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AUTISM TERMS + GLOSSARY

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA):

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a discipline that applies behavioral science interventions in real-world settings including schools, homes and clinics. The goal of ABA interventions is to improve socially important issues such as behavior problems and learning

Asperger’s Syndrome (AS):

A diagnostic label that was previously utilized to describe a person with an ASD who did not have a language delay or any co-occurring intellectual disability.

Autism:

A commonly used term for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Autistic Disorder:

A diagnostic label that was previously utilized to describe a person with an ASD.

Autism Spectrum Disorder:

Also known as ASD, a developmental disability used to describe individuals who have difficulties with social communication/interaction and exhibit restrictive and/or repetitive patterns of behavior.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder:

A diagnostic label that was previously utilized to describe a person with an ASD.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5):

The official system for classification of psychological and psychiatric disorders prepared by and published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Developmental disability:

According to the CDC, a developmental disability is a condition caused by an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. The CDC considers autism, ADHD, blindness, and cerebral palsy to be examples of developmental disabilities.

Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-based (DIR):

An intervention framework that helps clinicians, parents and educators conduct a comprehensive assessment and develop an intervention program tailored to the unique challenges and strengths.

Executive Functioning:

The term executive functioning, or executive function, refers to the mental skills of working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. In short, these skills are responsible for things such as paying attention, planning, managing emotions, and understanding different points of view. Humans are not born with these skills and must develop them during childhood and into adolescence. Various conditions, such as ADHD, interfere with a person’s development of these skills. People who don’t develop these skills are said to have executive functioning issues. Examples of some executive functioning skills include:

  • working memory: the ability to store information and use it later.
  • self-control: the ability to avoid outbursts and control one’s own emotions.
  • planning: the ability to think about the future and prioritize important tasks.
  • self-monitoring: the ability to recognize how well one is doing at a task.
  • organization: the ability to arrange thoughts or objects in an orderly manner.
  • adaptable thinking: the ability to focus on a task and use different perspectives to solve problems.

Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI):

A fairly generic term for applied behavioral analysis (ABA-based) interventions, the focus is on very young children with ASD, usually younger than five, and often younger than three. The intensity of intervention is significant in number of hours and in the ratio of child to instructor.

Echolalia:

Repeating words or phrases heard previously. The echoing may occur immediately after hearing the word or phrase, or much later. Delayed echolalia can occur days or weeks after hearing the word or phrase.

High Functioning Autism:

A colloquial term used to describe individuals with ASD who do not have a co-occurring intellectual disability.

Individualized Educational Program (IEP):

A program that identifies the student’s specific learning expectations and outlines how the school will address these expectations through appropriate special education programs and services. It also identifies the methods by which the student’s progress will be reviewed. For students 14 years or older, it must also contain a program for the transition to postsecondary education, or the workplace, or to help the student live as independently as possible in the community.

Neurodiversity:

Neurodiversity is the variation and differences in neurological structure and function that exist among human beings,” and as a term, refers to the idea that differences in brain development and behavior are normal and not the result of mental disorders. This idea suggests that conditions such as autism or ADHD are normal variations and not disorders that negatively impact the brain. People with these conditions are said to be neurodiverse.

Importantly, these terms are not used to describe individuals who have suffered traumatic head injuries or suffer from diseases that can damage the brain such as rabies or syphilis.

Neurotypical and Neuro-atypical:

Some people use the term neuro-atypical to refer to any person who has autism or any similar condition. However, this term has largely fallen out of use and the terms neurodiverse and neurodivergent have largely replaced it. The term neurotypical is commonly used by supporters of neurodiversity to describe a person who shows typical neurological behavior and development. It refers to a person that general society would consider to have an “average” or “normal” (typical) brain (neuro-). Neither neurodiversity nor neurotypical are official medical terms.

Neurodivergent:

Neurodivergent is a non-medical term used similarly to the term neurodiverse to refer to people who have conditions such as autism, dyslexia, and OCD that impact cognitive abilities and social skills. Like neurodiverse, the term neurodivergent is used to mean someone who “shows atypical neurological behavior and development.” A person with one of these conditions is simply different (or divergent).

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS):

PECS is an alternative communication system that uses picture symbols. It is taught in six phases starting with a simple exchange of a picture symbol for a desired item. Individuals learn to use picture symbols to construct complete sentences, initiate communication, and answer direct questions.

Perseveration:

Repetitive movement or speech, or sticking to one idea or task, which has a compulsive quality to it.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS):

A diagnostic label that was previously utilized to describe a person with an ASD

Pivotal Response Training:

An intervention based on the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA). Two pivotal behaviors, motivation and responsivity to multiple cues are taught. These behaviors are central to a wide area of functioning and positive changes in these behaviors should have widespread effects.

Positive Behavior Supports:

The broad enterprise of helping people develop and engage in adaptive, socially desirable behaviors and overcome patterns of destructive and stigmatizing responding.

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI):

A parent-based intervention program where parents are provided the tools to effectively teach Dynamic Intelligence Skills and motivation to their child.

Rett’s Syndrome:

A neurological disorder that occurs only in girls. The initial symptoms include some that are associated with ASD.

Sensory Integration (SI):

This is a term applied to the way the brain processes sensory stimulation or sensation from the body and then translates that information into specific, planned and coordinated motor activity.

Stimming

Stimming is an informal term short for the clinical term “self-stimulatory behaviors” and refers to repetitive behaviors or motions that a person does, such as a person biting their nails. Stimming is done when someone is feeling overwhelmed as a way of focusing on one activity. While stimming isn’t exclusively done by people diagnosed with ASD, the behavior can be more common and disruptive in this population.

TEACCH:

A therapeutic approach broadly based on the idea that individuals with ASD more effectively use and understand visual cues. It focuses on promoting dependence by using items such as picture schedules to break down tasks step-by-step. This enables an individual to better comprehend and perform the task independently. This approach often aids receptive communication and sequential memory.

Theory of Mind:

The ability to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one’s own.

Verbal Behavior:

A program of applied behavior analysis that focuses on teaching verbal behavior through a collection of highly effective teaching procedures taken from the science of behavior analysis.

Visual Supports:

Written words, pictures and/or icons that convey information in visual medium. Individuals with ASD are typically visual learners and conveying information visually assists with comprehension.