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Glossary of Terms

Helpful information about neurological differences is one of the best ways to spread understanding and awareness.  Here’s our list of important terms.


  1. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): A complex developmental condition that involves persistent challenges in social interaction, speech and nonverbal communication, and restricted/repetitive behaviors.   Autism spectrum disorder includes a wide range of symptoms of varying severity that a person experiences.

  2. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): one of the most common chronic neurodevelopmental disorders, is marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.

  3. Ableist: the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior.

  4. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA): a general term that refers to a therapy strategy used to modify the behavior of people diagnosed with ASD to improve their lives. The strategy involves observing a person’s behavior and using positive reinforcement to encourage desirable behavior and discourage undesirable behavior.



  1. Behavior Therapy or Behavioral Psychotherapy: a broad term referring to clinical psychotherapy that uses techniques derived from behaviorism and or cognitive psychology.  This form of therapy looks to identify and help change potentially self-destructive or unhealthy behaviors.                           

​   C

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A treatment that combines behavior therapy with cognitive therapy and that works to reduce habitual reactions to challenging situations. CBT assists the person in learning how certain ways of thinking may cause or contribute to feelings of anxiousness, depression, or anger that in turn lead to negative behavior.

  2. Co-morbidity: When a person has two or more different conditions at the same time, these conditions are said to be co-morbid. For example, a person can have both Fragile X syndrome and autism, or an anxiety disorder and Autism. (See also: Co-existing Disorders)

  3. Co-regulate: defined as warm and responsive interactions that provide the support, coaching, and modeling children need to “understand, express, and modulate their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.”

​   D

  1. Dyslexia:  a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence.

  2. Dyspraxia:  a condition affecting physical co-ordination, causing a child to perform less well than expected in daily activities for their age, and appear to move clumsily.

  3. Dysphasia:  a language disorder affecting how you speak and understand language.  People with dysphasia might have trouble putting the right words together in a sentence, understanding what others say, reading, and writing.

  4. Down Syndrome: is a naturally occurring chromosomal arrangement that has always been a part of the human condition. The occurrence of Down syndrome is universal across racial and gender line is not a disease, disorder, defect, or medical condition. It is inappropriate and offensive to refer to people with Down syndrome as ‘afflicted with’ or ‘suffering from’ it. Down syndrome itself does not require either treatment or prevention.

  5. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or mental Disorders (DSM-IV): a publication by the American Psychiatric Association for the classification of mental disorders using a common language and standard criteria.

​   E

  1. Epilepsy: A variety of disorders marked by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain and typically manifested by sudden brief episodes of altered or diminished consciousness, involuntary movements, or convulsions.

  2. Echolalia: the repeating of sounds, words, or phrases. People who “echo” may not always be able to communicate effectively or express their own thoughts, but they parrot back what they have heard. If asked a question, they might repeat the question and not answer the question. Sometimes referred to as scripting.

  3. Elopement:  To leave without permission or without letting others know where you are going, and without processing the dangers/risks involved in leaving. Elopement is a great concern in the autism community.

  4. Evidence Based Practices (EBP):  a process used to review, analyze, and translate the latest scientific evidence.  The goal is to quickly incorporate the best available research, along with clinical experience and patient preference, into clinical practice, so practitioners can make informed patient-care decisions.

​   F

  1. Family Centered/Focus Model: “Over the past 5 to 10 years, increased emphasis has been placed on enabling and empowering families to manage services and resources for their children with special needs. There is a shift occurring from professionally directed, child focused services to family centered services. Family centered services emphasize the family’s identification of their needs, resources, and service requirements.”

  2. 504 Plan:  A plan that ensures a student with any disability, physical or mental, will receive accommodations that will help him or her to achieve academic success.

​   I

  1. Inclusive Education: The practice of inclusion is based on educating all or most children in the same classroom with their peers, including children with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities, to have equitable access to learning and achievement, and are welcomed, valued, and supported in the school system. Inclusion promotes participation, friendship, and interaction.

  2. Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P): 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.

  3. Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities (IDDs):  are differences that are usually present at birth and that uniquely affect the trajectory of the individual’s physical, intellectual, and/or emotional development.

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  1. Modeling: The process of learning behavior through the observation of others. A professional will “model” a specific treatment for other(s) on the team to copy and repeat.

  2. Mobility: The ability to physically move about and engage in work or exercise and move between different levels in society or employment.

  3. Meltdown: Often mistaken as temper tantrums, meltdown is common with people who have autism and are typically not anger-infused. Instead, it is the body’s way of reacting to a confusing or over-stimulating situation. Meltdowns can be loud, or they can be very quiet.

​  N

  1. 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 neurodivergent and their differences are not deficits.

  2. 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 having an “average” or “normal” (typical) brain (neuro-).  Neurotypical: A slang term used to identify persons with typical neurological development and function from those who have a diagnosis of ASD

  3. Neurodivergent: 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 “shows atypical neurological behavior and development.” A person with one of these conditions is simply different (or divergent).

