Glossary of Autism Terms

The following is a continuously-updated glossary of autism terms used in this blog. I define these terms by how I understand them and I am constantly revising as my understanding grows and changes.

(added Hyposensitivity 7-Nov-13)

Asperger’s Syndrome- A personality type characterized by tendencies that are similar to classic autism symptoms, such as narrow and restrictive interests, difficulty in communication and social understanding, and mild sensory irregularities. While Asperger’s Syndrome has historically fallen within the “autism spectrum” pre DSM-V, I make the distinction that autism is severely impairing, while Asperger’s syndrome is mildly impairing “quirkiness” and allows for “aspies” to functionally integrate into society at large without intensive therapy.

Autism- also, classic autism: a pervasive development disorder with a diverse range of symptoms falling into three broad categories: 1) deficiencies in normal social interaction such as communication, emotional empathy and mimicry. 2) obsession with repetitive movements and behaviors or unusually narrow interests. 3) Severe problems with sensory integration and normal sensory function. For the purpose of clarity in this blog, I adhere to the diagnosis system of the DSM-5, that these symptoms must be “functionally impairing.” Dmitry is diagnosed with classic autism.

DSM-5- Abbreviation for the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This manual was recently updated in May, 2013 and included controversial revisions that may cause some patients afflicted with milder forms of autism-spectrum disorders to lose their diagnosis and therefore their much-needed care. This blog is tentatively supportive of this revision, as it will tend to highlight those individuals most in need of intensive therapy, and help quell fears of an “autism outbreak” that appears to be largely related to an increase in diagnosis rather than an increase in symptoms manifest in the population at large.

Echolalia- Describes a collection of symptoms common to autistics where words or phrases are repeated often, with or without meaning. Lines from TV shows, questions asked of the child, and disciplinary words are all candidates to be “echoed” back, often using the same tone, inflection and pacing as when they were first heard by the echolalic child.

Facilitated Communication- Communication for individuals with autism or other disabilities that relies on another person as an agent to interpret the input of the communicator. This method is controversial in psychological science, because it is often unknown how much the facilitator influences the outcome by interpreting the input according to the facilitator’s schema rather than the communicator’s intent. Computers and speaking machines are not considered facilitated communication, because they are not operated by human minds.

Hyposensitivity- A form of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) indicating that the brain perceives stimuli as less intense than typical range. For example, Dmitry feels pain less strongly, especially “sharp” pains. (On at least one occasion he gleefully chewed a shaving razor til blood ran down his chin. Another time he stood on a patch of ants, marveling at the stinging they gave him!) Hyposensitives are also often “sensory-seeking”- they go out of their way to stimulate proprioception by spinning or hanging upside down, tactile stims by feeling odd textures, auditory stims like screaming and barking loudly and without abstract meaning, staring into lights, etc. Dmitry does all of these and many more.

Neurotypical- Abbreviated “NT”, this term is an informal “shorthand” for those sharing none or very few of the symptoms of autistic or other neurological disorders. The term has no connotations of intelligence or ability, but refers to a child or adult whose development is consistent with typical human neurology.

Non-Verbal- Describes a child who has very little or no ability to express himself verbally. Some children, such as echolalics, might have the ability to speak words intelligibly, but I who still consider non-verbal if the echolalia is only the result of stimming and carries no other apparent meaning. Some children can use echolalia as a form of meaningful communication and are considered verbal-echolalic. Dmitry is non-verbal.

Outlier- A person whose given characteristic is well outside a normal bell curve. That characteristic could have a significantly lower or higher expression than the “expected value” for that characteristic.

Person-First Language: Used to identify someone as a person first rather than as a member of a specific group, often in order to avoid causing offense. For example, “autistic child” would be changed to “child with autism” in order to make the person’s childhood his defining characteristic, rather than his autism. I tend to ignore this linguistic style because it’s simply not how I speak, and I’ve found it to be clunky, inefficient and unnecessary. After all, I don’t call an employee “person under my employ”, or my sister “person who is my sister”.

Stim- Short for “stimulatory activity”.  A repetitive movement or action that stimulates the senses in a way that is pleasing or calming. Dmitry flaps when he’s excited, and screams like a jetliner for no reason at all.

Woo- A term I use to describe expositions that sound highly technical but yield poor understanding and enlightenment, or provide explanations that are difficult or impossible to empirically test. A “woo” answer tends to raise more questions than it answers.

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5 thoughts on “Glossary of Autism Terms

  1. […] not want to change his weirdo obsession with mundane things like water, brushes and forks, or his hyposensitivity that drives him to spin in a circle for hours and flap like a sparrow lifting a coconut, because I […]

  2. […] youngest is Dmitry. He’s 3, and autistic. The developmental pediatrician says it’s “classic autism”, and that his intelligence appears […]

  3. […] But it’s gotten more… variegated in pitch, tone, and complexity. They’re “stims”, but he’s learning from […]

  4. […] and in general. This is another aspect of “typical autism” where Dmitry’s a clear outlier. He is a wiry sack of sand and broken glass and gristle, and he’s STRONG. He does pullups to […]

  5. […] parent will learn, the easy way or the hard way: two autistic children will be as different as two neurotypical […]

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