Is Autism a Disability?

Many people refer to autism as a disability, but a lot of autistic people find this extremely offensive, because they do not consider themselves to be disabled.  So what is the definition of a disability, and does autism fit that definition?  The dictionary definition is shown below:





A physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.

“Children with severe physical disabilities”

Synonyms:      condition, disorder, affliction, ailment, complaint, illness, malady, disease; more

A disadvantage or handicap, especially one imposed or recognized by the law.

“The plaintiff was under a disability”

 The argument over this definition would be whether autism could be classed as a physical or mental condition.  Yes, it affects the way the mind works, but it’s the way the mind is wired from birth; the natural state of being for that person, rather than something which starts up and comes and goes throughout their life, such as depression or schizophrenia.  There is no denying that autism does have a profound effect on people’s lives.

Despite coming with lots of positives, the condition also has a number of negatives that are no doubt known to anybody reading this article.  These may well affect people in their day to day lives, and stop them from being able to do things that they might otherwise do.  Many people would argue that this makes autism a disabling condition.  A counter argument put forward by a lot of autistic people is that because the autistic spectrum is so vast everybody has different challenges, and therefore there is no one thing that autistic people are unable to do.  The other issue many autistic people raise is that once words like disability are used, terms such as “suffers from” and even”‘disease” begin to follow – as you can see from the synonyms above.

The point most autistic people seem to raise when discussing the terminology disability or disabled, is not an issue of whether the condition fits the definition of a disability, but more so the fact that they do not consider themselves to be disabled.  Several autistic people have also said that referring to them as being disabled is simply the reaction of a society that doesn’t understand their mind-set, and way of processing emotions and feelings.  To quote one autistic individual:

“You don`t understand it so you label it as separate from yourself; you look down on it, as something to be studied, and pitied.”

Also, most neuro-typical people don’t seem to think of, or refer to autism, as a disability.  It appears to be in a slightly grey area for those people; is it a disability?  Is it a learning disability? Some people consider autism to be a mental health issue.  If not, then what is it?  Is it just – as some autistic people will say – a simple state of being, a way of thinking, and feeling that doesn’t need to be analysed, and categorised.  Do the positives outweigh the negatives, or vice-versa?

The true fact about autism is that so little is known about it at this point; it could be many, many years before it is finally categorised, and this issue cleared up for good.  In the meantime, the best thing to do would be to use the term that will offend the least amount of people.


The original blog post can be found here: