We now describe our learners as ‘autistic young people with complex needs’, which is a change from our previous term ‘young people with complex autism’.  

This is in line with how the majority of autistic people wish to be described and we are joining with most organisations in the autism world in respecting that. In effect, we are doing what we are told by autistic people, whose decision this rightly is.  

However, as an organisation which values autistic people, we also feel this is the right use of language. Autism is not a condition in the way that a medical condition is. It is a difference from a neurotypical person which is part of making someone who they are. We believe this language better reflects that.

We are not however proposing to ‘ban’ any language. The wording on our website and materials will change over time and we’ll try to move towards it in our spoken communications to be consistent. But we respect that every person has a right to define their own identity and express that identity in a way they are comfortable with. If other organisations or individuals choose to use “individual first” language, we think this is OK.  

Why “complex needs”?

The word complex can be difficult for some. Indeed in one fundamental sense, a person is not complex by virtue of the support needs they have: the complexity relates to how the world around them responds to those needs. Complexity relating to care or learning needs is not part of who a person is.  

We have retained the word complex because we believe it defines what Prior’s Court offers, and for whom it is an appropriate service. This is a very small minority of autistic people. The young people supported by Prior’s Court are all autistic, and they are also learning disabled at a significant level, and often have other needs related to other conditions and disabilities. This takes a high level of specialism to manage. 

A view shared by many parents of Prior’s Court learners is their children are often left out of consideration by services and society because their complex needs are not recognised, even if their autism is. But, as the mother of one of the young people here put it to us, the word “complex” shouldn’t be seen as a negative – the word frames the challenges young people at Prior’s Court face but it does not define the young people and, most importantly, what they can or cannot do.  

Young people at Prior’s Court are capable of so much and we’re here to celebrate that.

How did we get here

We have had discussions with a wide range of stakeholders including families of the young people at Prior’s Court, our own staff (including autistic staff) and other organisations.

Where a young person has a preference or interest, we are working with them to be part of this decision, so they understand the reasons for this change and can have their personal preference respected by us. However, we have not had a widespread consultation with the young people at Prior’s Court.

All young people at Prior’s Court have strong opinions on how they are viewed, valued and respected by those around them. This is very important to them as it is to most people. However most young people at Prior’s Court do not include ‘autistic’ as part of their self-awareness, and have difficulty understanding, or do not have an interest in, the concept of identity within the wider population. We do not make assumptions that this is the case but ensure we are aware of what the young person feels about who they are. We also work closely with families who are generally the people who know the young person best and are best placed to advocate for them.

Ryan Campbell, Prior's Court Chief Executive Officer

Read more about the terminology we use