ASL Lessons | Bookstore | Library | ASL University Main ►

American Sign Language:  "autism"

AUTISM / internalize / include-within-self

This sign means more than just autism.  It only means autism or autistic in context.
Also, do not think that just because "some" of the interpretations of this sign may seem negative that the sign itself is negative.  In context it simply means "autism."  In other context's it has other meanings.   This sign is a combination of the sign for "involved" and the "self" location near the body.
In other contexts this sign could loosely infer the idea of "self-involved," "self-absorbed," or "in your own world."  
[See the email below.]

In a message dated 2/11/2011 3:23:55 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, Sarah Leathers writes:

Hi! My name is Sarah Leathers, and I teach 6th grade at the Jean Massieu School of the Deaf in Salt Lake City...
I was reading some of the dialogue about the sign for “autism.” Colleagues at my school use a sign that looks just like “include” (similar to the sign on your website for “involved”) but the non-dominant hand is near your chest—as if you were signing “included into me” but your dominant hand starts with the palm facing up—not down.

Hope that makes sense. J

Sarah Leathers
6th Grade Teacher
sarahl (at)

In a message dated 1/21/2011 6:56:22 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, a web user from Minnesota writes:

Hello Bill. I do therapy with children with Autism, 2 of whom are Deaf, with Deaf family members. The sign most accepted by the autistic community is actually one that closer to "internalize" with left hand a closed C shape and the right hand and open 5 then to a closed 5 inside the left hand in front of the chest. Does that make sense?
Thank you.

From Minnesota
(Please refrain from using my name for privacy reasons related to work) Thank you!!  Sent from my Sprint BlackBerry®.


In a message dated 12/25/2010 4:56:22 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, a student writes:

"I read [elsewhere, not at this site,] about the AUTISTIC sign [being made] with [a] claw-hand showing [a] turning bicycle wheel in front of [the] signer's face. I also read the (apocryphal?) story of the group of Deaf who met an Autistic boy engrossed in a spinning bicycle wheel and created this sign. I have seen this sign (or a modern mutation?)* used, but it is hard for me to pick-up in real-time ! (Ha ha: all signs are hard for me to pick-up in real time, that's why I love the still-images at ASLU.)
I'm also wondering if you can do a poll or know any other versions of AUTISTIC, maybe something more 'PC'. (An endonym?) Also this sign strikes me as very specifically about classic autism; I wonder about a sign that would be more inclusive of highly verbal people, like myself, who Identify with Autism.
Good day!
(Name on file)

Dear Student,
I've seen many signs for "AUTISM."
1. For quite a few years I used an "A" handshape near the forehead that twists twice. Later that evolved into a flat hand.
2. At one time it was common to see a sign that placed an "A"-hand onto an INDEX-finger and moved both hands forward-and-down twice. (Now considered inappropriate.)
3. I've seen, but not used a version that means "MIND-NARROW-[focus]."
When I was originally typing the above info -- my wife wandered in and I asked her how she signs "autistic." She signed it using the version that places an "A" onto an INDEX-finger and moves both hands forward-and-down twice.

I showed her my (former) version and she replied, "That's stupid." (Deaf blunt, yay!)
Me: Really!? [showing sign]
Her: Stupid! [emphasis]

[Note: Normally my wife is a very nice person. I think it has just been "one of those days" for her. Or perhaps she was just being very silly or blunt with me since I'm her hubby. I reckon if anyone else asked her she would be more polite.  Then again, someday she might read this and whack me upside the head.]

Update:  I just asked an older friend of mine how she would sign "autistic."  She is Deaf of Deaf, married to Deaf, with Deaf children (etc.).  Grandmotherly type.  At first nothing came to mind. Then after she thought for a moment, she came up with the "A-hand near the head" version of the sign AUTISTIC.  I showed her the "A-hand on INDEX-finger" version and she didn't seem too enthused.  Her husband who happened to be nearby (they are a very close couple) mentioned that he didn't care for the "A-hand on INDEX-finger" because it would be easily confused with the sign "FOOL-people-repeatedly." (Heh.) I showed them the "claw-hand moving in a bicycle pattern near the head" version and they didn't like that at all.
I have a coworker who has an autistic sister. Next time I see either of them (the coworker or the sister) I'll ask how their family signs "autistic."
-- Dr. Bill

AUTISM / autistic - (initialized version) 
I don't recommend this version any more for general use. But it is still very common and worth knowing.


AUTISM / autistic - (regional version, not showing up much any more) (not recommended).
Do a double movement and move both hands forward and down together (remaining in contact) at the same time so as to distinguish this sign from "to-FOOL."


AUTISM / autistic - (conceptual version)
I actually like this version (below), but just because I like it doesn't mean it is being used widely.  I recommend you stick with the "INVOLVED-self" version above.

Note: The beginning handshape really isn't an issue on this sign. In the example here, I'm using a flat hand because the beginning handshape is "anticipating" the ending handshape.

AUTISM (version)
This version could also mean "narrow minded" if you used a negative facial expression with it.



*  Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy
DONATE  (Thanks!)

Another way to help is to buy something from Dr. Bill's "Bookstore."


Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (Subscription Extension of ASLU)  

*  Also check out Dr. Bill's channel:

You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University ™ 
ASL resources by  ©  Dr. William Vicars