Autism Terminology

Everything new in life seems to come with a new language, autism is no different and comes with lots confusing autism terminology and acronyms.

Here are some of the common ones that I have come across with very brief explanations. Hopefully it will be helpful with paperwork, meetings etc.

I could have used this a year ago so I hope it is helpful to you. If you are in a meeting or with a group and people that are using terms you don’t understand please ask what they mean, most people will be happy to explain it for you. 

ABA – Applied behavioural analysis: this is the use of interventions based on behavioural analysis.  An intensive and interactive approach usually on a one-to-one basis.  It is used to teach basic and social skills in a systematic manner to create a change in behaviour. It is quite controversial.

ADOS – Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule: a tool for assessing and diagnosing autism. It is a semi structured assessment looking at social interaction, communication and play for individuals suspected of having an autistic spectrum disorder.

Asperger Syndrome OR Asperger’s: An autistic spectrum disorder that usually presents with people having a higher level of intelligence, often without specific learning difficulties.  People with Asperger’s tend to have difficulty with social interaction and non-verbal communication.

Attention Autism: an intervention often used in relation to speech and language.  Developed by Gina Davis, Attention Autism is a series of stages that intend to encourage spontaneous communication by using highly motivating and visually engaging activities.

ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder: a condition that involves inattentiveness.

ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: a condition that involves inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

Advocate – a person who speaks on behalf of another.

ASD – Autistic spectrum disorder: Everyone with autism has different traits and different aspects of autism.  Autistic spectrum disorder / ASD is an umbrella term that covers all types of autism, it is sometimes referred to as ASC – autistic spectrum condition.

Autism: A lifelong developmental disability.  It is a spectrum condition that affects people differently but often includes difficulties with social communication, social interaction, rigidity of thinking and sensory processing difficulties.

book paper text page
Photo by on

Behavioural therapy: An umbrella term for therapies that attempt to identify and change habits or behaviour that is unwanted.

CAF – Common Assessment Framework: a standardised cross agency assessment to identify a young child’s additional needs and plan a co-ordinated approach to meet those needs.

CAMHS – Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service: an NHS service that assesses and treats young people with a range of behavioural, mental health and emotional difficulties.

Carer’s Allowance: Financial support from the UK government for people who spend at least 35 hours per week caring for someone else. The person being cared for should be in receipt of either Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or Attendance Allowance.

CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: a talking therapy to support changes in behaviour and or thought.

Disabled Facilities Grants a grant which supports disabled individuals to make adaptions in the home.

Direct Payments – In some circumstances you may be able to claim direct payments to organise care and services yourself rather than via the local authority.

DLA – Disability living Allowance: Financial support from the UK government for people with a mental or physical disability to provide assistance with personal care or mobility needs.

DWP – Department of Work and Pensions: A UK government department responsible for welfare / benefits, pensions and child maintenance payments.

Dyslexia: A learning difficulty in relation to reading writing and spelling.

Dyspraxia: A developmental disorder which affects co-ordination and planning difficulties.

Early Bird: A training and support programme offered to parents and carer’s of young autistic children.

Echolalia: When a person repeats what has been said to them or repeats noises, it can be immediate or delayed.

Educational Psychologists: A psychologist that supports children and young people with difficulties relating to education and learning to enable them to participate in school or early years settings.

EHC Needs Assessment – Education Health and Care Needs Assessment: An assessment carried out by the local authority to see if a child or young person has additional educational, health and social needs that would require putting an Education, Health and Care Plan in place.

EHCP – Education Health and Care Plan: A plan for children and young people that require additional support.  It identifies educational, health and social needs and sets out the support that is required to meet those needs. Once a plan is agreed with the local authority it is a legally binding document.

Education health and care plan

ELSA – Emotional Literacy Support Assistant: ELSA is a training course aimed at teaching assistants in schools. Examples of things covered on the course are Social skills, emotions, bereavement, social stories and therapeutic stories, anger management, self-esteem, counselling skills such as solution focused and friendship.

EPS – Educational Psychology Service: A service that provides assessment and advice to early years settings and other providers relating to children with additional educational needs.

EYFS – The Early Years foundation stage: An educational stage for learning, development and care of children under five.

