Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Psychology: School Psychology

First Advisor

Karla Doepke

Second Advisor

Corinne Zimmerman


Language used when referring to individuals with disabilities has changed over time as a result of advocacy and a search for equality and humanization. Beginning in the 1970s, there was a shift to the use of person-first language (PFL; e.g., person with autism) to reduce stigma, while simultaneously promoting equal human rights standards and opportunities for those with disabilities (Bury et al., 2020; Vivanti, 2020). PFL has been commonly used in many professional settings, but more recently this practice has received criticism from self-advocates and scholars who believe that identity-defining features, such as autism, cannot be separated from the individual. Arguments have been made that PFL may perpetuate stigma by drawing attention to a disability through unconventional language. Increasingly, disability advocates have expressed a preference for identity-first language (IFL; e.g., autistic). In the current study, U.S. autism stakeholders (i.e., adults with autism, parents of autistic individuals, professionals, family members/friends) and a comparison group of individuals with little to no experience with the autism community (n = 728) were surveyed about their usage of and preference for PFL and IFL terms to communicate about disabilities versus non-disability traits. Across affiliation groups, participants were more likely to select a PFL term when provided with a disability phrase, as compared to a non-disability phrase, and were also more likely to select a PFL term for a developmental disability than for a sensory/physical disability. Preferences and the use of terms varied across affiliation groups. The majority of autistic individuals preferred to self-identify using IFL (87%); however, a minority of autistic individuals did prefer to self-identify using PFL (13%). In contrast, professionals were more likely to use, like, and choose PFL terms, which is consistent with current education and guidelines provided to students and professionals. Parents and family members/friends reported preferring a similar number of IFL and PFL terms. Parents, however, rated PFL and IFL terms similarly and chose an IFL term when asked to choose just one term, while family members/friends rated preferring PFL over IFL terms and chose a PFL term. Those with little to no experience with the autism community selected more PFL terms than IFL terms, rated PFL terms as more likable, and equally selected a PFL or IFL term. In a follow-up vignette study, parents of autistic individuals were surveyed about how school faculty language terminology use impacted their comfortability, willingness to communicate, and trust in the faculty members. The use of incongruent language terminology (i.e., using terms that are inconsistent with parents’ preferred language use) by faculty members was revealed to significantly decrease trust in the faculty member, but not significantly impact comfortability or willingness to communicate.


Imported from Taboas_ilstu_0092E_12084.pdf


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