Glossary of Autism Terms
Autism Speaks maintains a video glossary that may be of interest to those researching autism. Registration for the site is required; it can be found here.
ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis): A method often used to treat children with autism spectrum disorders in which environmental stimuli are manipulated in order to produce a desired response. By breaking complex skills into small steps, children can systemically learn to respond and behave in socially appropriate ways.
Adaptive Behavior: the ability to adjust to new experiences, interact with new people and participate in new activities and experiences.
Adaptive equipment: Furniture and other positioning support that can be used to help a child maintain comfortable and appropriate posture and functioning when sitting, standing or moving.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): A federal law that guarantees equal opportunity for people with disabilities in employment, public accommodation, transportation, government services and telecommunications.
Anticonvulsant: Medication used to control seizures.
Articulation: The ability to produce speech sounds.
Assistive and Augmentative Communications (AAC): Additional materials, supports, and equipment and electronic devices that help people communicate when their spoken language is not sufficient for their needs.
Assistive Technology: Electronic as well as non-electronic materials, equipment and devices designed to help people with disabilities play, learn, communicate, move around and carry out activities of daily living at home, at school, and in the community.
Asperger’s Syndrome: An autism spectrum disorder characterized by average to above-average cognitive function, deficits in communication and social language (pragmatics) and, sometimes, a limited range of interests or obsessive interest in a particular topic, such as weather, train schedules or car models.
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD): A condition referring to excessive difficulty in concentrating and focusing or extreme distractibility.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The diagnostic term used to describe people who have excessive difficulty in concentrating and focusing, extreme distractibility or over activity, sometimes including disruptive behavior or aggression.
Auditory memory: The ability to receive information presented orally, and to interpret, store, and retrieve it.
Autism: A condition marked by developmental delay in social skills, language, and behavior which is often present in children with varying degrees of severity.
Baseline: The congenital level of function by a child before instruction is introduced.
Autism Spectrum Disorders: Encompasses the following five disorders: Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Rett’s Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not otherwise specified.
Behavior Modification: The use of empirically demonstrated behavior change techniques aimed to improve behaviors.
Behavioral Therapy: The systematic application of behavioral theory, including the use of conditioning and reinforcements, in the treatment of a disorder.
Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS): A test developed at TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-handicapped Children) to diagnose autism. A child is rated in fifteen areas of ability.
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder: A rare form of pervasive developmental disorder in which normally developing children suddenly lose language and social skills after age three.
Cognition: The ability to perceive, think, reason, and analyze.
Cognitive Ability: An individual’s intellectual ability or the aggregate skills of knowing and understanding.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A treatment approach combining cognitive theory and behavioral concepts, leading to behavioral changes through the understanding of how thoughts influence behaviors and learning how to change through patterns.
Comprehensive Evaluation: A complete assessment of a child, based on educational, psychological, social, and health status conducted by a team of professionals and complemented by information from parents and teachers.
Congenital condition: A condition existing at birth.
Convulsion: The involuntary contraction and relaxation of muscles. A seizure may occur in the form of convulsions.
Cue: A physical or verbal/vocal gesture that prompts a person to speak, perform an activity or behave in particular way.
Developmental Delay: A slower rate of developmenl in comparison to the majority of children of the same age.
Developmental Disability (DD): A condition that prevents physical or cognitive development.
Developmental Milestone: The acquisition of a skill that is associated with a certain age, e.g. sitting up; saying first words.
Diagnosis: The name of the disorder identified after an evaluation.
DIR/Floortime: An intervention and treatment approach developed by Stanley Greenspan, M.D., and Serena Wieder, PhD, that addresses and enhances the social, emotional and intellectual capacities of individuals with ASDs, rather than focusing on isolated behaviors. DIR stands for Development, Individual Differences, Relationship-Based.
Discrete Trial Training (DTT): A teaching method included in, but not synonymous with, behaviorally based interventions, such as ABA. Specific skills are taught through the repetition of the following steps: presentation of task, response and reinforcement, with prompts provided if and when needed. A pause follows each sequence, indicating the beginning and ending of each cycle.
Due Process Hearing: A hearing where parents present evidence that a school district is not effectively educating their child.
Dyspraxia: The brain’s inability to plan muscle movements and carry them out.
Ear Tubes: Tiny tubes inserted in the eardrum that allow fluid to drain. Ear tubes are often recommended for babies and toddlers who get recurring ear infections.
Echolalia: The involuntary and usually meaningless repetition of phrases or words just heard.
Electroencephalogram (EEG): The recording of electrical impulses in the brain that can be used to diagnose some neurological conditions, such as seizures.
Epilepsy (Seizure Disorder): A condition characterized by sudden, involuntary, usually brief occurrences of altered consciousness, motor activity or both.
Evaluation Criteria: A component of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Provides a description of how the results of an IEP will determine the achievement of standard goals. Methods of obtaining the information include teacher observation, interviews with parents, and standardized tests.
Executive function: The ability to plan, organize and follow through, as well as the ability to inhibit actions, delay responses, make appropriate choices and shift attention. Individuals with ASDs, learning disabilities and other neurological conditions often have deficits in executive function, which is important to the attainment of goals.
Expressive Language: Any spoken language, vocalizations, gestures or other means by which a person is able to communicate.
Fine motor skills: The use of one’s hands for manipulating objects and performing activities.
Functional Behavioral Assessment: A process based largely on observation in which problem behaviors are addressed and analyzed. Causes and functions of the behavior are identified. Then a behavior intervention plan (BIP) based on a specific, individualized profile is developed and, ideally, implemented across settings in order to minimize or stop inappropriate behaviors.
