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The Value of Using Autism Therapy in Toronto for Support with an Autism Diagnosis

Read Time: 5 minutes

Finding out that your child has autism is probably one of the most difficult things in the world for a parent. You might go through a period of denial, believing that there has been a mistake. Then you might have a period of grief and loss, thinking about the way things would have been. You might cry about the loss of  your “healthy” child, feeling all sorts of negative emotions. Using the resources available from autism therapy in Toronto can help you right from diagnosis.

Accepting your autistic child as he/she is can be a liberating experience. The moment you stop fighting the diagnosis of autism, you will be in a better place to support your child’s needs. By embracing his/her uniqueness, you will be better able to make decisions and pursue the strategies and supports that your child requires.  

Mom hugging autistic son after discovering autism therapy in Toronto.

Embracing the atypical 

Do you love your child less because he/she is on the autism spectrum? The answer is clearly no. But parents are human beings nonetheless and they tend to turn into saviors, wanting for their autistic children to be “typical”. 

In truth, your child needs to be loved, first and foremost. You have to embrace the atypical and be accepting of who he/she is. Remember that you are your child’s greatest advocate. Acceptance is a gradual process and one that will help you fight for your child. 

Why is denial the first response?

In a beautifully written piece for The Autism Society, Dr. Robert Naseef says: “Acceptance is not about giving up or resignation, but rather learning to live with something that is hard to face.”

You received the diagnosis, but, deep down, you likely already knew something was not right. There are few parents who can accept this diagnosis and think about solutions on the spot. Most parents automatically go to denial as a first response – this is a defence mechanism, one that we have selected to keep pain at a distance. 

Even if your child has been confirmed to be on the autism spectrum, he/she is still your child. And you should try and see the diagnosis as the start of a journey, the one toward helping your little one achieve his/her maximum potential. Accessing autism therapy in Toronto is one way to help them.

Instead of fighting the diagnosis, it is best to accept it and learn how to live with it. Let go of the things you imagined and celebrate your child, and his/her abilities. The diagnosis will only help you cater more effectively to his/her needs and provide the needed support. A diagnosis can also help you access provincial funding for autism therapy in Toronto. You will have a happy child as a result and feel less stressed in your parenting. 

Autism is neither good nor bad

Are you familiar with the concept of radical acceptance? It refers to accepting something as it is, without fighting it. Acceptance is the first step to creating a plan. You have to acknowledge that something has to be done before you can create a plan to tackle it. When it comes to autism, this concept can be very freeing and can help you advocate for your child. Autism is neither good nor bad, and it is certainly not the only defining characteristic that your child has. 

Therapeutic solutions, such as autism therapy in Toronto, can help your child learn new skills and achieve new levels of potential. At home, you will have to work with him/her as well but make sure that you leave plenty of time for fun. Spontaneous play, led by your child, can be of tremendous importance. Do not insist for typical play, as this can only cause frustration. Follow your child’s lead and interests. 

Do not send the “you are broken” message

Even if an autistic child is non-verbal, you have to pay attention to your words and to your gestures. If you are constantly pushing for normality, you are sending a message that they are somehow “broken” or “damaged”. While it is not possible to separate autism from the child, you have to refrain from seeing your child exclusively from that autistic perspective. 

Challenge yourself to accept your child, with the good and the bad. Try not to see your child’s skill deficits as permanent, there is always something to be learned or a way to improve a skill or situation.  Use their needs as a jumping off point for new learning and skill development.   

A message to take home about autism therapy in Toronto

There will be plenty of moments when you will feel challenged, wanting things to be ‘normal’. In those difficult situations, remind yourself that autistic children are, first and foremost, children. And like all children, they need our love to thrive. 

Stop thinking about the things that are “missing” and embrace the child you have. Celebrate each small success and avoid comparing your child with others. With the help of a team of therapists, create a personalized plan using all the avenues available at autism therapy in Toronto, making sure that you are actively involved in the therapy process. You have the insight into what is important to your child and family and should feel comfortable to direct the therapy team towards achieving those goals. 

Contact Side by Side Therapy to have a no-charge 30 minute consultation to discuss the best options for your child.

