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Glossary & Acronyms

Glossary of commonly used terms and acronyms:

(adapted from the Autism Society of Georgia)


ABA - Applied Behavior Analysis  a professional field that uses principles of learning to increase performance of socially desirable behaviors. It always relies upon the collection of objective data to measure performance and the effectiveness of an intervention. ABA is used in industry, business and education as well as in the field of disabilities. The term “ABA” is sometimes used to refer to a one-on-one therapy that is named discrete trial training. Some educational professionals as well as parents will use the term ABA when referring to this type of one-on-one therapy. See Discrete Trial Training.

ADA - Americans with Disabilities Act – Federal civil rights law protecting individuals with disabilities. Enacted in 1990.

Adaptive Behavior – The ability to adjust to new situations and to apply familiar or new skills to those situations.

ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder; See also ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – A group of symptoms believed to be caused by slight abnormalities in the brain. These symptoms include a developmentally inappropriate lack of ability to attend (such as difficulty with listening to and following directions), impulsivity, distractibility, clumsiness and hyperactivity. ADHD occurs in as many as three percent of children, with onset prior to four years of age in about 50 percent of cases.

ADI-R – Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised, a tool for diagnosing autism.

Adolescent and Adult Psychoeducational Profile – An assessment tool designed for adolescents and adults with autism or other similar communicative disorders. Its purpose is to evaluate the person’s current and potential skills in areas that are important for functioning in the home, community and vocational setting.

ADOS-G – Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule – General, a diagnostic tool for autism.

Advocate – An individual who represents or speaks out on behalf of another person’s interests.

AIT – Auditory Integration Therapy

Annual Goal – A statement of the desired outcome of early intervention services or education for a specific child and his family. Annual goals for early intervention are selected by the child’s parents and the child’s early intervention multidisciplinary team. They are stated on the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). Annual goals for education also are developed by a team that includes the child’s parents, and are stated in the Individual Education Plan (IEP). Objectives may also be stated to provide developmentally appropriate activities and measurement of progress toward attainment of the goal. Objectives are more specific and measurable.

Antibody – A protein produced by the body which combats antigens (such as those found in viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms). Also known as immunoglobulin.

APE – Adapted Physical Education

Aphasia – Loss of ability to use or understand words.

Apraxia – The loss of ability to perform voluntary movements (i.e., the brain is unable to translate thoughts about moving into actual movement).

Arc – A national organization which provides advocacy services to individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families and publishes information about intellectual disabilities. The Arc has local and state branches throughout the United States.

AS -Asperger’s Syndrome – Condition found in the DSM-V manual under Autism Spectrum Disorders.  The essential features are severe and sustained impairment in social interaction and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests and activities. Additional criteria are listed in the DSM-V.

ASA – Autism Society of America – National nonprofit organization that promotes lifelong access and opportunities for persons within the autism spectrum.

ASL – American Sign Language

AT - Assistive Technology – Special items or equipment used to increase, maintain, or improve one’s functioning abilities. The term covers items such as computers, pencil holders, specialized switches and calculators.

Audiologist – A specialist who determines the presence and type of hearing impairment.

Audiology – The study of hearing and hearing disorders.

Audiometric Testing – Tests to measure the ability to hear sounds of varying frequency (pitch) and intensity (loudness), thereby revealing any hearing impairment. Results are then recorded on an audiogram. Also known as audiometry.

Auditory – Pertaining to the sense of hearing.

AAC - Augmentative & Alternative Communication – Any method of communicating without speech, such as by signs, gestures, picture boards, or electronic or non-electronic devices. These methods can help individuals who are unable to use speech or who need to supplement their speech to communicate effectively.

ASD - Autism  or Autism Spectrum Disorder – Autism is a developmental disability that typically appears during the fist three years of life. The result of a neurological disorder that affects functioning of the brain, autism and its associated behaviors occur in approximately one in every 68 children. 

Autistic Savant – An autistic individual who displays incredible aptitude in a particular skill.

AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress

BIP - Behavior Intervention Plan – A written document that becomes part of the IEP and which identifies problem behaviors; sets goals for decreasing unwanted behaviors and increasing desired behaviors; and outlines interventions to use when specific behaviors occur. Sometimes call a behavior management plan.

Behavior Modification – A method of manipulating behavior through the use of rewards and consequences.

Behavioral Assessment – Gathering (through direct observation and by parent report) and analyzing information about a child’s behaviors. The information may be used to help the child change unwanted behaviors. Variables that are noted include when a behavior occurs as well as its frequency and duration. See Functional Behavior Assessment.

Behavioralist – A person who observes behavior and then helps the person develop more adaptive alternative behaviors.