Gross Motor Skills: The use of one’s large muscles to move, such as walking, running, hopping and jumping.
High-functioning Autism (HFA): Although not officially recognized as a diagnostic category, HFA refers to individuals with ASDs who have near-average to above-average cognitive abilities and can communicate through receptive and expressive language.
Hypersensitivity: Excessive, often painful reaction to everyday auditory, visual, or tactile stimuli such as bright lights or loud noises.
Hypertonia: Increased tension or stiffness in the muscles.
Hyposensitivity: A marked absence of reaction to everyday stimuli.
Hypotonia: Decreased tension or floppiness in the muscles.
Identification: Evaluation of a child as a candidate for special education services. This process requires proper screening and assessment to confirm if a child has an ASD or another disorder.
Inclusion: The concept that students with disabilities should be integrated with their non-disabled peers; also referred to as mainstreaming.
Incontinence: Lack of bladder or bowel control.
Independent Education Evaluation (IEE): Assessment of a child requested by a parent who believes that the school did not conduct a proper evaluation.
Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA): A federal law that established the rights of children with identified disabilities to get a free, appropriate public education in the least-restrictive environment.
Individual Transition Plan (ITP): A plan to facilitate the transfer of a student from one setting to another, such as a different classroom or school.
Individualized Education Plan (IEP): An educational plan that outlines special education and related services specifically designed to meet the educational needs of student with a disability.
Joint attention: Sharing one’s experience of observation of an object or event by making eye contact with another person, following gaze, gesturing and pointing.
Learning Disability: Difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaker, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities.
Mainstreaming: The concept that students with disabilities should be integrated with their non-disabled peers. (Also referred to as inclusion).
Mental Age (MA): An assessment of intellectual functioning based on the average standard for children of the same chronological age.
Motor planning: The ability to think through and physically carry out a task.
No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB): Public law 107-110 signed in 2002, aimed at improving performance in public schools by increasing standards in accountability for teachers and administrators. Increased focus on reading is also a key.
Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD): A neurological condition characterized by strong verbal, memory, and reading skills and weaker visual-spatial, motor, and executive functioning as well as some challenges in social interactions.
Neuro-motor: A process involving both the nervous system and muscles.
Objectives: The intermediate steps in an IEP that must be taken to reach the annual goals.
Oral motor: A process involving the nerves and muscles in and around the mouth.
PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not otherwise specified): An autism spectrum disorder characterized by the presence of some, but not all the defining symptoms of autism
PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System): A means by which people use pictures to communicate their interests, needs, and spontaneous thoughts, ask and answer questions and schedule activities.
Performance I.Q.: The score derived from various non-verbal tests, such as visual-spatial activities and object assembly
Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD): The official classification for Autism Spectrum Disorders that is documented in the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Included in this group are Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, Rett’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NSS).
Pivotal Response Training: Based on the principles of ABA, Pivotal Response Training focuses on motivation and responsivity as the most important features of intervention. It is more child-directed than traditional ABA/Discrete Trial Therapy and specifically targets social behaviors, such as turn-taking, making choices and play skills.
Public Law 94-142: The Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, ratified again in 2004, providing a “free, appropriate public education” for all children with disabilities.
Receptive Language: The comprehension of spoken and written communication and gestures.
Regression: The loss of skills that have already been learned.
Respite Care: Care provided by an individual or institution to a child with a disability so that the primary caretakers, usually the parents, can have a break. Sometimes respite care is funded by state agencies.
Rett’s Disorder: Features reduced head growth and usually profound cognitive delays. It is an extremely rare genetic disorder that only affects girls.
SCERTS Model: A comprehensive, multidisciplinary educational model developed by Barry Prizant, and Emily Rubin to address the needs of students with ASDs and related challenges. The acronym stands for Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, Transactional Support, which are the cornerstones of this approach.
Seizure: Involuntary movement or changes in consciousness brought by bursts of electrical activity in the brain.
Self-help skills: Daily skills such as self-feeding, dressing, bathing, and other tasks that are necessary to maintain health and well-being.
Self-stimulatory behaviors: Also called stereotypy, and present in both autistic and neuro-typical individuals, these are repetitive body movements, such as flapping arms or rocking back and forth, or repetitive movements of objects, like spinning wheels or opening and closing doors.
Sensory Integration Therapy: A therapeutic approach that incorporates the use of sensory materials and physical input in order to help children increase focus, regulate moods and tolerate frustration and environmental change as well as reduce negative reactions to stimuli, such as noise, crowded spaces or textures of food or fabric.
Sensorimotor: Activities that involve learning through movement and the senses.
Special Education (SPED): Specialized and personalized instruction of a disabled child, designed in response to educational disabilities determined by an evaluation
Supplemental Security Income (SSI): An income-based federal program for individuals with disabilities.
Supported employment: Work done by people with cognitive, physical, or emotional challenges involving an adapted environment or additional support staff.
Syndrome: A group of symptoms or traits that indicate a particular condition or disorder.
Tactile defensiveness: Extreme physical sensitivity to certain textures and sensations.
Theory of Mind: The cognitive ability to recognize that one’s feelings, perceptions, beliefs and desires differ from those of others. Theory of Mind enables us to assign “state of mind” to others and react and respond to feelings.
Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) Model: A program of services, rather than a teaching method, in which respect for individual differences, respect and inclusion of parents and various professionals and input from individuals with ASDs are considered in treatment and education. Developed at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and takes a lifespan approach.
Verbal I.Q.: The score resulting from various tests involving verbal tasks, such as understanding written material and answering general knowledge questions.
Visual Spatial Skills: Skills that are nonlinear, sequential and are dependent upon processing shapes, colors and pictures, rather than language.