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Glossary of Terms

One of the top autism glossaries found is the Autism/Asperger Network or AANE  Whether you are new to autism or are used to being in an autism environment for many years, it can be easy to get autism, Aspergers, and other terms confused.  ​

Source: Autism/Asperger Network Glossary (adapted for GCA's use)

Definition of Terms

Adult Autism: A segment of the overall autism population or demographic that GCA serves.  GCA serves the adult autism population, ages 18 and up, generally.


Asperger Profile:  The constellation of characteristics that was formerly known as Asperger Syndrome (AS). AS no longer exists as a formal diagnosis defined by the medical and psychiatric community, which was a diagnosis under the larger “Autism Spectrum Disorder” umbrella in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) The term Asperger profile was chosen to identify the challenges and recognize the gifts of those who previously could have fallen under the AS label. Many people with an Asperger profile can leverage their cognitive abilities and other talents to compensate for the challenges that they face. As an Asperger profile can profoundly impact people throughout their lives, many still can benefit from a variety of Asperger supports. Because of their atypical combination of significant strengths and challenges, people with an Asperger profile are often misunderstood, and their challenges either go unrecognized, or they are misdiagnosed.


Aspie: An affectionate term often used to describe a person with an Asperger diagnosis or profile. It is generally used in a favorable spirit of affirmation.  Also, part of GCA's founding name - Greater Chattanooga Aspies (now the GCA Centre for Adult Autism).


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): A new diagnosis included in the DSM-5. Asperger Syndrome and other forms of autism have been combined under the umbrella of this broad diagnosis. Because Asperger Syndrome shares some of the core traits of autism (although they may be expressed to different extents), and because the two diagnoses often occur within the same families (suggesting a genetic link), Asperger Syndrome is generally considered to lie on the “Autism Spectrum.” Both AS and autism involve neuro-biological differences in how information is processed and integrated. In Steve Silberman's sweeping history of autism, Neurotribes, he describes the significance of the now familiar term, spectrum: 


While [Lorna Wing] was trying to think of a better term, she heard a phrase of Winston Churchill’s echo in her mind:  “Nature never draws a line without smudging it.” This seems particularly true of autism. One of  the most subversive aspects of Lorna’s concept was the suggestion that the continuum shades imperceptibly into garden variety eccentricity. (“All the features that characterize Asperger’s syndrome,” she observed, “can be found in varying degrees in the normal population.”) . . .  

        Ultimately, she adopted the term autism

        spectrum. She liked the sound of it, which

        evoke pleasing images of rainbows and

        other phenomena that attest to the

        infinitely various creativity of nature. 

        Clinicians readily adopted the phrase,

        because it helped explain what they’d been

        seeing in the real world for decades (p.



Neurodiversity: “is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variations in the human genome. This represents a new and fundamentally different way of looking at conditions which were traditionally pathologized” (Robinson, 2013). In Neurotribes, Silberman describes the emergence of the term neurodiversity:

       . . . an idea as old as Asperger’s notion that

       people with the traits of this syndrome

       have always been part of the human

       community, standing apart, quietly making

       the world that mocks and shuns them

       a better place. In the late 1990’s a student 

       of anthropology and sociology in Australia

       named Judy Singer, who possessing many

       of those traits herself, gave that idea a

       name: neurodiversity (p.450).

Neurotypical (NT): Neurotypical is a term coined by individuals with an Asperger profile to describe the majority of people who experience the world in a more prevalent way, and implies the absence of an Asperger profile or other neurological differences. This ironic label first came onto the scene in an Autism Network International newsletter. “With its distinctly clinical air, the term (sometimes shortened to NT) turned the diagnostic gaze back on the psychiatric establishment” (Silberman, Neurotribes, p. 441). This term, along with Neurodiversity, is commonly seen in online forums and within Asperger communities to differentiate fundamental modes of being in the world, without inherent judgement.

Nonverbal Learning Disorder or Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD or NVLD): An educational term, not included as a formal psychiatric diagnosis in the DSM-5. AS/ASD is a nonverbal learning difference, but some people with NLD share only some traits with people with AS/ASD. Nevertheless, many traits do overlap, meaning that similar interventions may be useful for both populations.


Social Communication Disorder (SCD): A new diagnosis included in the DSM-5. SCD describes individuals who have significant problems using verbal and nonverbal communication for social purposes, impacting their ability to communicate effectively, participate socially, maintain social relationships, or otherwise perform academically or occupationally. In the DSM 5, SCD and ASD are mutually exclusive diagnoses; however, another point of view is that SCD is just one aspect of AS/ASD, so that for most people an ASD diagnosis is likely to be the more comprehensive, useful, and accurate one. Females may be at a higher risk of getting the relatively weak SCD label.


Emotional Regulation:  Emotion regulation is the process through which an individual manages how they feel and communicate in response to particular external circumstances. In other words, it is the ability to recognize what emotions feel like and look like in one's self and others.

Anxiety: An emotion characterized by an unpleasant feeling of dread over anticipated events. Anxiety is a feeling of fear, uneasiness, and worry, usually generalized and unfocused in response to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing. It is often accompanied by tension, restlessness, fatigue, and problems in concentration. Anxiety can be appropriate, but when experienced regularly, interfering with daily functioning, the individual may suffer from an anxiety disorder.


