The following terms are commonly used in discussing developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and in the discussion of applied behavior analysis (ABA).

ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis): A method often used to treat children with autism spectrum disorders in which environmental stimuli are manipulated in order to produce a desired response. By breaking complex skills into small steps, children can systemically learn to respond and behave in socially appropriate ways.

Asperger’s Syndrome: An autism spectrum disorder characterized by average to above-average cognitive function, deficits in communication and social language (pragmatics) and, sometimes, a limited range of interests or obsessive interest in a particular topic, such as weather, train schedules or car models.

Autism: A condition marked by developmental delay in social skills, language, and behavior which is often present in children with varying degrees of severity.

Cognition: The ability to perceive, think, reason, and analyze.

Comprehensive Evaluation: A complete assessment of a child, based on educational, psychological, social, and health status conducted by a team of professionals and complemented by information from parents and teachers.

Developmental Milestone: The acquisition of a skill that is associated with a certain age, e.g. sitting up; saying first words.

Discrete Trial Training (DTT): A teaching method included in, but not synonymous with, behaviorally based interventions, such as ABA.  Specific skills are taught through the repetition of the following steps: presentation of task, response and reinforcement, with prompts provided if and when needed. A pause follows each sequence, indicating the beginning and ending of each cycle.

Due Process Hearing: A hearing where parents present evidence that a school district is not effectively educating their child.

Dyspraxia: The brain’s inability to plan muscle movements and carry them out.

Echolalia: The involuntary and usually meaningless repetition of phrases or words just heard.

Executive function: The ability to plan, organize and follow through, as well as the ability to inhibit actions, delay responses, make appropriate choices and shift attention. Individuals with ASDs, learning disabilities and other neurological conditions often have deficits in executive function, which is important to the attainment of goals.

Expressive Language: Any spoken language, vocalizations, gestures or other means by which a person is able to communicate.

Fine motor skills: The use of one’s hands for manipulating objects and performing activities.

Functional Behavioral Assessment: A process based largely on observation in which problem behaviors are addressed and analyzed.  Causes and functions of the behavior are identified. Then a behavior intervention plan (BIP) based on a specific, individualized profile is developed and, ideally, implemented across settings in order to minimize or stop inappropriate behaviors.

High-functioning Autism (HFA): Although not officially recognized as a diagnostic category, HFA refers to individuals with ASDs who have near-average to above-average cognitive abilities and can communicate through receptive and expressive language.

Inclusion: The concept that students with disabilities should be integrated with their non-disabled peers; also referred to as mainstreaming.

Individualized Education Plan (IEP): An educational plan that outlines special education and related services specifically designed to meet the educational needs of student with a disability.

Joint attention: Sharing one’s experience of observation of an object or event by making eye contact with another person, following gaze, gesturing and pointing.

Learning Disability: Difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaker, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities.

Mainstreaming: The concept that students with disabilities should be integrated with their non-disabled peers. (Also referred to as inclusion).

Motor planning: The ability to think through and physically carry out a task.

Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD): A neurological condition characterized by strong verbal, memory, and reading skills and weaker visual-spatial, motor, and executive functioning as well as some challenges in social interactions.

Neuro-motor: A process involving both the nervous system and muscles.

PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System): A means by which people use pictures to communicate their interests, needs, and spontaneous thoughts, ask and answer questions and schedule activities.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD): The official classification for Autism Spectrum Disorders that is documented in the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).  Included in this group are Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, Rett’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NSS).

Pivotal Response Training: Based on the principles of ABA, Pivotal Response Training focuses on motivation and responsivity as the most important features of intervention.  It is more child-directed than traditional ABA/Discrete Trial Therapy and specifically targets social behaviors, such as turn-taking, making choices and play skills.

Receptive Language: The comprehension of spoken and written communication and gestures.

Regression: The loss of skills that have already been learned.

Self-help skills: Daily skills such as self-feeding, dressing, bathing, and other tasks that are necessary to maintain health and well-being.

Self-stimulatory behaviors: Also called stereotypy, and present in both autistic and neuro-typical individuals, these are repetitive body movements, such as flapping arms or rocking back and forth, or repetitive movements of objects, like spinning wheels or opening and closing doors.

Sensorimotor: Activities that involve learning through movement and the senses.

Theory of Mind: The cognitive ability to recognize that one’s feelings, perceptions, beliefs and desires differ from those of others.  Theory of Mind enables us to assign “state of mind” to others and react and respond to feelings.

Visual Spatial Skills: Skills that are nonlinear, sequential and are dependent upon processing shapes, colors and pictures, rather than language