Important Definitions

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In autism groups, forums and in conversation, you may feel out of your depth pertaining to an alternate use of terminology, slang, acronyms, or phrases.

I’m here to help! 🙂

Here are the most common terms and acronyms, along with their definitions.  I will be adding to this list as I remember more, or am reminded of ones people do not know.

I hope this list can help you navigate the world of autism!



Popular Terminology used in Autistic Circles

  • Ableism: This is a form of discrimination in favour of able-bodied people.  It is a set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with disabilities or mental-health problems, seeing them as diseased/ dysfunctional/ abnormal, and seeking to ‘fix’ or ‘cure’ them. For example: saying you’re “so sorry” to hear that someone is autistic, is an ableist comment, because being autistic is not something to pity, and hey– it’s not like dying from the Bubonic Plague!
  • Allistic: A ‘neurotypical’ person; a person who is not autistic.
  • Anti-Vaxxer: A person who thinks they know more about medicine and public health than the overwhelming majority of doctors, scientists, immunologists, and every major university and research journal…. Why? Because anti-vaxxers believe vaccinations cause autism.  Which they don’t. By the way. For more info on autism and vaccinations, see my post, “5 Myths of Autism“!
  • Aspie: A person with Asperger’s Syndrome/ High functioning Autism (friendly usage, but ask your autistic which terms they prefer).
  • Aspien: A girl/ woman with Aspergers (friendly usage, but ask your autistic which terms they prefer). The term was popularized by the book, ‘I am Aspien Girl‘ by Tania Marshall, which explores the idea of alternate symptoms of the female autistic.
  • Autie: A person with Autism (friendly usage, but ask your autistic which terms they prefer).
  • Autist: A person with Autism (friendly usage, but ask your autistic which terms they prefer).
  • Autistic Savant: A person with Autism who has extraordinary talents of mind and coordination in one or two areas, which far outstrips any non-autistic person in skill and ability.   The idea that all autistics are savants is misguided. For more info on autism and savants, see my post, “5 Myths of Autism“!
  • Dyspraxia: A movement disorder where a person struggles with coordination and severe clumsiness (that is not otherwise diagnosed by need for glasses), commonly seen in autistics. Often diagnosed in early childhood, this issue presents with difficulty walking, use of fine-motor-skills (such as tying shoelaces, holding pencils, moving Lego blocks, etc). It can also present in non-autistics after physical trauma/ accidents/ illness.
  • Echolalia: A psychiatric condition often seen in autism, where a person repeats the phrases and words they have heard, repeating them back to the person/ object who made them.
  • Flat affect: A person who exhibits a lack of emotional expression. This is commonly seen in photos where the same facial expression is used across all emotive situations. Medical practitioners and researcher refer to this a lot, but in autistic adults, we’ve generally learned how to smile, and how to move our face around to show emotions, so it’s not always a definitive way to describe autistics.
  • Identity-First Language: The idea behind identity-first is to emphasize ownership of Self Identity and a person’s disability is part of that. This language is most often used by autistics themselves: “I am an autistic person”. Autistics (and other disability groups) tend to prefer identity-first language as they feel it reflects who they are– they cannot be without a disability, so why call them “a person with“?
  • Lived Experience: When a person has experienced life with an affliction, disability, or identity.  This term describes the first-hand accounts and impressions of living as a member of a minority or oppressed group. ie: ‘lived experience of autism’ = an autistic person’s experience of life with autism.
  • Meltdown: A meltdown is essentially a complete loss of control over emotional regulation and behaviour.  It is an autistic’s response to overwhelm, which often is seen as an explosion of emotion, or an implosion (or sometimes both). When overwhelmed, we melt down to a childish state. See my blog post, “Meltdown vs Shutdown vs Tantrum” for more info.
  • Mind Blindness: A term popularized by researcher, Simon Baron-Cohen, to describe how autistics struggle to develop an awareness of what is in the mind of another human. I reflect though, that this ought be hard for ANY person, for if you assume to know what another thinks, are you not at risk of patronizing them or not being kind?
  • Person-First Language: The idea behind person-first is to emphasize the person, not the disability. This type of language is often used by medical practitioners, academics and researchers. They say, “That is a person with autism”. Autistics generally dislike this terminology as it dissociates the person from their identity.
  • Rain Man: In 1988, a film “Rain Man” depicted the relationship between a man estranged from his autistic brother, Raymond. When Raymond tries to speak his own name, he pronounces it as ‘Ray-man’, so his brother starts to call him Rain Man.  While this was a great film and it won loads of film awards, the portrayal of autism in the film has solidified this idea that ‘all autistics are savants’ and ‘all autistics have intellectual impairments’, which of course isn’t true.  In autistic circles, “Rain Man” is used as an example to prove these points, AND it is sometimes used to describe how the media/ others misunderstand autism– i.e: “I am not Rain Man”.
  • Refrigerator Mothers: A term coined in the late 1940’s to describe parents of autistic children.  It was a complete misnomer, but one researcher thought cold parenting (a lack of affection) caused autism in children. Completely untrue. By the way. This was a really great blow to the welfare of autistics and parents with autistic kids, because it made parents with autistic kids (or those suspecting autism in their children) not want to help their children for fear of being labelled bad parents, and losing their children over being accused of neglect and alike.
  • Shutdown: Not to be confused with meltdowns… Shutdowns are when it all gets too much, and autistics will go non-verbal.  They may hide away in a small dark space, close their eyes, block up their ears, and just be silent.  Shutdown is a coping response to overwhelm.  See my blog post, “Meltdown vs Shutdown vs Tantrum” for more info.
  • Temple Grandin: A well-known autistic woman, who was one of the first people to speak publicly about her lived experience of autism.  She is a professor (PhD) in animal science, and lives in USA.
  • Theory of Mind: A term popularized by the researcher, Stephen Edelson, to describe how autistics struggle to understand that other people have their own plans, thoughts, and points of view.  Theory of Mind refers to these difficulties and an autistic’s challenge in interpreting other people’s beliefs, attitudes, and emotions.