Respite Services in Toronto for ASD Parents

Read Time: 3 minutes

With the weather finally getting warmer and the hope that the Ontario “stay at home” order will be lifted, parents are becoming optimistic that these days of isolation may soon be behind us.  Parents can begin planning how they will access respite services in Toronto. Parenting is hard on the best days especially for those that have autistic children, throw in a pandemic and life becomes more challenging and overwhelming than ever before. 

Couple at lake at sunset, enjoying the time that their child is in respite services in Toronto.

Understandably, parents need a break in order to successfully care for their children; taking care of themselves will guard against burn-out, stress and fatigue. Accessing respite as opposed to just a regular babysitter will also allow parents to go out on a date or take a break without stressing and worrying about their child’s well-being while they are away. 

Benefits of Respite Services in Toronto

Respite services in Toronto are available to come to your home and provide specialized caregiving to your child or children and youth that have special needs including Autism.  Respite services provide flexible short-term temporary care and relief, depending on your specific needs, which is essential for supporting parents with child/youth with special needs.  Allowing parents to have time to engage in self-care, rest, see friends and most importantly, spend time together, will undeniably help parents to be more successful and calmer caretakers.  

When the restrictions are lifted, parents need to take this opportunity to reconnect and take a well-deserved break. Parents, especially those of Autistic children, may have found a strain on their relationship due to the overwhelming commitments around caregiving, especially during these unprecedented times.  In realizing this, it is important, now more than ever, to use respite services in Toronto to take the time for each other to reenergize and connect.

Below are some suggestions of fun date ideas to do in the GTA:

Laser Quest is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



Laser Quest – After being cooped up for so long, if you are looking for a fun and interactive activity, that is reasonably priced, then Laser Tag is a great option.  They have many locations around the GTA from Toronto East, Mississauga, Brampton, Richmond Hill and Whitby. For more information please visit their website at https://www.laserquest.com/

Formula Kartwary is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



Formula Kartways Located in Brampton, Formula Kartways is a go-karting venue to fulfill your thrill-seeking needs. If you enjoy the need for speed or some friendly competition with your partner, then this is the perfect date place.  The great thing is that you don’t need to be good at go-karting to have a great time! For more information please visit their website at http://formulakartways.com/

Axe Throwing at Batl Axe is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



BATL Axe Throwing – If you are looking for a way to release some of the pent-up energy accumulated during your stay home during the pandemic, then axe throwing is the perfect solution. This incredibly fun activity has various locations around the city.  Try it out, you will surely not be disappointed!  For more information please visit their website at https://batlgrounds.com/

Cineplex Cinemas is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



Cineplex Cinemas – There is no better way to escape from reality than through the experience of a movie.  Going to the movies is a classic pastime and a great way to spend time with your partner.  With many locations around the GTA, you will undoubtedly find a movie that will sweep you away on date night! For more information please visit https://www.cineplex.com/

Visiting High Park is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



High Park – As Toronto’s largest public park, there are many amazing things to do in this vast, lush, beautiful outdoor playground. The park offers activities such as hiking trails, a few eateries, a picnic area, a zoo, a lakefront, to just name a few. What a terrific way to become reacquainted with your partner in an outdoor majestic environment. All you have to do is arrive, take a breath, relax and enjoy!  For more information please visit their website at http://www.highparktoronto.com/

Visiting the Distillery District is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



The Distillery District – Tucked away in the Toronto East-End, what was once a historic distillery district, is now a community made up of a mix of old and new, resulting in an amazing urban gem. While at the Distillery you will find cobblestone pathways that lead you to quaint art galleries, shops and restaurants. There are also often all sorts of events going on, which indeed, keeps the district full of energy and life. 

For more information please visit their website at https://www.thedistillerydistrict.com/

In conclusion:

Remember, parents are humans with important needs too.  Luckily, respite services are available to help make life easier and provide opportunities for partners to re-energize and reconnect. Take a break, go on a date, you know you deserve it!  

If you would like to discuss respite services in Toronto, please contact us to set up a no-charge consultation today. 

