In my previous blog post I mentioned how I typed “autism” in my iPhone’s Notes App and hit the ‘define’ button (it’s one of the options that pops up when you highlight a word). This is what the app defines as autism. It turns out it comes from ‘Oxford Dictionary: The world’s most trusted dictionaries.’
“A mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts. A mental condition in which fantasy dominates over reality, as a symptom of schizophrenia and other disorders.”
I sent an email to Oxford Dictionary voicing my concerns with the second part of their definition and asking that it be removed. A representative from Oxford Dictionary wrote back:
Dear Tanaya Dutchyn,
Thank you for sharing your concerns about the definition of autism in Oxford Dictionaries. The way that the word autism is used has undergone changes through the years as medical understanding of the disease has increased. The definition you raised concerns about is not a comment on the main, modern sense of autism, but a less important, secondary meaning of the word. It represents an earlier understanding of the term, which regarded autism as a symptom of various psychological disorders, rather than as a distinct condition in itself.
We regret if this was unclear in the entry as presented. We always welcome feedback about material in Oxford Dictionaries, and will take your concerns into account as part of our ongoing revision process.
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It should be removed as it is NOT a definition of autism, even if it was at some point. Continuing to propagate ignorance and confusion on the condition doesn’t seem like what a dictionary should do when it should try to provide knowledge and understanding.
I am not giving up on this. This is the worst definition of autism I have ever seen.
If their definition of autism bothers you too, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org voicing your concern and it’ll be sent to the editorial department for review. Please help me get the definition of autism changed!
Thanks for reading,
Update: Oxford Dictionary changes definition of autism!