Accommodations Changes or adjustments that help meet a person’s individual needs.
Aggressive behavior Hostile or violent behavior, including hitting others, destroying property, or throwing tantrums. Aggression is among the most common challenges reported by parents of children and adolescents with autism.
Allergy A reaction by the immune system to something that does not bother most other people, such as certain foods, pollen or animals.
American Psychiatric Association An organization of psychiatrists working together to ensure humane care and effective treatment for all persons with mental illness.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) U.S. law that ensures rights of persons with disabilities with regard to employment and other issues.
Angelman syndrome A genetic disorder causing developmental delays and neurological problems, often accompanied by seizures. Children often display hyperactivity, small head size, sleep disorders and movement and balance disorders.
Antecedent A verbal or physical stimulus, such as a command or request. The first in the three-step process used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).
Anticonvulsant A type of drug used to prevent or stop seizures or convulsions; also called antiepileptic.
Anxiety Strong feelings of worry or fear about everyday activities. Anxiety disorder affects an estimated 30% of individuals with autism.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) A style of teaching using series of trials to shape desired behavior or response. Skills are broken into small components and taught the individual through a system of reinforcement.
Asperger syndrome A developmental disorder, no longer used in the DSM-5, on the autism spectrum defined by impairments in communication and social development and by repetitive interests and behaviors, without a significant delay in language and cognitive development. The DSM-5 indicates that individuals with a “well-established diagnosis” of this condition “should be given the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.”
Assisted communication device A tool that helps you communicate with others. Examples include picture cards and electronic tablets that speak words that you type.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) A disorder that affects approximately 1 in 5 children with autism. Symptoms include chronic problems with inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity.
Audiologist A professional who diagnoses and treats individuals with hearing loss or balance problems.
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) Methods of communication for people who can’t use speech (talking) to communicate; examples include sign language and using a computer for speech.
Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN) A collaboration of Autism Speaks and some of the finest children’s hospitals and academic institutions in North America, specializing in multi-disciplinary medical care for children with autism.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Also called autism. A condition characterized by a broad range of challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, and speech and nonverbal communication.
Autism-risk genes Specific genes that have been found to increase the risk of autism.
Autistic A term that many people who meet the criteria for ASD have adopted to describe their differences.
Babbling One of the first ways a baby communicates. Involves stringing together vowels and consonants such as “bababa” or “dadada”.
Baseline data Measurement of a behavior before an intervention is begun. Progress is measured by comparing current behavior to baseline data.
Behavioral intervention An intervention focused on increasing positive behavior and limiting challenging behavior, such as Applied Behavior Analysis.
Biomedical interventions A range of treatment methods that address underlying medical conditions and biological processes, such as the gastrointestinal system, diet and nutrition, immune function and sleep.
Board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) A professional specialized in autism, certified and trained to write, implement and monitor a child’s individualized ABA program.
Body language Nonverbal communication through physical movements and gestures.
Brain abnormalities Differences in typical features of the brain such as structure or functioning.
Casein A protein found in milk, used in forming the basis of cheese and as a food additive.
Childhood disintegrative disorder A disorder in which development begins normally in all areas, physical and mental. At some point between 2 and 10 years of age, the child loses previously developed skills. The child may lose social and language skills and other functions, including bowel and bladder control. The diagnosis is no longer used in DSM-5, but DSM-5 indicates that individuals with a “well-established diagnosis” of this condition “should be given the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.”
Chromosomal (single-gene) disorder A disorder caused by a single gene. Examples include Fragile X syndrome, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy.
Chromosome-15 duplication syndrome A chromosome abnormality that occurs when an extra (duplicate) copy of the genetic material located on chromosome-15 is present in each cell.
Chromosome An organized package of DNA found in the nucleus of the cell. Chromosomes are the physical carrier of genes.
Chronic constipation An ongoing condition of having fewer than three bowel movements per week.
Cognitive deficit An inclusive term to describe any characteristic that acts as a barrier to mental skills such as acquiring information and knowledge.