BMP – Behavior Management Plan

CAPD – Central Auditory Processing Disorder

CARS – Childhood Autism Rating Scale, a screening tool for autism.

CDC – Centers for Disease Control

CDD – Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (Heller’s Syndrome)

CEC - Council for Exceptional Children

CNS - Central Nervous System – The structure that consists of the brain, the spinal cord and related systems that controls all aspects of learning, thinking and movement.

CFR – Code of Federal Regulations

CHAT – Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, a screening tool for autism in young children.

Cognition – Thinking skills that include the ability to receive, process, analyze and understand information.

Cognitive – Referring to the developmental area that involves thinking skills, including the ability to receive, process, analyze and understand information.

Communication – The developmental area that involves skills which enable people to understand (receptive language) and share (expressive language) thoughts and feelings.

Communication Aid - A nonverbal form of communication such as gesture, sign language, communication boards and electronic devices.

Communication Board/Book – A board or book with pictures or symbols that a child or adult can point to for expression of his or her needs.

Communication Disorder – Difficulty with understanding and/or expressing messages. Communication disorders include problems with articulation, voice disorders, stuttering, language disorders and some learning disabilities.

Community Based Instruction – Refers to instruction which occurs in the community instead of on the school campus. Recreation/leisure, vocational, community, and domestic activities may take place in community settings. The advantage of this instruction is that the student learns skills in the natural context in which they are to be used.

Consequence – Something that occurs as the direct result of action or effort. Consequences can be pleasant and reinforcing or unpleasant and punishing. Some consequences occur naturally, (i.e., when you touch a hot stove, you get burned).

CP – Cerebral Palsy

DD – See Developmental Disability.

DD Services - Developmental Disability Services. Governmental services for children and adults accesed through each county in Oregon. A department under DHS.

Developmental Delay – The term used to describe the condition of an infant or young child who is not achieving new skills in the typical time frame and/or is exhibiting behaviors that are not appropriate for his or her age. Some children who are developmentally delayed eventually have a specific diagnosis of a particular developmental disability. Other children with delays catch up with their typically developing peers.

DD - Developmental Disability – Any physical or mental condition (such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism or a neurological disorder) that has the following characteristics: (1) begins before the age of 22 years, (2) causes the child to acquire skills at a slower rate than peers, (3) is expected to continue indefinitely and (4) impairs the child’s ability to function normally in society. (This description is based on the federal definition of developmental disability, which is used to determine who receives particular services through federal funds.)

DHS – Department of Human Services; department of state government that houses services for developmental disabilities

DSM-V - Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – The fifth edition of the reference manual published by the American Psychiatric Association, for which the text was revised in 2014. The DSM-V appears to be the most widely used manual of diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders in the United States. 

DPT - Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus Vaccine - An immunization against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus that is usually given to infants and young children.

DTT - Discrete Trial Training – A method for teaching desired behaviors, skills or tasks. The skill being taught is “broken” down or sequenced into small, “discrete steps” that are taught in a highly structured and hierarchical manner. The therapist or caregiver systematically rewards or reinforces desired responses and ignores, redirects or discourages inappropriate responses. Data on all learning is recorded regularly and the therapist adjusts the teaching program as needed.

DOE – Department of Education

Dx - Diagnosis

Dyspraxia – A problem with praxis, (i.e., planning, initiating, sequencing and carrying out volitional movements).

EI/ECSE  - Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education  – Individualized services for infants and toddlers to age 5 who are at risk for or are showing signs of developmental delay.

EBD – Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Echolalia – The repetition of speech that is produced by others (a relatively common symptom of autism). Echoed words or phrases can include the same words and inflections as were originally heard or they may be somewhat modified. Immediate echolalia refers to works immediately repeated or repeated a brief time after they were heard. Delayed echolalia refers to the repetition of speech much later – even after days or years.

EEG – Electroencephalogram – A test consisting of recording brainwaves as picked up by electrodes. It is used to identify seizures.

Epilepsy – Sometimes called a seizure disorder. Epilepsy is a condition characterized by recurrent seizures that are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Seizures can occur for many reasons, including damage to the brain due to infection, injury, birth trauma, tumor, stroke, drug intoxication and chemical imbalance. Epilepsy is usually treatable with antiepileptic drugs. It is estimated that about one third of individuals with autism have seizures at some time during their lifetime. Also see Seizure.

ESL – English as a Second Language

ESOL – English for Speakers of Other Languages

ESY – Extended School Year – Special education and related services provided beyond the normal school year, in accordance with the child’s IEP and at no cost to the parents.

