Autism terminology in Italy and on the TAE project

In Italy, the field of autism research and provision is driven both by medical and social/educational professionals and the the terms ‘disability’ and ‘impairments’ are very frequently used. The same is true for the use of terms such as ‘high functioning’ (or ‘light autism’) and low functioning (or ‘severe autism’). The term ‘Asperger Syndrome’ is also widely used. Unfortunately, there is still some stigma attached to autism in society: the general view is that someone who is autistic is isolated and unable to speak and communicate with others.

In general terms, those in favor of inclusion tend to use ‘person first’ language, and this is a tendency not only when referring to autism, but any condition. This means that the phrase ‘person with autism’ is often used.

On the Italian team of the TAE we decided to not speak about autism as a disability but as a condition, putting a strong emphasis on environmental factors, as promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2001) in the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health. This approach to terminology was found positive and proactive by participants and team members. The notion of neurodiversity is rarely used and we wanted to introduce it in the training materials and other TAE documents, in an attempt to reject the idea of a ‘normal person’ versus an ‘autistic/disabled person’.

Dr Paola Molteni, Co-ordinator of the Italian team. 


AA.VV., International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, World Health Organization, Genève, 2001.