Cognitive skills Any mental skills that are used in the process of acquiring knowledge; these skills include reasoning, perception and judgment.
Colitis An inflammation of the large intestine.
Comorbid conditions Different conditions that occur in the same person.
Complete Blood Count (CBC) A lab test reporting number of white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets, hemoglobin, hematocrit and other values reflecting overall blood health.
Compulsions Deliberate repetitive behaviors that follow specific rules, such as those pertaining to cleaning, checking or counting. In young children, restricted patterns of interest may be an early sign of compulsions.
Computed Axial Tomography A medical test that examines organs by scanning with X rays and using a computer to construct series of cross-sectional scans. Called “CAT” scan.
Consequence A result or effect of an action or condition. Consequences are used in behavioral therapy and can include positive reinforcement of the desired behavior or no reaction for incorrect responses.
Convulsions Whole body shaking that can sometimes be caused by epilepsy or seizure disorder.
Daily living skills Also called life skills or independent living skills. Skills that you need to manage your everyday life. Examples include self-care, home care, cooking and managing money and time.
Depression A mental health condition that affects an estimated 7 percent of children and 26 percent of adults with autism. Signs can include loss of interest in once-favorite activities, a noticeable worsening in hygiene, chronic feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness and irritability.
Developmental evaluation A thorough assessment of current developmental concerns. It is often the first step of the autism diagnosis process.
Developmental milestones Skills or behaviors that most children can do by a certain age that enable the monitoring of learning, behavior and development.
Developmental pediatrician A doctor who treats children with learning, developmental and behavior problems.
Diagnose To find out if a person has or doesn’t have a certain health or medical condition.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) The official system for classification of psychological and psychiatric disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013 that, among other changes, established new criteria for an autism diagnosis, eliminated the previously separate subcategories on the autism spectrum, including Asperger syndrome, PDD-NOS, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and Autistic Disorder and added a new category called Social Communication Disorder (SCD).
Diarrhea Loose, watery stools (bowel movements).
Dietary intervention A change to a person’s diet for health purposes such as the removal of dairy or addition of supplements. Some evidence suggests that GI issues may be helped by dietary intervention.
Digestive tract The group of organs that food and liquids travel through when they are swallowed, digested, absorbed and leave the body as feces.
Discrete Trial Training (DTT) An ABA technique that involves teaching individual skills one at a time using several repeated teaching trials and reinforcers that may or may not be related to the skill that is being taught. DTT is the most traditional ABA technique.
Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) A benefit that provides comprehensive and preventive health care services for children under age 21 who are enrolled in Medicaid.
Early Intervention evaluation When an EI specialist looks at a child’s skills and development to see if the child qualifies for (can get) EI services.
Early Intervention services Services and supports for children from birth through age 3 who have developmental delays and disabilities. EI services can help children learn important skills for school and daily life. They can include programs to help a child learn physical and self-help skills and to communicate and interact with others.
Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) A comprehensive behavioral early intervention approach for children with autism, ages 12 to 48 months, that uses a developmental curriculum that defines the skills to be taught at any given time and a set of teaching procedures used to deliver this content.
Electroencephalogram (EEG) A test using electrodes on the scalp to record electrical brain activity. For diagnoses of seizure disorder or abnormal brain wave patterns.
Environmental factor Any nongenetic influence. The role of environmental factors in the development of autism is a crucial area of study.
Epilepsy (seizure disorder) A pattern of repeated seizures, causes include head injury, brain tumor, lead poisoning, genetic and infectious illnesses. Cause is unknown in 50% of cases.
Esophagitis Inflammation of the esophagus, the soft tube-like portion of the digestive tract connecting the pharynx with the stomach.
Expressive language Communication of intentions, desires or ideas to others, through speech or printed words and includes gestures, signing, communication board and other forms of expression.
Feeding therapy An intervention that helps teach people with feeding issues how to eat or eat better. This type of therapy is usually provided by a trained occupational or speech therapist.