Expressive Language – Refers to the language that the individual can communicate to others. Generally, when referring to oral expressive language, it indicates the individual’ ability to express thoughts, feelings, wants, and desires through oral speech. Expressive language may also refer to gestures, signing, communicating through pictures and objects, and writing. Compare to Receptive Language.

Facilitated Communication – A technique that allows non-verbal people to communicate by typing on a computer keyboard, assisted by a person called a facilitator.

FAPE – Free Appropriate Public Education, what every student is entitled to under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

FDA – Food and Drug Administration

FERPA – Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act

Fine Motor Skills – The developmental area involving skills that require the coordination of the small muscles of the body, including those of the hands and face.

Fragile X Syndrome – A genetic disorder named for the appearance of a broken or “fragile” X chromosome when exposed to certain chemicals in a laboratory setting.

FBA - Functional Behavior Assessment - The process of systematically determining the function of behaviors, usually inappropriate, that are displayed by people. Behaviors are defined, measured and analyzed in terms of what happened before and after their occurrence. Based on information gathered a judgment is made about the possible communicative function of the behavior(s). Functional assessments are usually performed in order to develop behavior interventions and supports that address challenging or inappropriate behaviors. See Behavioral Assessment.

Generalization – The ability to take a skill learned in one setting, such as the classroom, and use it in another setting like the home or community.

Genetics – The study of conditions resulting from inherited components of DNA.

Gluten Free/Casein Free Diet – An eating plan that removes gluten (wheat protein) and casein (milk protein) from a person’s diet.

Gross Motor Skills – The developmental area involving skills that require the coordination of the large muscles of the body, including the legs.

Hand-Over-Hand Guidance – Physically guiding an individual through the movements of a given task.

Head-Banging – A form of self-stimulation in which the child repetitively bangs head on the floor or another surface. Refer to Self-Stimulation and Self-Injurious Behavior.

HFA – High Functioning Autism

Hyper- - A prefix meaning above, elevated or excessive. Compare to Hypo-.

Hyperlexia/Hyperlexic – Ability to read at an early age, but often without linking the words to what they mean

Hyperactivity – Abnormally increased motor activity, resulting in difficulty with concentrating on one task or sitting still. Due to their over activity and impulsivity, children who are hyperactive often have difficulty with learning, even if they score in the normal range on IQ tests. Hyperactivity can occur with attention deficit disorder, mental retardation, seizure disorder, sensory deficit disorders or other central nervous system damage. Also known as hyperkinetic.

Hypersensitivity – Over-sensitivity to sensory input (often to the point of pain).

Hypo- - Prefix for under, beneath, down or less than normal. Compare to Hyper-.

Hyposensitivity – Under-sensitivity to sensory input, resulting in little or nor response to noise, hot/cold, etc.

Hypotonia – Low muscle tone.

IDEA Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – A federal law passed in 1997 that reauthorized and amend the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142).

IEE – Independent Educational Evaluation

IEP - Individualized Education Plan – A written statement of a child’s current level of development (abilities and impairments) and an individualized plan of instruction, including the goals, the specific services to be received, the people who will carry out the services, the standards and time lines for evaluating progress, and the amount and degree to which a child will participate with non-handicapped peers at school. The IEP is developed by the child’s parents and professionals who evaluated the child. It is required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for all children in special education, ages three years and up.

IFSP – Individualized Family Service Plan  – A written plan describing the infant’s current level of development; the family’s strengths and needs related to enhancement of the infant’s or toddler’s development; goals for the infant and the other family members (as applicable), including the criteria, procedures and time lines used to evaluate progress (the IFSP should be evaluated and adjusted at least once a year and reviewed at least every six months); and the specific early intervention services needed to meet the goals (including the frequency and intensity and method of delivering services, the projected date of initiating services and the anticipated duration of services). The IFSP is developed and implemented by the child’s parents and a multidisciplinary early intervention team. If it is likely at age three that the child will require special education services, a transition plan should also be stated in the IFSP. The IFSP is required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for all infants receiving early intervention services. Refer to Early Intervention.

Inclusion – The general concept of including people with disabilities in all aspects of life, such as (but not limited to) education, community living, employment and recreation.

IQ – Intelligence Quotient

ISS – In School Suspension

Joint Attention – Coordinating attention about an object of mutual interest. This involves shifting attention from each other to an object and back. Joint attention is sometimes called referential looking.

Joint Compression – A technique used by occupational therapists in which various joints are “pushed together” to meet the need for deep pressure exhibited by many individuals with autism. Joint compression should only be used when carefully supervised by an occupational therapist.

Ketogenic Diet – Restricted diet used to prevent epileptic seizures.

