.

Many self-advocates prefer terms like “autistic” over “suffers from autism” because they see their condition as an integral part of their identity, not a burden.

This isn’t to say that there don’t exist Autistics who blame a lot of life’s struggles on their neurotype.

Certainly, there are, as evidenced by thread starters in autism forums.

But this doesn’t mean that the media should refer to the condition as something a person suffers from.

It’s not like autism makes us wake up every morning with severe constipation or break out in itchy hives every time we eat our favorite foods.

Additionally, accurate language in journalism/media has a broader impact on public understanding and policy.

When journalists use language that frames autism negatively, it can influence public attitudes and, consequently, policy decisions.

For example, portraying autism as a condition marked by suffering can lead to support for interventions aimed at “curing” autism rather than supporting autistic individuals’ needs and rights.

On the other hand, using language that reflects the complexity and diversity of the autism experience can promote policies that prioritize accessibility, inclusion and support services.

Final Notes

Journalists, bloggers, TV narrators, social media, etc., should stop saying “suffers from autism.”

  • It perpetuates negative stereotypes.
  • It contributes to stigmatization.
  • It misrepresents the perspectives of the autism community.

Words matter and often affect readers and viewers without them even realizing it.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying or writing, ”Roxandra, who’s autistic, is training for the 5K race…”

We’re autistic. We don’t suffer from autism.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical and fitness topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. In 2022 she received a diagnosis of Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder and subsequently has developed an intense interest in ASD.


­Top image: ©Lorra Garrick