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Glossary of Terms Relating to Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders (Part 2 D -I)

Updated on May 22, 2014


Deletion – A genetic mutation in which a sequence of DNA has been lost.

Developmental trajectory – This term is used to mean typical development. It includes the typical sequence of the development of milestones such as crawling, sitting, walking and pointing. Atypical development may indicate that there is a problem such as autism present.

Developmental, dimensional and diagnostic interview (3Di) – An interview that can be used during the process of assessment for autism spectrum conditions. It is similar to the ADI and is designed to be used with parents. The 3Di uses computer analysis of the answers given.

Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM) – The American Psychiatric Association’s system of classifying and diagnosing psychiatric conditions, mental health problems and psychological disabilities. The diagnostic criteria and guidelines are revised periodically.

Diagnostic criteria – Formal descriptions of medical and psychiatric conditions that are used to make diagnoses. Criteria are made up of a list of symptoms of features that an individual must have in order to be diagnosed with that specific condition.

Diagnostic interview for social and communication disorders (DISCO) – An interview used with the parents of children or adults who are being assessed for autism spectrum disorders. It consists of a graded evaluation of how the individual concerned fits the diagnostic criteria.

Dizygotic (DZ) twins – Genetically non-identical twins that are the result of two different eggs being fertilised by two different sperm.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) – The molecules that contain all the information needed for the development and functioning of a living organism. Sections of DNA form genes.

Down syndrome – A disorder caused by a chromosome abnormality which generally involves a degree of intellectual disability, characteristic physical features and in many cases other medical issues including heart problems.

Duplications – A genetic mutation that causes the same sequence of DNA to be present in two or more copies on a chromosome. Duplications are the opposite of deletions.

An example of the electrodes used when doing en EEG reading.
An example of the electrodes used when doing en EEG reading. | Source


Echolalia – The parrot-like repetition of words, phrases or sentences that have been spoken by others. Echolalia is common in those who have autism and related conditions as well as being seen in other disorders such as Tourette’s syndrome and schizophrenia.

Electroencephalography (EEG) – Testing that involves placing a number of electrodes on the scalp of an individual in order to measure the electrical activity produced in the brain.

Embedded figures test – A test that looks at a person’s ability to identify an individual component or shape that has been embedded into a larger pattern.

Empathising quotient (EQ) – A questionnaire that was created by Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues to measure levels of empathy and empathising. A score of low, high or average is awarded based on the answers given. Some people believe that individual on the autism spectrum will score low on this test.

Empathy – The term is employed slightly differently in different areas of research but is broadly defined as the capacity to understand and feel another person’s emotions. Many people believe that empathy is an impaired ability in autism.

Epilepsy – A group of neurologic disorders characterised by recurrent seizures. These seizures are caused by abnormal or excessive amounts of electrical activity in one or more areas of the brain. Seizures can present in many forms and range from brief to uncontrollable jerking and loss of consciousness.

Executive function (EF) – A term used to refer to abilities including planning, flexibility and switching attention between tasks or activities.

Expressive language – The spoken or written language that is produced by a person. If someone has difficulties with expressive language they will have trouble putting their thoughts into words and may have trouble using language appropriate for different settings. Difficulties with expressive language are common with the autism spectrum.


False belief test – A test used to assess a person’s ability to understand that their own or someone else’s belief about a situation may be different from the truth.

Fragile x syndrome – A genetic syndrome caused by an expansion of a sequence of the FMR1 gene located on the X chromosome. It is the second most common cause of intellectual disability in males.

Frontal lobe – A part of the cerebral cortex that is concerned with speech, movement, emotions and problem solving. The frontal lobe is important for executive functions such as reasoning and planning.

Full-scale IQ – The overall score achieved on an intelligence test.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) – A type of MRI scanning that can give very detailed information about brain activity.

Fusiform gyrus – One part of the temporal lobe that is known to play a role in recognising and telling the difference between faces, objects and emotions.

fMRI images of a brain.
fMRI images of a brain. | Source


Generativity – An executive function that gives the ability to generate new activities and ideas.

Genes – Small sections of long molecules of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Genes are necessary to develop all aspects of a functioning living organism.

Genetic - The transmission of various traits from parent to child.

Grammar – A set of rules that govern the composition of sentences, phrases and words that make up a given language.


Heritability – The extent of which a condition or feature can be attributed to genetic influences. A highly heritable condition is more likely to be passed down from parent to child.

High-functioning autism (HFA) – A term sometimes used to describe individuals who have autism and an IQ above 70 but is not a formal diagnostic criteria.

Hormone – A type of chemical that has many roles within the body.

Innate characteristics are present before or at birth.
Innate characteristics are present before or at birth. | Source


Idiopathic – A term used to describe conditions or disorders which have no known cause.

Imaging – A group of techniques that use computer-generated images to view a living brain or other internal body structures such as MRI and fMRI.

Innate – Characteristics that are present before or at birth.

Intellectual disability – A marked difficulty in tasks that involve thinking, logical reasoning and problem solving. Intellectual disability is usually defined as an IQ score of less than 70.

International classification of diseases (ICS) – The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) formal system for classifying and diagnosing physical, psychiatric, mental health and psychological disorders and conditions. The guidelines and diagnostic criteria are revised and amended periodically.

Interventions – Procedures and techniques used to support and improve the health and functioning of people who have medical conditions such as autism.

Intonation – The natural rise and fall of speech which places a role in communication.

Intuitive understanding – Direct or spontaneous understanding of other people that does not depend on conscious processes of working out their thoughts and feelings.

© 2014 Claire


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