2 Necessary Social Skills you should teach your child!

It is often said that a parent is a child’s first teacher, playing an important role where development and learning are concerned. A diagnosis of autism only reinforces this belief, in the sense that the parent will work harder to help his/her child develop strengths and overcome challenges. Social skills, specifically self-awareness and self-determination are vital to your child’s future.

You can teach social skills

Self-awareness is a difficult concept for almost all autistic children, but nonetheless, it is a social skill that they must learn and use every day. As parents, you bear the responsibility of “equipping” your children with such skills, preparing them for becoming their own advocates in adolescence and adulthood.

Parent talking to her son about his social skills. They're both smiling.



We can empower autistic children from an early age, helping them become more aware of their own self and also to discover self-determination. Our efforts will allow them to express themselves in an capable manner, to better understand those around them and engage in suitable behavior in response. 

What are the factors affecting self-awareness in autistic children?

Autistic children might battle language and communication impairment, as well as social difficulties and sensory differences. They might exhibit stereotypical behaviors or intense interests. It goes without saying that all of these impairments will affect self-awareness. 

Imagine your child as being equipped with the wrong skills. He/she does not know how to express how he/she is feeling, and they have serious difficulty understanding others. An autistic child might not know the expected behaviors and emotions, and he/she will rarely consider how others are feeling or what they are thinking. 

Main factors affecting self-awareness are:

  • Difficulty with transitions/changes 
  • Deficits in understanding emotional exchange
  • Lack of attention to others
  • Language and social communication impairments 
  • Impaired ability to take another’s perspective

Empowering your child to develop self-awareness 

Your child has both strengths and weaknesses. As mentioned in the beginning, you can empower your child by working together on developing his/her strengths. 

Parents have an amazing power, in the sense that they can help their children understand not only how the world functions but also how they should function in that world. Self-regulation will appear as a natural result, allowing the child to advocate for himself/herself, especially in difficult situations.

Activities/solutions for improved self-awareness from study.com

  • Drawing a bug on paper and adding pictures of things that “bug” him/her – encourage the child to be as specific as possible, adding foods, animals, etc. 
  • Glue a photograph of your child to a piece of paper and ask them to draw things he/she is good at; images might be used for non-verbal children. Encourage the child to reflect on his/her strengths. 
  • Yes/no – read your child simple sentences, waiting for his/her answer. If non-verbal, use gestures to signify approval or negation. Examples: “I like to eat…”, “I prefer (toys)”, “My favorite activity is…” The goal of this activity is to help your child be able to identify their preferences and communicate them to others. 
  • Mirror self-awareness – working in the mirror, together with your child, to develop self-recognition; the more you work, the more aware the child will become of his/her body and its position in space. Work on gestures and making eye contact as well. 

Self-determination 

This is also a critical skill to achieve, as it will guarantee independence in adolescence and adulthood. Research has confirmed that it plays an important part in academic success, as well as in personal life. Social skills can predict the capacity for self-determination – as a parent, you need to work on these every day. 

How to help your child achieve self-determination 

  • Provide your child with opportunities to make decisions and then follow through with them even if you know the outcome might not be ideal.
  • Teach your child the specific behaviours for specific situations, and do not make the assumption that an autistic child will know the correct behaviour without being taught.
  • Be patient and offer concrete examples of the behaviour you expect to see. Tell your child what to do, not only what not to do. Give your child plenty of opportunities to observe adequate behaviour.
  • Practice, practice and practice. Do not expect for your child to learn social skills automatically, but rather keep in mind that learning requires both observation and practice. Offer your child the support he/she needs, and plenty of encouragement. 
Parent and child working on sharing as a social skills. They are sharing some building blocks.



While it is true that applied behaviour analysis can help autistic children develop a lot of valuable skills, you have to remember that in many autistic children, skills don’t automatically generalize. The skills learned in therapy must be practiced at home in order to be solidified and maintained. The earlier you teach self-awareness and self-determination, the easier it will be for your child to advocate for himself/herself later in life.

Top 10 Fun Autism and Sensory Friendly Places in the Greater Toronto Area

Read time: 5 minutes

Have you ever been in a situation where the music was just too loud or the lights were way too bright? How about being in a place that was far too overcrowded and you started to feel overwhelmed and panicky? Well, this is a common feeling for those that are diagnosed with autism or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). SPD is related to over or under sensitivity to certain sensory stimulation such as loud noises, bright lights, tastes and touch.