Food intolerance A food sensitivity that occurs when a person has difficulty digesting a particular food.
Fragile X syndrome A genetic disorder that shares many of the characteristics of autism. Individuals may be tested for Fragile X.
Free appropriate public education (FAPE) Means that education must be provided to all children ages 3 to 21 at public expense.
Gastritis Inflammation of the stomach.
Gastroenterologist A doctor specializing in diagnosis and treatment of disorders of Gl tract, including esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, pancreas, liver, gallbladder and biliary system.
Gastroesophageal reflux The return of stomach contents back up into the esophagus which frequently causes heartburn due to irritation of the esophagus by stomach acid.
Gastrointestinal (GI) Pertains to the digestive tract, including the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and rectum.
Genetic Pertaining to genes or heredity. We know that genetics strongly influence the risk for developing autism. However, genetics alone do not account for all instances of autism.
Geneticist A medical doctor who specializes in genetic problems. Genes are the unit in the chromosome that contain the blueprint for the transmission of inherited characteristics.
Gestures Hand and head movements, used to signal to someone else, such as a reach, wave, point or head shake. They convey information or express emotions without the use of words.
Global developmental delay A diagnosis in children younger than 5, characterized by delay in two or more developmental domains.
Gluten A protein present in wheat, rye and barley.
Gluten-free casein-free diet (GFCF) A dietary invention that involves the removal of gluten and casein from a person’s diet. Many families have found their children’s comfort level and behaviors improved with this eating plan, though there is minimal scientific evidence that shows this diet directly improves symptoms of autism.
Grand-mal seizure (See seizures.)
Health insurance Also called health coverage or a health plan. Helps pay for medical services for you and your family.
Hyperactivity Characterized by constantly increased movement and impulsive actions.
Hyperlexia The ability to read at an early age. To be hyperlexic, a child does not need to understand what they are reading.
Hyper-reactivity (hypersensitivity) A tendency, outside the norm, to react negatively or with alarm to sensory input which is generally considered harmless or non-irritating to others.
Hypo-reactivity (hyposensitivity) Lack of a behavioral response, or insufficient intensity of response, to sensory stimuli considered harmful and irritating to others.
Identity-first language Terminology that leads with a specific part of a person’s identity, such as “autistic adult”. Some people with ASD prefer this type of language.
Immune system A complex system within the human body that prevents or limits infection. Researchers are looking at the role of the immune system in increasing the risk of autism.
Impulsivity A tendency to act with little or no consideration of the consequences. A defining symptom of ADHD.
Inattention A lack of attention or difficulty sustaining focus. A defining symptom of ADHD.
Inclusion Involves educating all children in regular classrooms, regardless of degree or severity of disability. Effective inclusion takes place with planned system of training and supports; involves collaboration of multidisciplinary team, including regular and special educators.
Individual Family Services Plan (IFSP) A plan developed by a multidisciplinary team including family as primary participant. Describes child’s level of development in all areas; family’s resources, priorities and concerns, services to be received and the frequency, intensity and method of delivery. Must state natural environments in which services will occur.
Individualized Education Program (IEP) A plan that identifies programs, goals, services and supports to make sure a student with a disability gets a free and appropriate education at school.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) A U.S. law that makes sure that students with disabilities get free and appropriate education in public schools that meets their individual needs.
Intellectual disability A term used when there are limits to a person’s ability to learn at an expected level and function in daily life. An estimated 31% of children with ASD have an intellectual disability.
Joint attention The process of sharing one’s experience of observing an object or event, by following gaze or pointing gestures. Impairment in joint attention is a core deficit of ASD.
Kanner's autism A term that refers to Leo Kanner, the first psychiatrist to describe autism.
Least restrictive environment (LRE) Education for students with disabilities in a setting with students who aren’t disabled (also known as mainstreaming), for as much time as possible and with additional services provided for success in school.
