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Glossary of Terms Relating to Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders (Part 1 A - C)

Updated on May 15, 2014


Action potential – The change in a neuron from the resting state to an outburst of electrical activity and then back to the resting state.

Active but odd – One of four style of social interaction proposed by Lorna Wing that may be characteristic of individuals who have autism spectrum disorders. Individuals may seek out other people and social interaction but their attempts are likely to be inappropriate. For example they may talk excessively about their own interests, be overly friendly towards strangers or behave in a very formal manner when this is not required.

Aetiology – The study of the causes or contributing factors of a particular condition or disorder.

Allele – A gene variant.

Aloof – A style of social interaction that according to Lorna Wing is common in individuals on the autistic spectrum. This style is characterised by individuals avoiding social contact and interaction with others preferring to remain withdrawn.

Amygdala – An almond shaped structure in the brain that is located underneath the cerebral hemispheres. It has an important role in emotional responses such as trembling, blushing and sweating when frightened or nervous.

Aspergers syndrome (AS) – An autism sub-type. It differs from classic autism in that individuals have less pronounced communication difficulties and social skills.

Atypical autism – Also known as PDD-NOS and used to describe conditions that display autistic like symptoms but do not fit the strict criteria for autism.

Autism – Neurodevelopmental condition characterised by difficulties in communication and social interaction and with repetitive activities and interests.

Autism diagnostic interview (ADI) – An interview that is used to assess children and adults for autism spectrum disorders. It comprises of questions about current skills and behaviours as well as questions about these and other behaviours throughout development.

Autism diagnostic observation schedule (ADOS) – An interactive assessment tool used in the process of diagnosing autism spectrum disorders. The schedule uses four separate modules that comprise of tasks to be completed and can be used with children of different ages and levels of development.


Autism spectrum – A term introduced by Lorna Wing to illustrate the concept that autistic symptoms exist across a spectrum that can vary greatly between individuals and includes a collection of sub-types that include Aspergers syndrome and PDD-NOS.

Autism spectrum conditions (ASC) –A term used by some families and professionals as they feel it is more acceptable than referring to autism as a disorder.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) – Term used in diagnosis by many professionals.

Autistic disorder – A formal term for classic autism that was introduced into the DSM diagnostic and statistical manual in 1987.

Autistic traits – Psychological or personality characteristics that are typically associated with autism for example: being socially withdrawn or obsessed with particular objects, subjects or interests. Displaying autistic traits does not necessarily mean that the person will meet the diagnostic criteria for autism.

Axon – The part of a neuron that sends output signals to other cells.


Basic emotions – This term is used to refer to six emotions – happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust and surprise. These emotions are believed to evoke characteristic facial expressions that are universally recognised and expressed all over the world

Behaviour modification – Techniques based in learning and conditioning that are used to influence and improve behaviour by replacing unwanted behaviours with appropriate or desired behaviours.

Biological perspective – A way of thinking that tries to explain human behaviour using biological theories and concepts.

Bonding – The mutual process of developing close emotion relationship with other people, for example: the bonding between a mother and child.

Broader autism phenotype (BAP) – A term used to describe the fact that the relatives of those with autism often display milder manifestations of autistic traits.


Calendrical calculation ­– The ability to work out what day of the week it was on a randomly chosen date.

Candidate gene – A gene whose function or location suggests that it may be connected to a certain condition or disorder.

Case history – A detailed informative record of facts about an individual’s past and current problems and situation that can be used by professionals such as social workers, teachers, psychologists and speech therapists that are involved with the person.

Central coherence – Focusing on overall form and meaning rather than on fine details when processing information. One theory of autism suggests that people who have autism have issues with central coherence.

Cerebellum – Brain structure located under occipital lobe that plays an important role in movement, posture and balance. It also has a role in social movements such as gestures and expression.

Cerebral cortex – The outer layer of the brain.

Cerebral hemispheres – The two halves of the brain known as the left and right cerebral hemispheres.

Checklist for autism in toddlers (CHAT) – A tool developed to screen for autism in preschool children that includes questions about pointing, pretend play and shared attention.

Child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) – A UK service that provides assessment and treatment for young people who are experiencing mental health and psychiatric difficulties.

Child and family consultation service (CFCS) – A UK service that helps children, young people and their families with problems regarding behaviour and development either at home or school.

Child development centre (CDC) – Centres that carry out assessments of children’s developmental problems.

People who have autism may have difficulties recognising other people's emotions.
People who have autism may have difficulties recognising other people's emotions. | Source

Childhood autism – A term used within the ICD diagnostic system to refer to classic autism.

Chromosome – Thread like structures that contain genes.

Chronological age – A person’s age since birth in years and months.

Classic autism – The term used to describe the condition in which full expression of the triad of impairments can be seen.

Clinical psychologist – A psychologist that specialises in helping people who have learning difficulties or mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.

Cognition – The mental processes involved in thinking, understanding and using language, planning activities and solving problems.

Cognitive style – The way in which a person processes information.

Co-morbidity – A medical term used to state the presence of one or more disorders alongside a primary condition.

Complex emotions – Emotions that typically cannot be recognised from a person’s facial expressions alone including embarrassment, shame or pride.

Concordance – The occurrence of the same of the same or a similar condition, characteristic or trait in both members of a set of twins.

Concordance rate – The percentage of cases in which both members of a set of twins show the same or a similar condition, characteristic or trait.

Core deficit models – Models that assume that a single problem or deficit is responsible for the wide range of behavioural or psychological difficulties that are seen in autism.

Correlations – A statistical relationship between two variables.

Cross – sectional studies – Studies that collect information about an individual at a single point in time.

© 2014 Claire


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