It is a condition that affects the way the brain receives and responds to information concerning our senses and has been found to create either an over or under sensitivity to certain things within our environment.  Those that have (children specifically for the purposes of this article) SPD often receive a co-occuring diagnosis like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 

Since SPD is so prominent in children especially for those that also have additional disorders, life can become difficult for not only the child but for the parents and caretakers as well.  This sensory sensitivity can be very debilitating and sadly can turn a task as simple as going to the grocery store into a very difficult undertaking.

Here in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in Canada, some companies have caught on for the need to provide alternative accommodations for those that live with special needs like  SPD, ASD & ADHD etc. These establishments have collaborated with autistic focussed organizations to find ways to modify their businesses to provide a sensory-friendly environment.  

Child with autism plugging her hears and shutting her eyes tight.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sensory stimuli in the environment. These GTA attractions are working to help your child manage these times.


Below you will find some of the places around the GTA that are now offering these autism and sensory-friendly settings.

Autism or Sensory Friendly Attractions in Toronto

1. Ontario Science Centre – 770 Don Mills Road, Toronto, ON M3C 1T3The Ontario Science Centre offers Sensory-friendly Saturdays on the first Saturday of every month from 3 – 7 p.m. They have partnered with Geneva Centre for Autism and other organizations to offer sensory-friendly events and programs. Sensory-friendly Saturdays were created to provide an environment that is inclusive, respectful and accessible. Their program is available to everyone and is appropriate for all ages and abilities. 

The following dates are set for 2020:

February 1, March 7, April 4, May 2, June 6, July 4, August 1, September 5, October 3, November 7 and December 5 


For more information please visit their website at: https://www.ontariosciencecentre.ca/showsandexperiences/368/ 

2. Toronto Zoo – 361A Old Finch Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M1B 5K7

The Toronto Zoo has developed a downloadable app specifically for those with ASD. This app called MagnusCards (for more information please visit http://torontozoo.magnuscards.com/) was created to provide a structured, step-by-step program that has a game-like design which helps teach a variety of life skills through the use of the app.

This app is believed to provide empowerment and a welcoming environment for those living with autism and other cognitive special needs.  The five-card decks include information on entering the zoo, Indo-Malaya, Tundra Trek, African Rainforest Pavilion, and Getting Help.      

For more information please visit their website at: http://www.torontozoo.com/tz/accessibility 

3. Cineplex Movie Theatre – Variety of Locations

Cineplex theatres offer “Sensory Friendly Screenings”, which includes a “lights up and volume down” environment.  In partnership with Autism Speaks Canada, Cineplex provides an atmosphere that allows those individuals with ASD or those who suffer from sensory sensitivities the opportunity to enjoy new releases at the theatre. 

The website states that these screenings will take place approximately every 4 – 6 weeks on Saturday mornings at 10:30 AM, however it is best to check your local theatre in case any changes have taken place. 

For more information please visit their website at: https://www.cineplex.com/Theatres/SensoryFriendly 

4. Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) – 100 Queen’s Park, Toronto ON, M5S 2C6

The ROM has teamed up with Autism Ontario to create a “ROM Sensory Friendly Guide”, where they provide helpful tips for visiting. The guide speaks on different areas in the museum that could affect someone with sensory issues (such as loud noises, lighting, scents, temperature, sloped floors and crowded areas). It also outlines where there are quiet areas around the museum. 

For more information please visit their website at:

https://www.rom.on.ca/en/visit-us/accessibility/rom-sensory-friendly-guide-for-visitors

5. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada – 288 Bremner Boulevard, Toronto, ON M5V 3L9, CANADA

Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is the first autism certified attraction in Canada.  This Certified Autism Center has been designated by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) after completing comprehensive autism awareness and sensitivity training. 

Ripley’s Aquarium is committed to ensuring that their visitors with ASD and other sensory sensitivities have the greatest time while at the attraction. The staff have undergone extensive training and each exhibit integrates some form of IBCCES sensory guidelines (https://www.ripleyaquariums.com/canada/files/2019/04/Sensory-Guides-Final.pdf) which provides the guests with additional information regarding the sensory impacts at each display or activity. 