Locating device A technological tool that can be used to follow a person’s movements or to identify a person’s location. Some parents and caregivers of people with autism prone to wandering use these to help keep them safe
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) A diagnostic technique using powerful electromagnets, radio frequency waves and a computer to produce well-defined images of the body’s internal structures.
Mainstreaming Where students are expected to participate in existing regular education classes, whereas in an inclusive program classes are designed for all students. May be gradual, partial or part-time process (e.g., student may attend separate classes within regular school or participate in regular gym and lunch only).
Measurable outcomes Specific results that can be clearly assessed using data and observation to evaluate the progress a person is making toward their goals.
Medicaid A U.S. government program that provides health coverage to many Americans, including eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and people with disabilities. Medicaid is managed by each state, and each state sets its own program guidelines.
Medical identification bracelet A bracelet that contains pertinent medical information, often worn by people who may not be able to communicate their medical needs and the appropriate responses required if they need medical attention.
Melatonin A hormone involved in regulating sleeping and waking cycles. Sometimes used for chronic insomnia. Consult your child’s physician before giving melatonin; it is not recommended for all patients with sleep problems.
Metabolic factor Anything that influences a person’s metabolism, the process by which the body gets energy from food and drink.
Microbiome All the bacteria and other organisms that live on our skin and inside our digestive tract.
Modified Checklist of Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) A screening tool for identifying young children who may be referred to a specialist for further evaluation and possible Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis.
Motivation Wanting to do something.
Motor skills The ability to move and control movements.
Multi-disciplinary team A team of professionals often involved in the diagnosis or treatment of a person with autism across a variety of specialties, such as a neurologist, psychiatrist, developmental pediatrician and social worker.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) The largest scientific organization in the world dedicated to research focused on the understanding, treatment and prevention of mental disorders and the promotion of mental health.
Natural reinforcement Reinforcement that occurs directly as a result of a behavior. Principles of ABA can be provided using natural reinforcement opportunities.
Neurologist A doctor who treats children and adults who have problems with their nervous system. The nervous system includes the brain, spine, nerves and muscles.
Neuron A specialized cell transmitting nerve impulses; a nerve cell.
Nonverbal communication Things people do to convey information or express emotions without words, including eye gaze, facial expressions, body postures and gestures.
Obsession Persistent and intrusive repetitive thoughts. Preoccupations with specific kinds of objects or actions may be an early sign of obsessions.
Obstructive sleep apnea Breathing disorder interrupting breathing during sleep when air flow cannot flow through the nose or mouth although efforts to breathe continue. Throat collapses during sleep causing snoring and gasping for breath. May cause daytime sleepiness. May increase risk of hypertension and heart problems.
Occupational therapist Someone who helps people learn how to do daily living skills. OTs also can provide sensory integration therapy to help people process and react to sensations.
Occupational therapy Assists development of fine motor skills that aid in daily living. May focus on sensory issues, coordination of movement, balance and self-help skills such as dressing, eating with a fork, grooming, etc. May address visual perception and hand-eye coordination.
Panic disorder A type of anxiety disorder that causes panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of terror when there is no real danger.
Parent interview/questionnaire Part of a diagnostic evaluation that involves speaking to the parent/asking them questions about their child, their concerns for their development and potential signs of autism.
Parent training Programs that empower parents and provide them with strategies to help foster their child’s development by increasing positive behaviors and limiting challenging behaviors. Research has proven that parent training is an effective intervention for the symptoms of autism.
Perseveration Repetitive movement or speech or sticking to one idea or task, that has a compulsive quality to it.
Person-first language Terminology that leads with the individual, such as “person with autism”. Some people with ASD prefer this type of language.
Pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) A group of conditions involving delays in development of many basic skills, including ability to socialize with others, to communicate and use imagination. Includes autism, Asperger syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, Rett syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified.
Persuasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) A category of PDD referring to children having significant problems with communication and play and some difficulty interacting with others, but are too social for a diagnosis of autism. The diagnosis is no longer used in the DSM-5, but DSM-5 indicates that individuals with a “well-established diagnosis” of these conditions “should be given the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.”