Popular Acronyms used in Autistic Circles

  • 2E/ 2X/ Twice-Exceptional: Persons who both gifted (IQ) and have a learning disability, mood disorder, behavioral issue, or neurological diversity (i.e. autism).
  • ABA/ ABA Therapy: Applied Behavior Analysis (a form of therapy seen as offensive to autistics, as it promotes “curing” autistic behaviours and mannerisms through classical conditioning and a rewards system – Receiving ABA therapy for autism during childhood years has been shown to increase PTSD in adults… YIKES. Sooo, I think that’s pretty good evidence it sucks for autistics).
  • ADOS: Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale (used in diagnoses).
  • ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  This is a neurological divergence disorder, where a person experiences an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with their daily living.
  • ASD: Autism Spectrum Disorder. (you can also read my blogs for more information, on ‘diagnostic criteria‘, or ‘what is autism‘).
  • AS: Asperger’s Syndrome (Asperger’s is Level 1, “high functioning” Autism. Though Asperger’s is now classified as part of Autism under the DSM, some people still use AS to refer to Asperger’s).
  • BCBA: Board Certified Behavior Analysis (the graduate-level qualification you need to become an ABA douchebag).
  • BP/ BPD: Bipolar Disorder.  This is a mood disorder, where a person experiences uncontrollable and severe high and low moods, changes in sleep patterns, energy, thinking, and behavior.
  • CARS: Childhood Autism Rating Scale (used in diagnoses).
  • CWA: Children with Autism (most often used by academics and researchers).
  • DSM: Diagnostic Statistical Manual (current version is DSM-V, DSM-5).
  • Dx: Diagnostic, Diagnosed.
  • EI: Early Intervention.
  • EQ: Emotional Quotient (Emotional Intelligence, as in the ability to understand the emotions of others, to show empathy, be kind, and regulate emotions).
  • HFA: High Functioning Autism (most autistics hate the use of “high” and “low” to indicate functioning because it denies us the spectrum of functionality).
  • IQ: Intelligence Quotient (used to measure intelligences, per IQ testing).
  • M-Chat: Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (Screening tool used in diagnoses).
  • ND: Neurodiverse/ Neurodivergent (a person with a neurological diversity, such as someone with Autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, Tourettes, etc).
  • NT: Neurotypical (a person who is not autistic/ a person without Autism).
  • NPD: Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This is a personality disorder, where a person has a long-term history of being grandiose, with an excessive need for admiration, disregard for others’ feelings, an inability to handle any criticism and a sense of entitlement. (most often Autistics will be referring to their NPD partner or parent, as narcissists tend to gravitate to autistics…).
  • OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This is an anxiety disorder, where a person is troubled by recurring unwanted thoughts, images, or impulses, and they use obsessive and repetitive rituals as coping mechanisms.
  • OT: Occupational therapy/ Occupational therapist.
  • PDD NOS: Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified is a diagnosis given when a person does not fully meet the criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Asperger’s Syndrome, Rett Syndrome or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, but meets several of the characteristics.
  • PECS: Picture Exchange Communication System (helpful for non-verbal Autistics, working with autistic kids and autistic adults who need extra help to understand).
  • PT: Physical Therapy. Physical Therapist.
  • PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (previously named “shell shock”, describing the reactions of soldiers after war). This is a psychological disorder that refers to a group of stress reactions that can develop after witnessing traumatic events.  Things such as war, death, serious injury, sexual violence/ abuse, and/ or threats to our health or psychiatric state can create the space for PTSD. Sufferers experience flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety attacks, depression and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.  Autistics may experience PTSD due to ABA treatments in childhood, NPD parents, toxic past relationships, sexual abuse, and/ or violence.
  • PWA: Parents with autistic children (most often used by academics and researchers).
  • Psych: Psychologist or Psychiatrist.
  • SLP: Speech and Language Pathologist (helpful for diagnosing speech delays and difficulties with words and language processing).
  • SO: Significant Other – ie the person’s partner/ spouse (often used in forums/ chatrooms).
  • SPD: Sensory Processing Disorder. This is a neurological difference, where a person misinterprets and struggles to process everyday sensory information, such as touch, sound and movement.
  • WAIS: Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (used in diagnoses)
  • WISC: Wechsler Intelligence Scales for Children (used in diagnoses)


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