GDD – Global Development Delay

GP – General practitioner: Local community doctor.

HV – Health Visitor: Registered nurses or midwives who work in the community to support children under five and their families.

Hyperlexia: a self taught ability to read before the age of 5. An intense fascination with numbers and letters. Alongside significant social communication difficulties.

Hypersensitive: this is when a person is highly sensitive and may have unusual or extreme reactions to touch, taste, smell, sounds. It is commonly linked to anxiety and stress. Also see sensory processing.

Hyposensitive: this is when a person is under-sensitive or underwhelmed by touch, taste, smell and sound and are likely to seek out additional sensory activity.  Also see sensory processing.

IEP – Individual Education Plan

Interoception: awareness of our bodies internal signals such as pain, temperature, vibration, balance and the internal stimuli such as hunger and thirst sensors

LA – Local Authority: local council

LEA – Local Education Authority

Makaton: A system of signs and symbols combined with speech to assist hearing people with communication or learning difficulties. Signs from British Sign Language (BSL) are used however BSL is different to Makaton as it is a language for the deaf community in the UK and is naturally evolving language with its own grammar and word order. Makaton is what Mr Tumble uses on the Cbeebies show Something Special.

Melatonin: A hormone that is released by the brain to control your daily sleep and wake cycle, it is thought that patterns of melatonin secretion may be irregular in children on the autism spectrum and it can be produced at the wrong time of day. Melatonin supplements are available on prescription.

Monotropism: A hypothesis that looks at attention tunnels and suggests that many autistic people are monotropic and tend to focus their activity intensely on a limited range of interests, also they can have difficulty shifting attention or focusing attention on more than one thing i.e. looking and listening at the same time may be difficult and changes in routine can be hard to cope with.

NAS – National Autistic Society: British charity to support autistic people and their families.

Needs assessment: See EHC Needs Assessment above

Neurodiversity:  the concept that all humans are different and this includes different types of brain. People with autism have different brains to those who are not autistic, the way they think and process information is different and therefore their reactions and behaviour is different. The neurodiversity movement highlights the autistic brain as a naturally occurring cognitive difference.

Non verbal: A person that communicates without spoken language. The term also refers to communication that is not speech for example body language, touch, pitch, tone, eye contact etc.

NT – Neurotypical: A label widely used in the autistic community to identify people not on the autistic spectrum referring to them as neurologically typical.

OCD – Obsessive compulsive disorder

ODD – Oppositional defiance disorder

One Page Profile: A one page summary of what is important to a person and how they need to be supported, it is used as a summary and introduction to a person. Often used by educational settings or agencies working with young people in attempt to create a more person centred approach to supporting needs.

OT – Occupational Therapist / Occupational Therapy: This is a therapy to assess and assist people to carry out everyday activities that are essential to health and wellbeing which they may otherwise find difficult.  In the case of autism OTs may focus on fine motor and daily living skills to help create independence for that individual.

Paediatrician: Doctors that specialise in children.

PDA – Pathological Demand Avoidance: A behaviour profile seen within individuals on the autistic spectrum (although some believe it is a separate condition to autism).  PDD presents as extreme avoidance of everyday requests, demands and expectations, the behaviour is based in anxiety and a need for that individual to be in control.

PDD – Pervasive developmental disorders: This is the diagnostic category that autism spectrum disorders falls within along with four other disorders all characterised by developmental delays in socialisation and communication. Technically not a diagnostic label although sometimes used for young children when there is a hesitation to diagnose a specific PDD such as Autism.

PDD–NOS – Pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified: This is an old diagnostic category which now falls under autistic spectrum disorders. PDD-NOS was often used in the past when an individual displays some or most of the characteristics of autism but did not meet the full criteria.  In the past it has also been referred to as mild autism.

PECS – Picture Exchange Communication System: A functional communication system used for people with difficulties relating to speech and language.  It uses pictures which are exchanged with ‘communicative partners’ and teaches how to communicate what they need before moving through different phases of functional communication.

Blue PECS Book
PECS book

Personal Budget – this is the notional amount of money that a LA has identified as necessary to secure the special educational provision in an EHC plan.

