The words we use matter. When we use inclusive language, we’re making sure that everyone feels welcome and valued, no matter who they are, where they’re from, and what their abilities are. In the same way, neuro-affirming language aims to understand and respect the different ways people’s brains work.

At The Sinneave Family Foundation (Sinneave), using neuro-inclusive and -affirming language is about being mindful, intentional, flexible, and responsive to the communication preferences of those we’re talking with and about.

One of the ways we learn and improve in our work is to ask and listen to those with lived experience. Sinneave’s Director of Research & Innovation, Shane Lynch, talks about this recent shift in approach. “The desire to have Autistic voices inform research and services represents a major shift in how services are prioritized, created, and delivered.”

By asking and listening, we continue to inform our use of language in all aspects of our work and are learning the considerations and preferences of Autistic and neurodivergent individuals. “The ways in which we think about, talk about, and write about autism can have a profound influence on both how society treats Autistic people, as well as how Autistic people see themselves,” he adds.

Even though we don’t always get it right, we believe it’s important to share this perspective, encouraging others to embrace the shift towards inclusive language along with us. Following the recommendations of Autistic self-advocates, Sinneave has written a Guide to Neuro-affirming Language which offers recommendations for how to think and speak about autism in a way that is positive and strengths-based.

Jordan Parks, a student intern at Sinneave, began working on the project last summer and speaks to the importance of it. “Whether or not we realize it, a subtle word change can affect our entire outlook, influencing how we perceive or interact with our environment,” she says. “The words we choose often reflect neuro-normative expectations that more often than not, put people down rather than lift them up.”

Sinneave’s Guide to Neuro-affirming Language offers current general practices and a lens into how to respectfully communicate about autism and neurodivergence in written documents, information shared online, in presentations, as well as when communicating in person.

For Jordan, working on the project helped to solidify in her mind the importance of it and the need for change, though it wasn’t always easy. “Starting these conversations can be scary, not only because people might take it personally if you explain the weight of certain words, but also because language preferences are so widely variable, which is reflected everywhere we go.”

She acknowledges that preferences in language exist, and not all people will share the same perspective, but it’s our responsibility to ensure that we do our best to “promote dignity through language, even if that means having difficult conversations.”

Our intention for the Guide is to not only inform our own communication practices, but to provide others with a practical tool to assist them in building intentionality into the ways they also communicate about autism and neurodiversity. “By shifting our language so that we speak to Autistics and describe autism from a place of difference (not deficit), positivity and strength, we affirm their inherent value,” says Shane.

Jordan agrees and hopes that the change is more than just superficial. “I hope that in offering readily identifiable language options which are more supportive of neurodivergent individuals, that people will begin to shift their own inner dialogues and perspectives, creating a more inclusive environment without even realizing it,” Jordan adds.

Sinneave’s Guide to Neuro-affirming language is now available on our website. It is free to download, and we encourage you to use it and share it with your networks.

To view the guide and download your copy, click the button below that says, “Neuro-affirming Language Guide”.

Neuro-affirming Language Guide


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