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The terminology social workers use when supporting autistic people and their families is so important. 21-year-old blogger and author, Paddy-Joe Moran, shares his advice.

Functioning labels: 

The use of the terms high-functioning and low-functioning is unhelpful. The first reason being that an individual’s functioning level can change from hour to hour, or they can be great at one thing, and totally unable to do something else. The term low-functioning is offensive, even if it is not intended to be. Add to that the fact that people who are called high-functioning are often denied help and have their needs underestimated, you can see why functioning labels can be obstructive. 

Autism is not a mental health issue: 

Social care professionals might have autism training as part of a wider mental health course, or the job might entail looking at people with both autism, and a co-existing mental health issue. But it is important they make it clear to the people they are working with that they know the difference between the two.

Use parents’ names not mum/dad:  

Autistic people can take things literally, and if you turn to someone’s mum and say “What do you think mum?”, it can be confusing. You are of course not talking to your mum, but their mum. This is not something that confuses everyone, but it could confuse some people. The other side of this is that if you meet up with an autistic teenager, or even an adult, and their parents are present, saying “What does mum / dad think about this?” can inadvertently come across as patronising. 

Be clear with your plans: 

When meeting with an autistic person, make sure you let them know what to expect and be clear. For example, tell them the meeting will end at 3:30pm, not around 3:30pm. If possible, make it clear to them what you will talk about, have a structure, and do not be vague. Depending on what they want, things might change, but if you give a clear idea of what will happen and when, this helps people relax and takes away the stress of uncertainty.

‘Autistic’ vs ‘with autism’:

I use both terms, and am happy with both. But many autistic people have very strong feelings about the terms they like, and do not want to be referred to as `having’ autism…

To read more of Paddy-Joe’s advice, head over to pages 14-15 of the Sanctuary Social Work News magazine!
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