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Spectrum: Autism Research News

Editorial Policies /


The leading source of news and expert opinion on autism research.

Spectrum’s style

Words matter to us at Spectrum. As journalists, we know they have the power not only to inform and educate, but also to shape cultural attitudes. That’s why it’s important to us to use language that is respectful of the autism community and reflects current usage in the field.

We have made changes to our style guide over the past several years. For example, we now call autism a condition rather than a disorder or a disease; we refer to those in a study as participants rather than subjects; and we never refer to anyone with a condition as not ‘normal.’

Until 2018, Spectrum’s style was to use person-first language (‘person with autism’) when referring to people on the spectrum. The rationale for this language is to put a person’s humanity first, before their condition. We adopted this style based on recommendations from the American Psychological Association and the National Center on Disability and Journalism, and based on what professionals in the field tend to use.

But language evolves, and many people in the autism community now strongly prefer identity-first language (‘autistic person’). This terminology embraces autism as part of a person’s identity rather than a condition that is separate from them. Some professionals are also beginning to prefer this language. The style guide of the National Center on Disability and Journalism no longer recommends person-first language. Instead, it simply recommends asking a person how they prefer to be identified.

In light of this shift, as of July 2018 we use person-first and identity-first language interchangeably. As always, if a writer expresses a preference, we will defer to that. Our writers will also start asking sources on the spectrum how they prefer to be identified in a story.

We believe using person-first and identity-first language interchangeably is the most inclusive choice, as it makes room for both preferences. Our intention underlying both approaches is the same: to write about autism in a way that is accurate, clear and respectful.

Commenting guidelines

Here at Spectrum, we encourage open debate about the research we cover, and we welcome a diversity of perspectives. To keep this conversation constructive, we’ve set guidelines for comments. We will actively moderate any comments that we feel violate our standards and we will ban repeat offenders. For our complete Terms and Conditions, click here. Thank you for reading Spectrum.

Be polite: We will not tolerate disrespectful comments of any kind.

Stick to the science: Spectrum is a news site, not a resource for medical advice. We will delete comments that recommend treatments or contain claims that don’t square with scientific evidence.

Stay on-topic: We will moderate comments that are not relevant to the discussion, or that contain links to commercial products. Please refrain from repeating the same comment across multiple articles.

Be brief: Please keep your comment to fewer than 500 words. If you have a news tip or want to pitch an article, please email [email protected].

If you have questions or comments about these guidelines email us at [email protected] or tweet @spectrum.

Interviews with Spectrum

General information

  • If you have received a media inquiry from a Spectrum reporter, they may want to interview you for a story they are working on or talk to you about a potential story.
  • Being interviewed by a reporter is not a guarantee that a story will appear on Spectrum, nor that you will be quoted in a story.
  • Spectrum does not pay interviewees. Paying a source for information is generally considered to be a violation of journalistic ethics.
  • If you are interviewed for a reported news article or feature, you may be quoted alongside other people whose views differ from your own.
  • Consistent with high-quality journalism and our own editorial integrity, Spectrum does not allow “quote approval” from sources, nor give interviewees the opportunity to review drafts of reported articles before publication. Our reporters verify facts and review paraphrased quotes with sources; all stories are also independently fact-checked prior to publication. We do not permit sources to change their quotes after publication. (By contrast, if you author an article for us, you must review the final copy before publication.)
  • We ask our reporters to record all of their interviews whenever possible and to take notes as well. This process not only helps with fact-checking, but it also makes it easier to confirm quotes in the rare instance that a dispute arises later on. Our reporters are asked to let sources know that they are recording an interview at the start of a call.

Common terms

  • Once a reporter has contacted you and identified themselves, all communication is considered to be ‘on the record’ unless you and the reporter agree that it is not. A reporter can quote or paraphrase what you say on the record and attribute it to you in a published story.
  • Anything you say ‘off the record’ cannot be published. For interview material to be considered off the record, it must be declared so ahead of time. Alternatively, you may choose to simply not disclose to a reporter any information you don’t want in print.
  • ‘On background’ can mean different things, but generally it means that the information you share can be published without using your name. Information that you provide on background, like anything said off the record, should be declared as such before you disclose it.