Sensory Regulation: The ability of an individual to integrate external stimuli into his or her personal experience. Examples include:

  • Aversion to or craving for certain types/intensities of sensory input.

  • Integrating multiple sensations and responding appropriately.

  • Knowing where one’s body is in space; avoiding bumping into people or objects.

  • Motor planning (using the body to accomplish a task).


A fair percentage of people with Asperger profiles are either hyper- or hypo-sensitive to touch, sound, taste, and/or sight (e.g bright light). There is significant variation among individuals for these traits. Some are affected only a little, while for others, seemingly-normal sensory stimuli can create significant barriers to living in the world. Sensory sensitivities tend to be the most severe in young children and often lessen over time; some individuals are much improved by adulthood. For example, a boy who cuts tags out of his clothing or refuses to eat certain foods may have an easier time with these sensitivities as he grows older.


Inflexibility: Resistance to change or variation. Rigid and unyielding in temper, purpose, demeanor, behavior, and/or will. Inflexibility can lead to challenges with:

  • Coping with changes in familiar routines.

  • Seeing more than one way to accomplish a task/solve a problem.

  • Realizing there are exceptions to rules; tolerating other people bending rules.

  • Accepting feedback, advice, suggestions, or help from others.


Theory of Mind (ToM): A term that refers to:

  • Recognizing and understanding other people’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions.

  • Processing social information quickly and efficiently.

  • Being tactful; being able to tell “white lies.”


Executive Function: A term that refers to:

  • Organizational and planning abilities.

  • Working memory.

  • Inhibition and impulse control.

  • Self-reflection and self-monitoring.

  • Time management and prioritizing.

  • Understanding complex or abstract concepts.

  • Using new strategies.

Central Coherence: A perceptive-cognitive style that lends towards and ability to contextualize, or to see the big picture. Individuals with strong central coherence can easily:

  • Abstract a main idea from text or conversation.

  • Recognize and categorizing information.

  • Understanding complex or abstract concepts.

  • Generalizing skills from one setting to another.

Individuals with weak central coherence:

  • Can be more preoccupied with details, focusing on the nuances of the parts, rather than the gist of the whole. One might say that those with weak central coherence struggle to see the forest for the trees.

  • On the flipside, they might have a unique ability to understand the details, to see the trees with refined perception.


Generalization: The ability to transfer general skills from one context to another.


Hidden Curriculum:  Understanding the unwritten or implied social rules and knowing what to do or say in various social situations. “Hidden curriculum” is based on the work of autism researcher Brenda Smith Myles. It is the social information that is not directly taught but is assumed that everybody knows (Myles, Trautman, & Schelvan, 2004). The hidden curriculum refers to those unstated rules or customs that, if not understood, can make the world a confusing place and cause those of us who are not neurologically wired to automatically “get it” feel isolated and “out of it” (Endow, 2009a, 2010).


Social Pragmatics: Ability to:

  • “Read the room.”

  • Notice and correctly interpret other people’s non-verbal communication (gestures, body position, facial expression, tone of voice).

  • Modulate one’s own nonverbal communication.

  • Initiate, join, and maintain conversation. Listen.

  • Use humor and sarcasm appropriately; understand other people’s use of sarcasm and humor.



  • Perceiving and expressing one’s own feelings.

  • Understanding/accepting one’s own strengths and weaknesses.

  • Developing strategies to offset weaknesses and build on strengths.

  • Knowing when one needs help; asking for help appropriately.

  • Recognizing and protecting oneself from bullies.


Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM):  Published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), offers a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. It is used, or relied upon, by clinicians, researchers, psychiatric drug regulation agencies, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, the legal system, and policy makers together with alternatives such as the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), produced by the World Health Organization (WHO). The DSM is now in its fifth edition, DSM-5, published on May 18, 2013. While the DSM has been praised for standardizing psychiatric diagnostic categories and criteria, it has also generatedcontroversy and criticism.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS):  PDD-NOS is an old diagnostic category. It is no longer included as an option for an Autism Spectrum Disorder and is not part of the DSM-5, but is included in the ICD-10. The diagnosis of a pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified is given to individuals with difficulties in the areas of social interaction, communication, and/or stereotyped behavior patterns or interests, but who do not meet the full DSM-IV criteria for autism or another PDD. This does not necessarily mean that PDD-NOS is a milder disability than the other PDDs. It only means that individuals who receive this diagnosis do not meet the diagnostic criteria of the other PDDs, but that there is still a pervasive developmental disorder that affects the individual in the areas of communication, socialization and behavior. It is common for individuals with PDD-NOS to have more intact social skills and a lower level of intellectual deficit than individuals with other PDDs.  Characteristics of many individuals with PDD-NOS are:

  • Communication difficulties (e.g., using and understanding language).

  • Difficulty with social behavior.

  • Difficulty with changes in routines or environments.

  • Uneven skill development (strengths in some areas and delays in others).

  • Unusual play with toys and other objects.

  • Repetitive body movements or behavior patterns.


Stigma: A set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.





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