Descriptions of the various medical/psychological terms used in this autism guide.



An almond shaped organ within the brain which is responsible for processing a range of emotions such as fear and pleasure.

Applied behavioural analysis

A type of structured intervention (approach) which aims to change negative behaviour to a positive mindset. This is done by breaking down a task into smaller sections which are easier to learn.

Asperger’s Syndrome

A type of autistic spectrum disorder which is characterised by a higher than normal level of intelligence, problems with verbal communication and difficulties in interacting with other people.

They often have a noticeable skill in a particular area and prefer a set, daily routine.


The technical term for the evaluation of behavioural aspects of an adult or child with an autistic spectrum disorder.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Often known as ’ADHD’for short: a childhood condition characterised by problems with attention span, impulsive behaviour and hyperactivity.


A permanent developmental condition in which the sufferer has difficulties in understanding and interacting with the world around them. They have problems with social skills, imagination and verbal/non-verbal communication.

There is more than one type of autism which varies according to the autistic spectrum (see below).

Autistic spectrum disorder

The symptoms of autism vary between people although many of them will share the same symptoms. These include an adherence to strict routines, preference for one’s own company and a lack of empathy with others. The extent of these symptoms, e.g. mild or severe will determine where a person fits on the autism spectrum. Examples of spectrum disorders include Asperger’s Syndrome, high functioning autism and Rett’s Syndrome.

Auto-immune disease

A medical condition where the immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues within the body. An example of this is Multiple Sclerosis.


Behavioural problems

A collective term for a range of actions which are considered anti-social, aggressive or inappropriate in human society.

Behavioural interventions

A group of therapies which are designed to minimise or reverse many negative forms of behaviour. The aim is to identify the root causes and/or triggers for these behaviours.



Someone who looks after a disabled person on a constant basis. They will perform a range of tasks such as helping the person to wash or dress themselves, or undertaking everyday duties such as cooking or cleaning.

Cerebral cortex

An important part of the brain which controls intelligence, language and memory.

Challenging behaviour

This refers to actions which are likely to be harmful to the affected person and/or others around them. This behaviour may be anti-social or limit the person’s ability to integrate in society.

Childhood disintegrative disorder

A type of autistic spectrum disorder in which a child develops at a normal rate until the age of 3 whereby they stop developing or start to regress.

Communication problems

A term used to refer to difficulties in speech or non-verbal behaviour. Communication problems are a feature of autism.

Compulsive behaviour

The urge to perform an action repeatedly and often without any sense of enjoyment. An example of this is banging one’s head against the wall which is a symptom of autism.


Developmental problems

The name given to a range of difficulties related to growth and the acquisition of age appropriate skills.


A condition marked by difficulties in reading and spelling which varies between individuals. This is characterised by a tendency to mix up words or to write words that are back to front.


Early intervention

This refers to the action taken to identify developmental problems such as autism at an early stage in the child’s life. It involves a range of approaches such as educational, behavioural and psychological to deal with the symptoms.


An essential part of being human: our thoughts and feelings which are a complex interaction between internal and external triggers. Emotions are often classed as ’positive’ or ’negative’.


Facilitated communication

A term used to describe a technique used to help an autistic person with no verbal skills to communication in alternate ways. This can take the form of typing on a keyboard or using picture cards.



A branch of medicine which is concerned with inherited characteristics and behaviour. An individual person’s characteristics are passed down to them through their genes, e.g. colour of their eyes.


A type of protein found in wheat which many people have intolerance to.



A state in which a person or child is over-stimulated and has difficulty in concentrating on a task or sitting still. They appear to have endless amounts of energy and are forever on the go.


This is where a person reacts in an extreme manner to even the most mundane of stimulants. Their senses are unable to cope with different forms of input such as lights, sounds, smells and taste and become highly distressed as a result.

This can be known as sensory overload.



This is a term used to describe the including of a child with a disability, e.g. autism in a class of children without any disabilities. This often means placing them in a mainstream school.


This refers to a child under the age of 1.


A term used to refer to a therapy, technique or course used to treat the symptoms of autism. An example of this is speech and language therapy.


None at present.


None at present.


Language problems

This refers to difficulties in speech or written language, e.g. symbols or numbers which leads to problems in communication with other people. People with autism find that their speech is awkward which is also accompanied by problems with written language.

Learning disability

This is a permanent state in which someone has a deficiency in their ability to learn or with their overall intelligence.

Lovaas method

A type of applied behavioural analysis which is used to treat autistic children.


Multiple complex development disorder

This describes a range of developmental problems which are apparent soon after birth. These include autism, anxiety, dyslexia and paranoid delusions.

Multiple disabilities

This is basically someone with more than one disability, for example autism and epilepsy.


Neurological disorder

A disease of the brain and nervous system.

Non-verbal communication

A way of communicating that uses gesture, body language and facial gesture.



An intense focus on something or repeated images and thoughts to the exclusion of all else. Someone with an obsession often thinks of nothing else.



A specialist in the field of childhood diseases and treatments.

Parent-child interaction

Interpersonal relations between a child and its parents, for example, talking, singing or playing with a toy.

Peer interaction

The ability to mix and socialise with other people of the same age and class at school.


A professional trained in issues related to the mind and their effect on behaviour. There are different types of psychologist such as clinical psychologist who deal with psychological problems such as anxiety.


None at present.



The name given to a state in which a child goes backwards in their development, for example when developing social and motor skills.

Repetitive behaviour

The act of performing a task over and over again. An intense focus on a task or strict adherence to a routine.

Rett’s Syndrome

A form of autism which commonly affects girls and causes severe problems with motor, cognitive and social skills. This often occurs before the age of two.



Someone with a learning disability or developmental disorder such as autism who has an exceptional talent, e.g. remembering large amounts of data or recalling numbers.

Self stimulation behaviours

This refers to stereotypical actions carried out by a person for their own gratification. These include repetitive behaviours often displayed by autistic people, e.g. rocking motions or waving their hands around.

Social behaviour

This refers to the acquisition of interpersonal skills which enable someone to interact with other people. This is done in accordance with the norms and values of society and requires the person to adjust their behaviour in line with this.

Social skills

These are verbal and non-verbal skills which enable someone to communicate and interact with other people. Examples include taking turns during a conversation, listening to the other person and showing empathy.

Speech therapy

A form of therapy which teaches verbal skills to people with a deficiency in this area caused by autism or an acquired condition.


A document which contains details of a child’s disability and the help and support needed to treat this.


Triad of impairments

This is a term used to refer to the three main areas of difficult associated with autism. They include problems with communication, imagination and interaction.


None at present.


None at present.


None at present.


None at present.


None at present.


None at present.

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