PIP – Personal Independence Payments: A tax free weekly allowance to help with extra costs to anyone aged 16-64 living with a disability.

PMLD – Profound and multiple learning difficulties

PRU – Pupil referral unit: for children who need to be educated out of school because they have been excluded.

Proprioception: Body awareness, the sense of your own body in space without using touch or sight. It relates to body positioning, knowing where your limbs are in relation to your body and surrounding space, motion and equilibrium.

Resource base or unit: An education provider based within a mainstream school that is specifically for children with additional educational needs, some specialise specifically for children with autism.

SALT – Speech and Language Therapist: A specialist that provides assessment and treatment for individuals with difficulties and delays in speech, language and communication.  They also work with individuals who have difficulty eating, drinking and swallowing.

SEND / SEN – special educational needs and disability: A legal term that details needs of a child who has a disability or learning difficulty which makes it harder for them to learn than other children of the same age.

SENDCO / SENCO – Special educational needs and disability co-ordinator: The individual responsible for the day to day special education provision at a school or early years setting, it is their responsibility to ensure appropriate provision is accessible to meet the needs of children with special educational needs at that establishment.

SENDIP – Early years special educational needs, disability and inclusion panel: A panel of individuals with expertise in special educational needs set up to promote inclusion, it considers requests for funding and service provision relating to vulnerable children and children with special educational needs.

SENDIT – Early years special educational needs, disability and inclusion team: A team working for the local authority that support and challenges early years settings in relation to special educational needs, disability and inclusion.  This also includes Area SENCO’S that work with the provider based SENCO’s.

Sensory Processing: Children with autism can be over or under-sensitive to sounds, light, texture, smell and other sensory input.  Sensory processing issues happen when the brain has difficulty organising information from the senses.  Also see Hypersensitive and Hyposensitive

SLT – Speech and Language Therapy: The provision of treatment and care for individuals with difficulties relating to speech, language and communication.

Social services: local government services that have an obligation to safeguard and promote the welfare of vulnerable children.  They can offer a wide range of services to families.

Social Stories: Descriptions (often with visual aids) about everyday activities or events that detail specific information relating to the situation and what to expect.  They were devised by Carol Gray to assist people with autism to understand and improve social skills .

social stories

SPACE: A training and support programme offered to parents and carer’s of young autistic children.

SPELL – SPELL is The National Autistic Society’s framework for understanding and responding to the needs of children and adults on the autism spectrum. Structure, Positive (approaches and expectations), Empathy, Low Arousal, Links

SPD – Semantic pragmatic disorder:  A child with SPD does not develop semantic skills (understanding use and meaning of words) and pragmatic skills (how we use language, what to say when and how to say it to others) as expected and has difficulty understanding language socially.  SPD is now generally seen as a continuum of autistic spectrum disorders.

Statement – statement of special educational needs: A document that sets out a child’s special educational needs and how to support them.  Statements have now been replaced by Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) and all children who already have a Statement will have it transferred to an EHCP (see above).

STIM – Stimming: Self stimulating behaviour, usually the repetition of sounds or physical movement it is common in people with autism spectrum disorders.  It is someone doing something to give themselves sensory input.  There are many different types of stimming and many reasons for why people are stimming.

Symbolic play: Is simply pretend play.

TA – Teaching Assistant.

TAC – Team around the child: This is a meeting that will bring together different agencies / professionals that are all working with a child so that everyone is working towards the same goals and sharing the relevant information with each other. The aim is to provide a co-ordinated approach to delivery of services for young people.

TEACCH – Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children: An approach widely used in UK to teach independence, coping strategies and social skills training.  It is based on identifying an individual’s skills and building on them.

TOP – Targeted outcome plan: A regularly updated plan that identifies targets for a child within an early years setting.  It includes the long term outcomes with short term targets to meet these outcomes alongside strategies and activities that will be used to meet these targets.

TSF – Transition support funding: Funding for early years settings and the subsequent school from the local authority to support a child with additional needs in their transition to school.

Vestibular: The sensory system that supports balance and spatial orientation.

It’s not an exhaustive list so if you come across a term you think I should include let me know.