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Autism Glossary: 27 Essential Autism Terms Used in Modern ABA

Learning the appropriate language and autism terms used in treating Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will help you understand your autistic child’s needs and symptoms. Below, we have put together a list of essential autism terminology used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy with examples. Here’s our list of the 27 must-know autism terms for discussing and describing the autism spectrum.

1. Inclusion

Inclusion is educating all or most children in the same classroom. This is also known as mainstreaming a child. For example, a classroom would include children with mental, physical, and developmental disabilities. Recently, the term has become more about providing accessibility to people on the autism spectrum. It ensures they are included even though they may face different challenges.

2. Tantrums

Tantrums are a form of communication, and they always serve a purpose. In some cases, the individual desires attention. In others, it’s the access they are after. Unlike meltdowns, a child can quickly recover from a tantrum. The behavior typically ends when the child receives what they want.

3. Neurodivergent

Neurodivergent refers to an individual whose brain processes information differently from what is considered typical. People diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia, and other conditions would all be considered neurodivergent. It’s meant to be a neutral term meaning that someone is different rather than abnormal.

4. Neurotypical (NT)

Neurotypical is a term used in the autism field to label those whose neurological development and process are perceived as “normal” or “standard.” They can fully process linguistic information and social cues. In concise terms, a neurotypical person isn’t on the autism spectrum.

5. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy in which a licensed therapist recognizes negative thoughts and patterns in a patient. The therapist challenges those beliefs to alter behavior and treat mental health disorders. Many individuals with autism also struggle with depression and anxiety. CBT has research and evidence showing that this treatment helps reduce painful feelings and problematic behavior.

6. Discrete Trial Training (DTT)

This is a structured component of learning in Applied Behavior Analysis. A task is broken down into small steps. Later it is built back up to demonstrate a completed task. DTT can take place across many environments and between individuals.

7. Prosody

Prosody is the rhythm, tone, and melody of spoken language. Prosody is expressed through pitch, stress, rate, inflection, and intonation used in speech. Individuals diagnosed with autism typically struggle with intonation. They often speak in a monotone voice or speak with a singing tone.

8. Joint Attention

Joint attention includes sharing interests, meeting the gaze of another, and gesturing or pointing. Most children will encourage playmates to participate in their experience by saying, “Watch me!” They show interest in their environment and often share what they see. Children on the spectrum do not usually participate in joint activities or share interests with their peers.

9. Comorbidity

Comorbidity is the presence of two chronic conditions or diseases in a single patient. Many individuals with autism also have other conditions like apraxia, food disorders, mental health disorders, and epilepsy.

10. Sensory Diet

A sensory diet is a plan that includes specific activities created to increase and challenge sensory development. When used effectively, it decreases extreme reactions to sensory input that affects some people with autism.

11. Echolalia

Echolalia is the consistent repeating of words, sounds, and phrases. People who engage in this “echoing” behavior cannot always communicate effectively or express their feelings and thoughts. Instead, they parrot back things they have heard elsewhere.

For example, each time a child is handed his iPad, he screams out to the world, “dolphin.” This happens every time, and it is something he is echoing. It may be unclear where he picked up the term, but he has correlated saying the word with receiving the iPad.

12. Scripting

Scripting is repeating phrases, words, intonations, or sounds that have been produced by others. Often this entails repeating dialogue from movies, videos, and other media. Still, individuals with autism can also script from other resources like a favorite book or something someone else has said.

For example, a child may say “Welcome to Elmo’s World” when a new person enters the house. He has heard this scripted on television and now repeats it constantly.

13. Perseveration

Perseveration is the constant repeating or persistence of an action or behavior after it has been acknowledged. For example, when beginning a session, an autistic child may ask the therapist, “What time will Ms. Sherri be here?” The therapist responds, “2:30.” Immediately following the answer, the child asks the same question 40 more times in 60 minutes. He cannot focus on the session because he tirelessly asks the same question without being able to shift mental gears.

14. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy

Applied Behavior Analysis is the study of behavior to determine its true meaning and develop alternative, more acceptable behaviors. ABA uses evidence-based approaches and principles to promote learning. It helps to create motivation to participate in socially significant interactions. Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) use ABA therapy to teach social skills, self-care skills, and learning skills. This is done while simultaneously decreasing behaviors that can prevent learning or are destructive or harmful. ABA therapy is considered the gold standard for autism treatment by many organizations, insurance companies, and government agencies.

15. Reinforcement

Reinforcement is a primary principle of Applied Behavior Analysis. There are two different kinds of reinforcement: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. With positive reinforcement, a reward is given immediately after the individual engages in the target behavior. Negative reinforcement, often confused with punishment, removes an unpleasant stimulus to encourage the desired behavior. An example of negative reinforcement would be putting on your seatbelt to stop or avoid the alarm. The alarm is removed or taken away when you perform the seatbelt behavior.

16. 504 Plan

A 504 Plan (named for Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act) ensures that students with mental or physical disabilities receive the accommodations (changes in the environment or curriculum) they need in public schools to ensure academic success.

17. Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

An Individualized Education Plan ensures that a student with a disability will receive specialized and individualized attention in addition to related services they may need to learn effectively.

18. Transition

Transitioning from one activity to another or transitioning to a different environment can be extremely difficult for individuals with autism. Explanations, warnings, or social stories can ease some of the anxiety related to transitioning.

19. Savant

A savant possesses detailed knowledge in a particular field. A small percentage of individuals with autism are savants. In some cases, savants may have many different skills not limited to one area of interest.

20. Splinter Skill

A splinter skill is stronger than the other skills the person possesses. For example, an individual with autism might be able to do one or more things very well but have far less ability in other skill areas.

21. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurological condition that exists when the brain does not adequately process sensory signals. For example, a person with a sensory processing disorder may be highly sensitive to certain textures or foods.

22. Vestibular System

A vestibular system or sensory system gives an individual awareness of spatial orientation and balance so they can coordinate movements safely. Individuals with autism are often challenged in managing their movements, such as how they walk, run or freeze.

23. Meltdowns

There is a difference between temper tantrums and meltdowns. Meltdowns are common for individuals on the autism spectrum and are not typically motivated by anger or lack of access. Instead, it is the body reacting to over-stimulation. Meltdowns can be silent or extremely loud and can last for an entire day at times.

24. Self-Stimulatory Behavior (Stimming)

Stimming is when a child engages in repetitive behaviors. This can be spinning, dropping, rocking, clapping, making vocalizations, or any other repetitive action. Autistic individuals may use stimming to self-soothe and alleviate stress related to overstimulation.

25. Visual Schedule/Social Story

 A visual schedule describes what an individual can expect and in what order these things will take place. This is a beneficial practice for individuals with autism who often benefit from understanding the unknown or have trouble transitioning between activities and environments.

26. Elopement

Elopement is escaping the caregiver. It can also include leaving without permission or not letting others know when you are headed. This is a dangerous behavior that, for some, is fatal. Elopement is one of the primary concerns of the autism community.

27. Proprioception

Proprioception is the body’s ability to sense the position of body parts in relation to another. It also helps us discern the amount of strength required to create the desired movement. This sense lets us know where our specific body part is and their capability of movement and position. Examples of proprioception would be pulling, pushing, or clapping hands together.

Autism Terms at ABA Centers of America

Understanding these autism terms and the language used in ABA therapy will help you communicate with your providers and ask better questions. Being familiar with these terms makes you an autism superstar!

At ABA Centers of America, we create developmental plans for families faced with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We work with the child on their level, and all of our RBTs and BCBAs are licensed or board-certified. We have immediate openings available. To learn more about us, give us a call at 844-969-4222 for a free, no-obligation consultation. Or drop us a note!

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