This is the "Glossary" page of the "Autism: A Parent's Resource Guide" guide.
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A resource guide for parents of children with autism to help locate information and sources of support.
Last Updated: Dec 8, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Helpful Terms

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)

  • 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

Asperger's syndrome

  • High-functioning end of the autism spectrum
  • These children tend to score in the average or above-average range on intelligence tests, but they have the same social problems and limited scope of interests as children with autistic disorder

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

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


  • More precisely called the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs)
  • A broad group of developmental disorders characterized by impaired social interactions, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or severely limited activities and interests

Autistic disorder

  • The behavior most people think of when they hear the word "autism" 
  • Refers to problems with social interactions, communication, and imaginative play in children younger than 3 years

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


  • The congenital level of function by a child before instruction is introduced

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 Disintegrative Disorder

  • Very rare
  • These children develop normally for at least two years and then lose some or most of their communication and social skills
  • Its existence as a separate condition is a matter of debate among many mental health professionals


  • The ability to perceive, think, reason, and analyze

Cognitive Ability

  • An individual’s intellectual ability or the aggregate skills of knowing and understanding

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


  • The involuntary contraction and relaxation of muscles
  • A seizure may occur in the form of convulsions


  • 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 development 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


  • The name of the disorder identified after an evaluation


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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

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


  • Excessive, often painful reaction to everyday auditory, visual, or tactile stimuli such as bright lights or loud noises


  • Increased tension or stiffness in the muscles


  • A marked absence of reaction to everyday stimuli


  • Decreased tension or floppiness in the muscles


  • The concept that students with disabilities should be integrated with their non-disabled peers; also referred to as mainstreaming

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

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


  • 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

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


  • A process involving both the nervous system and muscles


  • 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

Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD)

  • Also known as atypical autism and/or PDD-NOS (Not Otherwise Specified)
  • A catch-all category for children who have some autistic behaviors but who don't fit into other categories

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.

Receptive Language

  • The comprehension of spoken and written communication and gestures


  • 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 syndrome

  • Rare, has been linked to a defect on the X chromosome and occurs mainly in girls
  • These children start developing normally but begin to lose their communication and social skills
  • Beginning at the age of 1 to 4 years, repetitive hand movements replace purposeful use of the hands


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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

Information obtained from the National Human Genome Research InstituteWebMD, and Autism Delaware.


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