Petit-mal seizure (absence) (See seizures.)
Phobia A type of anxiety disorder characterized by a strong, irrational fear of something that poses little or no real danger.
Physical therapy (PT) A type of therapy that uses specially designed exercises and equipment to help patients regain or improve their physical abilities.
Pica Persistent eating or mouthing of non-nutritive substances for at least 1 month when behavior is developmentally inappropriate (older than 18-24 months). Substances may include items such as clay, dirt, sand, stones, pebbles, hair, feces, lead, laundry starch, wood, plastic and more.
Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) A tool that helps people communicate with pictures.
Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) A therapeutic teaching method using incidental teaching opportunities to target and modify key behaviors related to communication, behavior and social skills.
Positive reinforcement The introduction of something positive, such as praise or a reward, for completing a behavior or assigned task as a way of motivating the individual. An integral part of most behavioral therapy programs.
Pragmatics Social rules for using functional spoken language in a meaningful context or conversation. Challenges in pragmatics are a common feature of spoken language difficulties in children with ASD.
Predisposition A genetic predisposition is an increased likelihood or chance of developing a particular condition due to the presence of one or more gene mutations and/or a family history.
Preoccupation An engrossing or near obsessive interest in a topic.
Prevalence The current number of people in a given population who have a specific diagnosis at a specified point in time. As of March 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated autism prevalence as 1 in 54 children, including 1 in 34 boys and 1 in 144 girls.
Prompt In behavioral therapy, a cue or hint meant to induce a person to perform a desired behavior.
Psychiatrist A doctor who helps children and adults with mental health conditions, including problems with thinking, feeling and behavior.
Receptive language The ability to comprehend words and sentences. It begins as early as birth and increases with each stage in development. These skills commonly emerge slightly ahead of expressive language skills.
Regression Any loss of speech or social skills.
Respite care Temporary, short-term care provided to individuals with disabilities, delivered in the home for a few short hours or in an alternate licensed setting for an extended period of time. Respite care allows caregivers to take a break in order to relieve and prevent stress and fatigue.
Restrictive and repetitive behavior One of the first two diagnostic criteria for ASD, includes stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, insistence on sameness or inflexible adherence to routines, highly restricted, fixated interests or hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input.
Rett syndrome A very rare disorder in which patients have symptoms associated with PDD along with problems with physical development. They generally lose many motor or movement skills – such as walking and use of hands – and develop poor coordination. The condition has been linked to a defect on the X-chromosome and as a result, almost always affects girls.
Seizure Uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain, which may produce a physical convulsion, minor physical signs, thought disturbances or a combination of symptoms.
Seizure, absence A seizure that takes the form of a staring spell as the person suddenly seems “absent” and has a brief loss of awareness. May be accompanied by blinking or mouth twitching. Absence seizures have very characteristic appearance on EEG. Also called a petit mal seizure.
Seizure, atonic A seizure marked by the person losing muscle tone and strength and unless supported, falling down. Atonic means lack of muscle tone and strength.
Seizure, subclinical (electrographic seizure) Visible on the EEG, but the patient does not exhibit clinical symptoms. Electroencephalography often detects subclinical seizures during sleep.
Seizure, tonic clonic Involves two phases – tonic phase when body becomes rigid and clonic phase of uncontrolled jerking. May be preceded by aura and is often followed by headache, confusion and sleep. May last for seconds or continue for several minutes. Also called a grand mal seizure.
Seizure disorder (See epilepsy.)
Self-injurious behavior A type of repetitive behavior that results in physical injury to a person’s own body, often used for self-stimulating or self-soothing.
Self-regulation Refers to both conscious and unconscious processes that have an impact on self-control.
Self-soothing behavior (See stimming.)
Self-stimulating behavior (See stimming.)
Sensory defensiveness A tendency, outside the norm, to react negatively or with alarm to sensory input which is generally considered harmless or non-irritating to others. Also called hypersensitivity.