Please check out their website for dates and times as they will be hosting several additional sensory-friendly days that include quiet spaces, music-free environments and increased lighting. 

6. Chuck E. Cheese – Various locations around the GTA

Chuck E. Cheese offers a sensory-friendly experience the first Sunday of every month at participating locations, this includes opening doors two-hours before their regular opening times.  The organization realizes that the Chuck E. Cheese experience can be overstimulating and therefore wanted to provide an opportunity for those that suffer from sensory sensitivities to come out and have fun with well-trained staff.  As it is their mission to provide an event that allows “ALL kids to be a kid”.

For more information please visit their website at:

https://www.chuckecheese.com/events/sensory-sensitive-sundays

7. Skyzone – Various locations around the GTA

Skyzone offers activities such as trampolining and jumping along with a wide variety of other programs. At Skyzone, visitors are provided with a fun experience that allows them to burn off energy in an extremely fun way.  Skyzone offers sensory-friendly hours which provides a calmer, toned-down jumping experience for those with special needs. 

For more information please visit their website at:

https://www.skyzone.com/programs/sensory-hours

8. Sobeys – Various locations around the GTA

As mentioned, tasks for which most would think is simple such as grocery shopping can be an anxiety-ridden experience for both a child with ASD and their parent/caretaker.  Grocery stores can have a lot of sensory stimuli such as loud music, bright lights and crowds which can be overwhelming for a child that suffers from sensory sensitivities.

Sobeys has taken notice of this issue and has now created an accessible and inclusive sensory-friendly shopping experience.  To accommodate the sensory needs, Sobeys provides every week, a two-hour shopping window where they eliminate almost all the in-store lights and sounds.

Some of the sensory sensitivity measures taken by Sobeys are turning down the lights, turning off scanners, lowering music, having staff members speaking in softer tones and holding off on any announcements. According to Sobeys, the sensory sensitive shopping takes place currently on Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.  Please check with your local Sobeys for up to date information on dates and times. 

For more information please visit their website at:

https://www.blogto.com/eat_drink/2019/09/sobeys-sensory-friendly/

9. Young Peoples Theatre – 165 Front Street East, Toronto M5A 3Z4

Young Peoples Theatre offers “relaxed performances” where the performances are the same however there is a more relaxed atmosphere relating to noise levels and movement.  The sensory sensitive measures include the house lights being adjusted so that they are not as dark as they normally would be. They have also created designated relief areas where you can go if a break is needed.  For the ease of your child’s visit the theatre has also created a visual visiting guide that can be looked over with your child prior to your arrival to help eliminate any fears or surprises that could arise. 

The visual guide can be found at: https://www.youngpeoplestheatre.org/about-ypt/accessibility/

10. Upper Canada Village – 13740 County Road 2, Morrisburg, Ontario

Upper Canada Village is nestled up in Morrisburg Ontario and offers visitors an exciting experience of what life was like back in the 1860s.  Through transporting back in time, visitors are able to explore authentic buildings, activities and the people of the time. Upper Canada Village offers ASD sensory-friendly Sunday mornings where a child with sensory sensitivities will be able to enjoy the attractions is a less chaotic and overwhelming environment. They provide some helpful tips on their website for visiting the village with a sensory sensitive child.

For more information please visit their website at:

https://www.uppercanadavillage.com/events/asd-sensory-friendly-sunday-mornings/

Enjoying fun and memorable experiences is so important for children and even though your child may suffer from sensory sensitivities it is comforting to know that particular companies are working towards creating inclusive and accessible environments for ALL children to feel welcome and be able to enjoy their time. 

Autism: what’s more important equality or equity?

Read time: 6 minutes

Equality and equity are words that are often understood as being synonymous as they both have the implication of fairness, however, the two meanings are actually very different. Equality means to have the same opportunities as everyone else. Equity speaks to ensuring that everyone has the opportunities they need to be successful.

There have been many political movements that have espoused equal rights: women’s groups, minority groups, autism advocacy groups and other disability rights groups.