Landau-Kleffner Syndrome – A seizure disorder that often has characteristics similar to autism.

LD – Learning Disabled

LEA – Local Education Agency, often the local school

LRE - Least Restrictive Environment – The educational setting that permits a child with disabilities to derive the most educational benefit while participating in a regular educational environment to the maximum extent appropriate. LRE is a requirement under the IDEA.

Lovaas Method – An intensive behavior modification program created by Dr. Ivar Lovaas.

MRI - Magnetic Resonance Imaging – A diagnostic tool in the sense of an X-ray machine or CAT scanner which, like them, creates internal images of selected parts of the body. Rather than sending X-rays through the body, it builds its image data by testing the magnetism of the body tissue.

Mainstreaming – Placing a child with disabilities in the educational setting that is as close to normal as possible. Mainstreaming may allow the child with disabilities to be educated in a regular classroom, even though supplemental resource services may be needed and provided.

Medically Fragile – Referring to an infant or child whose health status either is unstable or renders him at risk for developmental delay, often due to poor health.

MR - Mental Retardation – According to the American Association on Mental Retardation (1992), “Mental retardation refers to substantial limitations in present functioning. It is characterized by significantly sub-average intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with related limitations in two or more of the following applicable adaptive skill areas: communication, self-care, home living, social skills, community use, self-direction, health and safety, functional academics, leisure and work.” In other words, someone with mental retardation performs significantly below his age level in both intellectual functioning (intelligence) and adaptive behavior.

MLU – Mean (average) Length of Utterance

MMR – The abbreviation for Measles, Mumps and Rubella Vaccine.

Modifications – Alterations of the curriculum, the support systems, the environments, or the teaching strategies to match individual needs to ensure that the student can participate actively and as independently as possible.

Motor Planning – The ability of the brain to conceive of, organize, and carry out a sequence of unfamiliar actions. Also known as praxis.

Motor Skill – The learned ability to perform movements, such as holding the body in an upright position to sit, using the hands to manipulate small items, scooping food onto a spoon and bringing the spoon to the mouth, and moving the lips and tongue to articulate different sounds.

Multidisciplinary Team – Refers to an assessment team which has professional members from various disciplines (education, speech pathology, psychology, medicine, etc.) to evaluate the “total child”.

NCLB (A) – No Child Left Behind (Act)

Neurologically typical/neuro-typical – In conversations about autism, this term is often used to describe people who do not have an autism spectrum disorder.

Neurologist – A physician who specializes in disorders of the brain.

Neurotransmitter – A chemical substance found between nerve cells in the brain that allows sensory information/impulses to travel from one part of the brain to another.

NICHCY – National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities

NIH – National Institutes of Health

NIMH – National Institutes for Mental Health

Nonverbal Communication – Any form of or attempt at unspoken or “physical” communication. Examples are temper tantrums, gestures, pointing and leading another person to a desired object.

NT – Neurologically typical/neuro-typical.

OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCR – Office of Civil Rights

ODD – Oppositional-Defiant Disorder

OHI – Other Health Impairment

Oral Motor – Relating to the muscles of the mouth.

OSEP – Office of Special Education Programs

OSERS – Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

OT - Occupational Therapy – Therapeutic treatment aimed at helping the injured, ill or disabled individual to develop and improve self-help skills and adaptive behavior and play. The occupational therapist also addresses the young child’s motor, sensory and postural development with the overall goals of preventing or minimizing the impact of impairment and developmental delay. The therapist also promotes acquisition f new skills to increase the child or adult’s ability to function independently.

PDD – Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) – A diagnostic category in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) that included Autistic Disorder. The DSM uses the term Pervasive Developmental Disorder to refer to a “severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development: reciprocal social interaction skills, communication skills, or the presence of stereotyped behavior, interests, and activities.” Sometimes doctors use the abbreviation PDD alone when diagnosing a child who has some, but not all, of the symptoms of autism.

PECS – Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) – An alternative communication system that uses picture cards.

PDD-NOS – Pervasive Developmental Delay – Not Otherwise Specified

Perseveration – Repetitive movement or speech, or sticking to one idea or task

PT -Physical Therapy – Therapeutic treatment designed to prevent or alleviate movement dysfunction through a program tailored to the individual child. The goal of the program may be to develop muscle strength, range of motion, coordination or endurance; to alleviate pain; or to attain new motor skills. Therapeutic exercise may include passive exercise (in which the therapist moves and stretches the child’s muscles) or the child may actively participate in learning new ways to acquire and control positions and movement.

Pragmatics – The understanding of how and why language is used – especially in social situations.