Sensory input (sensory stimulation) Action or condition, internal (e.g., heart rate, temperature) or external (e.g., sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touch and balance) that elicits physiological or psychological response. Response depends on ability to regulate and understand stimuli and adjust emotions to demands of surroundings.
Sensory integration The way the brain processes sensory stimulation or sensation from the body and then translates that information into specific, planned, coordinated motor activity.
Sensory integration therapy A therapy program used to improve ability to use incoming sensory information appropriately and encourage tolerance of a variety of sensory inputs.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) A neurological disorder causing difficulties processing information from the five classic senses (vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste), sense of movement (vestibular system) and positional sense (proprioception). Sensory information is sensed normally, but perceived abnormally. SPD is not currently a medical diagnosis.
Separation anxiety Excessive fear or worry about separation from home or an attachment figure, such as a parent or teacher.
Sign language A complete, natural language that has the same linguistic properties as spoken languages, expressed by movements of the hands and face.
Sleep disorders Any condition affecting sleep, such as sleep apnea, insomnia or narcolepsy.
Sleep hygiene A set of practices, habits and environmental factors critically important for sound sleep, such as minimizing noise, light and temperature extremes and avoiding naps and caffeine.
Social communication Language used to interact with people.
Social communication skills Skills needed to communicate with people. Examples include being able to have a conversation with someone; using non-verbal communication, like body language; and using language for different reasons, like to give information or to ask a question.
Social communication disorder (SCD) A new diagnostic category established in the DSM-5 that applies to individuals who have deficits in the social use of language, but do not have the restricted interests or repetitive behavior you see in those with autism spectrum disorders.
Social cue A verbal or nonverbal message communicated through ways such as body language, spoken expressions or facial expressions, that can be difficult for people with autism to interpret.
Social phobia A mental health condition characterized by intense, persistent fear of being judged by others. Also called social anxiety disorder.
Social reciprocity Back-and-forth flow of social interaction. How behavior of one person influences and is influenced by behavior of another and vice versa.
Social skills Skills needed to communicate and interact with people; skills can be verbal (talking) and nonverbal (gestures, body language and appearance).
Social-emotional reciprocity The back-and-forth flow of social communication.
Social worker A trained specialist in the social, emotional and financial needs of families and patients. Social workers often help families and patients obtain the services they have been prescribed.
Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA) A parent-teacher organization within a school district that brings together people who are interested in special education and children with special needs.
Special education services Instruction designed for children with disabilities. The services can include counseling and speech, physical and occupational therapy.
Speech-generative device Unit of technology that allows a person to communicate by electronic voice generation.
Speech-language pathologist Also called a speech therapist. A trained professional who helps people with communication, language and social skills. They can do evaluations and provide treatment.
Speech-language therapy A therapy with the goal of improving an individual’s ability to communicate. This includes verbal and nonverbal communication. The treatment is specific to the individual’s needs.
Spoken language The use of verbal behavior or speech, to communicate thoughts, ideas and feelings with others. Involves learning many levels of rules - combining sounds to make words, using conventional meanings of words, combining words into sentences and using words and sentences in following rules of conversation.
Stereotyped behaviors An abnormal or excessive repetition of an action carried out in the same way over time. May include repetitive movements or posturing of the body or objects.
Stimming (self-stimulating behaviors) Stereotyped or repetitive movements or posturing of the body that stimulate ones senses. Some “stims” may serve a regulatory function (calming, increasing concentration or shutting out an overwhelming sound).
Tactile defensiveness A strong negative response to a sensation that would not ordinarily be upsetting, such as touching something sticky or gooey or the feeling of soft foods in the mouth. Specific to touch.
Tuberous sclerosis A genetic disorder that causes tumors, or growths, in the brain and other organs.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) A government agency that protects U.S. citizens from diseases and health threats. The agency that compiles data for and releases autism prevalence numbers and other such figures.
Verbal Behavior A method of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) for teaching children with autism, based on B.F. Skinner’s description of the system of language.
Visual schedule A support that uses pictures to show the steps needed to complete a task.