With equality, it is assumed that everyone has the same starting point and should be treated in exactly the same way. While with equity, the belief is that not all people start at the same point and for that reason, each person should receive (based on their distinct abilities) what they need to be successful. In understanding the difference between the two, we can conclude  that fairness does not mean equality

Modifications and Accommodations for Autism

While the idea behind equality is to treat everyone “fairly” and “equally”, it has sadly missed the mark when looking at fairness around Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Assuming that everyone is equal and is starting from the same place (which we know is not true, especially in autism) can actually create unintentional barriers. For instance, modifications are necessary for those with autism to be successful in their daily routines.

Making practical changes allows the starting point to truly become one of fairness. Simply put, modifications and adjustments are how we can promote fairness and ensure that all people are provided with the tools they need to achieve success. 

An example of these modifications put into action is an autism framework is that of a child who has sensory concerns or challenging behaviour and has trouble sitting in a circle on the floor with the rest of the class.  Pressuring the child to join on the floor may create resistance or even a meltdown which affects not only the autistic child but the class as a whole. A small concession that a teacher may make is to allow the child to sit on a chair in the circle to help with engagement and integration.

Yes, this may seem to some degree “unfair” to the other children or “special treatment”, however with this minor adjustment being made to accommodate a child that has additional needs, the teacher has effectively created a more positive and successful learning environment not only for the autistic child but for the entire class as well.

We cannot and must not expect every child to fit into one box and hope that success will be the same across the board. We have to realize that accommodations and flexibility provided by parents, professionals and autism caregivers are not only kind but are actually essential to achieving true equity. 

Autism ABA Therapy Lindsey Malc Side by Side Therapy Equality vs Equity Cartoon of boys trying to see over a fence.
Equality vs equity cartoon showing the practical difference between the two terms.

As these adjustments are necessary, we need to position them as being so. Instead of the modification being looked at as unfair, it rather should be seen as levelling the playing field to ensure fairness. If we don’t make a big deal about these accommodations than others (classmates, siblings etc.) won’t either. We need to keep in mind that it’s not only those with autism that are different, but we are also all different in our own way and therefore have different capabilities and needs.

In focussing too much on equality and  fairness, we end up overlooking the wonderfulness of difference. Instead, we need to look at each person individually to ensure equity and flexibility are at the forefront. Then and only then we can indeed provide fairness in its truest form.  

To further exemplify, here in Ontario, Canada all of the changes that are being proposed and made regarding the Ontario Autism Program’s funding is a prime example of the misunderstanding surrounding equality and equity.  The province seems to be under the impression that allocating the same amount of funds for children who fall within provincially designated categories (age, etc). will provide equality across the board.  However, where the mistake lies is that autism does not affect each person in the same ways.

Therefore, funding and resources should not be allocated based on provincially set rigid categories such as age, and should instead be provided and distributed based on individual need. As autism falls on a spectrum from mild to severe, one child who is nonverbal may require, for example, far more Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) Therapy or Speech Therapy, than a verbal autistic child. This example is just one of many reasons why “equality” in this case will just not work.    

Below is a helpful example of a lesson that can be played with your children to help explain this confusing topic:  

The One Size Fits All Band-Aid Lesson – Ask the children to share their most serious injury: some may say a broken arm, a dislocated shoulder or a cut on the forehead. Once the injuries have been acknowledged, explain to them that your solution to heal them is to provide them each with a band-aid. 

This solution will most likely raise some confusion to the children, as how is a band-aid supposed to fix a broken arm or a dislocated shoulder? This unhelpful solution shows that there is not one solution to all situations and that each situation needs to be addressed in it’s own way. Even though using the same solution (the band-aid) may in theory seem fair, how can this “equal” method of treating three different injuries be acceptable? All that is accomplished is that only a small number of people actually get the help they need while the rest of the group suffers. 

Once again, it is important to remember that there is a difference between equality and equity. Fairness can only truly be gained with compromises and modifications which ensure that all people are indeed given the tools they need to be successful.  Would you not agree to a person with bad eyesight getting glasses or a non-english speaker having a translator at the hospital? It is a similar situation when making adjustments for autistic children and others with exceptionalities.

We know that not all people are born the same, and in keeping this in mind, we need to continue to work towards levelling the playing field to ensure actual fairness is received. 

