Language & Terminology

It is important to use appropriate language and terminology when talking about learning disability.

Watch the video below to find out why using appropriate language is important. 

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FklHpK7K8pI

Disclaimer about language and terminology 

 We understand that aggressive challenging behaviour is a consequence of unmet needs and serves a function for the person displaying it. The terminology used on the PETAL websitre and social media has been discussed at length with our patient and public involvement groups. The language has been adapted to try and ensure that it does not put the blame on the person or suggest the person needs to change. However, there is some terminology, such as “aggressive challenging behaviour” that we are unable to change. Whilst our patient and public involvement groups acknowledge this and understand the use of these terms within the PETAL programme, they do not necessarily agree or approve of their usage.  

Some people may feel that labels and diagnoses are helpful to gain access to services and get help, while others may not feel the same way. It is important to see the person first, regardless of their diagnosis or the label they have been assigned. One of our partner organisations The Challenging Behaviour Foundation have written an insightful summary on what the term "challenging behaviour" means and why it is used, which you can read by clicking here.

Language on the PETAL website and social media

We have put together a guide of recommended language that we will use when talking about PETAL on our website and social media. This guide has been agreed with our carer advisory group. 

Recommended languageLanguage to be avoided

Person with learning disability   

Adult with learning disability   

Participant with learning disability  

Patient with learning disability   

Person with intellectual disability 

Person with learning difficulties 

Disabled person  Person with disability 

Autistic person 

Person on the autism spectrum

Person with autism  

Person living with autism 

“High” or “low” support needs  “High” or “low” functioning  

Person without disability  

Neurotypical people



Non-medical language   Diagnosis, illness, patient  
Non-emotive language  Victim, vulnerable, dependant  
Neutral language – e.g. condition  Issue, problem, deficit, impairment  
Aggressive challenging behaviour  Aggressive challenging behaviour