Praxis – See Motor Planning

PreK - PreKindergarten

Prognosis – An estimate of the course and outcome of a disease or other condition, including the chances of recovery.

Prompt – Input that encourages an individual to perform a movement or activity. A prompt may be verbal, gestural or physical. Also known as a “cue”.

Proprioception –The body’s conscious or unconscious awareness of its position in relation to its surrounding.

Qualitative Developmental Assessment – An evaluation of the quality, rather than the quantity, of a child’s cognitive skills.

Receptive Language – The ability to understand what is being expressed, including verbal and nonverbal communication. Compare to Expressive Language.

Regression – Reverting to a more immature form of behavior or decreased skill level.

Reinforcement – A pleasant event that occurs immediately as a direct result of an action and that increases the strength of the action or the likelihood that the action will be repeated.

Related Services – Additional services at school that would help a child further benefit from his special education. These services might include speech, occupational therapy,
transportation, etc.

Resource Specialist – A teacher who provides special education instruction to children who are taught by regular classroom teachers for the majority of the school day. Sometimes called resource teachers.

Respite/Respite Care – Skilled, adult supervision of a person with special needs with the goal of giving the primary caregiver a break.

Savant – See Autistic Savant

SDD – Significant Developmental Delay

Secretin – A hormone used to diagnose digestive problems that may also be helpful in reducing the symptoms of autism.

Section 504 – A part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 making it illegal for any organization receiving federal funds to discriminate against any person solely on the basis of disability

Seizure – Involuntary physical movement or changes in consciousness or behavior brought on by abnormal bursts of electrical activity in the brain. See Epilepsy.

Self-Contained – In reference to special education, refers to schools or classrooms containing only special needs population.

SIB - Self-Injurious Behavior – Abnormal behaviors that are harmful to oneself, such as head-banging or scratching or biting oneself.

Self-Stimming, Self-Regulatory and Self-Stimulatory Behavior – Defined as unusual behaviors that interfere with the individual’s ability to pay attention or participate in meaningful activity, such as head banging, watching fingers wiggle or rocking side to side. Unpurposeful play with a toy can be self-stimulating, such as repetitively spinning the wheels of a toy truck instead of exploring the different ways it can be used. In children, self-stimulation is most common when there is a diagnosis of mental retardation, autism or a psychosis.

Sensory Defensiveness – Refers to a group of symptoms that are indicative of over reactions of our normal protective senses across sensory modalities. Individuals may exhibit patterns of avoidance, sensory seeking, fear, anxiety, and even aggression in reaction to certain sensory stimuli.

Sensory Diet – An activity plan that includes specific activities designed to decrease sensory defensiveness. Timing, intensity, and sensory qualities of these activities are highlighted.

Sensory Impairment – A problem with receiving information through one or more of the senses (sight, hearing, touch, etc.).

Sensory Integration – The ability of the central nervous system to receive, process, and learn from sensations in order to develop skills. The sensations include touch, movement, sight, sound, smell and the pull of gravity.

Sensory Integration Therapy – A therapy that uses physical activities to help regulate the effect of and responses to sensory input.

Sensory Stimulation – Any arousal of one or more of the senses.

Seratonin – A neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that plays a part in communication with the nervous system.

SLD – Specific Learning Disability

SLP – Speech-Language Pathologist

Social Skills – Positive, appropriate, social behaviors that are generally considered necessary to communicate and interact with others.

Spectrum Disorder – A disorder, such as autism, that appears with a wide rang of characteristics and functioning. At one end of the spectrum of autism individuals tendto have many challenging behaviors. At the other end individuals generally have greater cognitive abilities and can communicate relatively well with spoken language.

SPED – Special Education

Speech Therapy – Therapy to improve the individual’s speech and language skills, as well as oral motor abilities.

SSI – Supplemental Security Income

SST – Student Support Team

Tactile – Relating to the sense of touch.

Task Analysis – Process of breaking a skill down into smaller steps.

TBI – Traumatic Brian Injury

TEACCH – Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication handicapped CHildren - A structured teaching intervention develop by Division TEACCH of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The components of the program include physical structure, schedules, individual work systems, visual structure, and routines.

Transitions – May refer to changes from one environment to another such as from an early childhood program to a kindergarten or first grade class or from a secondary program to the world of work. Transitions may also refer to changes from one activity to another. Transitions are typically very difficult for individuals with autism.

Vestibular – Sensory system located in the inner ear that allows the body to maintain balance.

Visual Supports/Visual Adaptations – Written schedules, lists, charts, picture sequence, and other visuals that convey meaningful information in a permanent format for later reference. Visual supports allow the person with autism to function more independently without constant verbal directions.