Autistic People or People with Autism: 2 Completely Opposing Perspectives

Read time: 5 minutes

The subject of language is such an important factor in shaping the way we look at and interact with society. The connotations and assumptions that have been learned with language have moulded (intentionally or unintentionally) our perspectives and outlook. 

These learned assumptions play a large part in influencing our way of understanding and looking at things and sadly, at times, one’s outlook can be detrimental to others. Stereotypes and labels, unfortunately, are often a misrepresentation of what some believe to be the truth and regrettably place barriers before those they view as ‘different’ or as ‘other’. We view difference as being bad. However, what does different mean and who decided this?   

Autistic community targeted as different

When speaking on difference, the autistic community has struggled with being labelled and stereotyped as ‘different’. You can read about autism spectrum disorder here. If we, as a society, could change our perspectives and look at autistic people not as ‘different’ or as an ‘other’, but instead see that in a lot of cases, the difference simply lies in their approach to how they cope in and interact with society. This shift in thinking could truly offer this community the respect and acceptance they deserve.  

Couple arguing about whether to use person first or identify first language, meaning whether to say person with autism or autistic person.

To that note, there has been much debate and controversy surrounding the appropriate choice of language used when identifying or communicating with an autistic person.  This debate is focused on identity-first language (“autistic person”) versus person-first language (“person with autism”). Now, you may look at the above two forms of language and think these nuisances are based on semantics, however, if you look to understand and break it down the difference is not only important but rather quite clear. 

The concepts are:

  • Identity-first language which is the preferential choice of language for those within the autistic community. It is their preference for the use of words such as “Autistic” or “Autistic person” when being addressed, spoken or identified with. Since we know that autism is an inherent part of a person’s identity, it is believed that identity should be recognized first. The person cannot break away from autism. Therefore, from this perspective, identity-first language is a choice for empowerment, shared community beliefs, culture and identity.  It speaks to the fact that being autistic is nothing to be ashamed of and differences are to be respected and celebrated not criticized.

Versus

  • Person-first language has been adopted by parents, caretakers and professionals of autistic people and they use terminology such as “person with autism”. This viewpoint explains in essence, that person-first language puts the person before the disability or the condition and focuses on the merits and worth of the individual by accepting them as a person instead of a condition. This outlook taken on by caretakers, family members and professionals are based on the idea that they do not consider autism to be part of the child’s identity and therefore don’t want them to be labelled as such.      

The controversy, therefore, surrounding the use of person-first language as recognized by many within the autistic community, is that it suggests that a person can be separated from autism.  Autism is a neurological, developmental condition that’s considered a disorder with disabling effects. It is lifelong and does not on its own cause harm or death such as another disease might (such as measles… but don’t get my started on vaccine safety).

Diseases, unlike autism, are often labelled through the use of “with”, such as, “person with cancer”. Autism, on the other hand, is part of a person’s individuality and make-up which shapes a person’s way of understanding the world and interacting in it. In labelling autistic people in the same way you would someone with a disease puts autism as inherently bad just like a disease, which clearly could not be further from the truth.

Consequently, this is why those within the autistic community are fighting to change this use of language to a more identity focused instead of disability focused point of view. Is it too far-fetched for us to respect the wishes of those to whom we are referring  and who can, in fact, speak on real-life experience and their identity? 

By understanding the differences and connotations associated with language and its use, alongside, respecting the wishes of those that identify as autistic is crucial. When in doubt of which language should be used while engaging with the community it is best to check amongst the group and its members. If you are still unclear, then I recommend you reach out and ask. 

In my writing, I will use identity- first language, unless I am asked to do otherwise by my collaborators or the person I am writing about. This goes against my training and habits, but I want to honour the voices and opinions of the autistics who have shared their wishes with us.

Remember, language is important and impactful in so many ways and can, unfortunately, have harmful consequences if used inappropriately.  For this reason, we need to recognize the way in which we choose to use language and continue to be cognizant of its outcome, always. 

Covid-19 Update

Please click the link below to read a message from our Founder and Clinical Director, Lindsey Malc, regarding Covid-19.

Covid-19 Resoures Page