  4. Naturalistic Environment Training (NET): Natural Environment: The natural environment is defined as the home and other community settings in which children and families normally participate in activities. To the maximum extent appropriate for the needs of the child and family, early intervention services must be provided in natural environments.


  1. Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD): According to the DSM-IV, the behaviors seen in oppositional disorder are: • Violations of minor rules • Temper tantrums • Argumentativeness • Provocative behavior • Stubbornness.  OCD often occurs in association with other 31. neuropsychiatric disorders, such as ADHD, depression, anxiety disorders, or Tourette Disorder.


  1. Perseverate: means “to repeat something insistently or redundantly.” Just like stimming, perseveration is not exclusive to people diagnosed with ASD, but it is a commonly observed behavior among that group. An example of perseveration would be repeatedly salting a piece of food until no salt is left in the container.

  2. Proprioception: is our body’s ability to sense the position of our body parts in relation to one another and the amount of strength it takes to create movement. This sense lets us know exactly where specific body parts are, their position, and their capability of movement. An example of proprioception would be clapping or pushing and pulling.

  3. Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD): an ‘umbrella term’ for a group of developmental disorders which includes Autistic Disorder, Asperger Disorder, Rett Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. It also includes a “residual category” of Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (see definition below). This term is used when a person shows some autistic symptoms but does not fully meet the diagnostic criteria for any of the other four diagnostic categories. The Pervasive Developmental Disorders (also known as Autistic Spectrum Disorders) are all “neurological disorders of unknown cause. The symptoms include diminished ability to understand language and to communicate with and to interact with others. Children with a PDD usually have limited interests and engage in repetitive activities. There may be sensory problems related to perception of sound (hypersensitivity or lowered response).”


  1. Regulation: “The state of being controlled or governed.” In Sensory Integration Therapy terms, a state of regulation exists “when all of the sensory information being received by the body (e.g., balance, body position hearing, sight, touch) are being “interpreted correctly by the brain and result in a state of calmness and an ability to attend to others as well as the environment.”

  2. Reinforcement: A principle of ABA Therapy. There are two types of reinforcement: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is when a positive consequence is presented immediately following the behavior to increase the likelihood of that behavior occurring again. Negative reinforcement is the removal of a negative stimulus to decrease the probability of that behavior from occurring again.

  3. Relationship Development Intervention (RDI): is a parent-based clinical treatment program where parents are provided the tools to effectively teach Relationship Intelligence. According to Dr. Steven Gutstein, founder of RDI, Relationship Intelligence includes emotional referencing, social coordination, declarative language, flexible thinking, relational information processing, and foresight and hindsight.”

  4. Rett Syndrome/ Rhett Syndrome: “A childhood neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by normal early development followed by loss of purposeful use of the hands, distinctive hand movements, slowed brain and head growth, gait abnormalities, seizures, and mental retardation. It affects females almost exclusively.”


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Self-stimulatory behavior (stimming): Repetitive behavior (such as the spinning of objects, rocking back and forth, clapping), vocal echoes, or other repetitive actions that people with autism commonly partake in to alleviate the stressors of overstimulation.

  4. Sensory processing disorder (SPD): A neurological condition that exists when sensory signals are not adequately processed to appropriately respond to the demands of the environment. For example, many people with sensory processing disorder are highly sensitive to fabrics and certain food textures.

  5. Semantic-Pragmatic Disorder (or Semantic-Pragmatic Language Impairment): difficulties understanding the meaning of words and sentences (semantics) and difficulties with the social use of language (pragmatics). They often have problems in understanding abstract words and concepts or figures of speech and getting the “main idea” in a sentence or conversation. They may have problems with turn-taking in conversations, reading the non-verbal cues of their conversational partners, or maintaining a topic or changing topics appropriately.

  6. SCERT’s Model: “Developed by Dr. Barry M. Prizant (a clinical scholar, researcher and consultant to families of young children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders and related communication disabilities). SCERTS is an approach used for enhancing communication and socioemotional abilities for young children with ASD. SCERTS focuses on social communication, emotional regulation, and transactional support, and is a framework and guide to address the core challenges experienced by children with ASD.”

  7. Social Stories: “Social Stories were developed in 1991 by Carol Gray as a tool for teaching social skills to children with ASD. They focus on developing the ability to recognize the feelings, points of view or plans of others. Stories are developed to meet the child’s individual needs based on their anxieties, their fears, or the difficulty of situations. The stories help the child to develop appropriate responses to real life situations.”


  1. 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.

  2. Theory of Mind: an important social-cognitive skill that involves the ability to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, emotions, and knowledge that are different from one’s own.

  3. Transition: A change from one environment or activity to another.  Transitions can be hard for a person with autism. It sometimes helps if warnings are given before a transition.

  4. Tourette Syndrome:  involves uncontrollable repetitive movements or unwanted sounds (tics), such as repeatedly blinking the eyes, shrugging shoulders, or blurting out offensive words.


  1. 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.

  2. Vestibular System (or sensory system): gives us an awareness of balance and spatial orientation so we can coordinate our movements. People with autism have a harder time managing their movements, such as their walk and gait.

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