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Commonly Used Terms


Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the US law that ensures rights of persons with disabilities with regard to employment and other issues.

Antecedent is an environmental condition or stimulus change existing or occurring prior to a behavior of interest.

Aphasia is the complete or partial loss of ability to use or understand language.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a style of teaching using series of trials to shape desired behavior or response. Skills are broken into small components and taught to child through a system of reinforcement.

Asperger Syndrome is a developmental disorder on the Autism spectrum defined by impairments in communication and social development and by repetitive interests and behaviors, without a significant delay in language and cognitive development.

Assessment is a broad term used to describe the gathering of information about student performance in a particular area.

Assistive Technology Device is any item, piece of equipment, or product system whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities or individuals with disabilities.

Audiologist is a professional who diagnoses and treats, individuals with hearing loss or balance problems.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication System is any device or system (electronic or non-electronic) used to enhance communication for persons who are nonverbal or who have limited functional speech. Such a system can include speech, gestures, sign language, symbols, synthesized speech, dedicated communication aids or microphones. The purpose is to increase the individual's ability to communicate, control the environment, maintain social interactions, and receive and convey information.

Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) is test considered to be current gold standard for diagnosing ASD and, along with information from parents, should be incorporated into a child’s evaluation.

Autism Spectrum Disorders encompasses the following disorders listed in DSM-IV: Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, PDD – Not Otherwise Specified, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Retts Disorder.


Baseline is an initial data record of a target behavior’s occurrence. A baseline is used to compare the initial data to the data collected after an intervention is implemented.

Behavior Consultant is a professional with a background in applied behavior analysis whose expertise is in using this principle of learning to teach skills and manage behaviors. Behavior Consultants are typically Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst (BACBA).

Behavior Support Plan is a written and agreed upon set of strategies developed to increase or decrease specified target behaviors. Behavioral support plans contain multiple intervention strategies designed to modify the environment and teach new skills.


Casein is protein found in milk, used in forming the basis of cheese and as a food additive.

Celiac Disease is a disease in which there is an immunological reaction within the inner lining of the small intestine to gluten, causing inflammation that destroys the lining and
reduces the absorption of dietary nutrients. It can lead to symptoms of nutritional, vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Childhood Apraxia is a disorder consisting of partial or total incapacity to execute purposeful movements, without impairment of muscular power and coordination. The person has difficulty sequencing movements. Apraxia may be specific to speech.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder is a disorder in which development begins normally in all areas, physical and mental. At some point between 2 and 10 years of age, the child loses previously developed skills. The child may lose social and language skills and other functions, including bowel and bladder control.

Cognition is mental process of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning and judgment.

Cognitive Skills are any mental skills that are used in the process of acquiring knowledge; these skills include reasoning, perception and judgment.

Compulsions are deliberate repetitive behaviors that follow specific rules, such as pertaining to cleaning, checking, or counting. In young children, restricted patterns of
interest may be early sign of compulsions.

Consequence is a response (i.e. verbal response, the acquisition or withholding of a reinforcing item or activity) that follows a behavior.


Data Collection is recording objective and measurable observations.

Developmental Disorder refers to several disorders that affect normal development. May affect single area of development (specific developmental disorders) or several (pervasive developmental disorders).

Developmental Milestones are skills or behaviors that most children can do by a certain age that enable the monitoring of learning, behavior, and development.

Developmental Pediatrician is a medical doctor who is board-accredited and has received sub-specialty training in developmental-behavioral pediatrics.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual the official system for classification of psychological and psychiatric disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) is technique incorporating principles of ABA, including positive reinforcement. Not in itself ABA. Used to teach behaviors in one-to-one setting. Concepts are broken down into small parts.


Early Intervention (EI) is a state-funded program designed to identify and treat developmental problems or other disabilities as early as possible. Eligibility for EI is from birth to three years of age.

Echolalia is repeating words or phrases heard previously, either immediately after hearing word or phrase, or much later. Delayed echolalia occurs days or weeks later. Functional echolalia is using quoted phrase in a way that has shared meaning, for example, saying “carry you” to ask to be carried.

Errorless Teaching is a method of instruction that teaches a new skill with the necessary prompts/supports in place to be sure that an error in response does not occur and thus, no patterns of error are established.

Expressive Labeling is the communication of a name for an object or person, see expressive language.

Expressive Language is communication of intentions, desires, or ideas to others, through speech or printed words. Includes gestures, signing, communication board and other forms of expression.

Extended School Year (ESY) Services are provided during breaks from school, such as during summer vacation, for students who experience substantial regression in skills during school vacations.


Fading or Prompt Fading is a systematic process of gradually eliminating a prompt from the most to least invasive.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) means that education must be provided to all children ages three to twenty-one at public expense.

Floortime is a developmental intervention for children with autism involving meeting a child at his current developmental level, and building upon a particular set of strengths.

Fragile X is a genetic disorder that shares many of the characteristics of autism. Individuals may be tested for Fragile X.

Function is the reason why a particular behavior occurs.

Functional Behavior Analysis The process of systematically determining the function of behaviors, usually inappropriate, that are displayed by people. Behaviors are defined, measured and analyzed in terms of what happened before and after their occurrence. Over time the events before and after the behavior occurs are systematically changed in order to determine the function of the behavior for the person displaying it.

Functional Behavioral Assessment It is similar to the functional analysis of behavior, but it differs in that those events before and after the behavior are not systematically changed in order to prove the function of the behavior. Based on the information gathered a judgment is made about the possible communicative function of the behavior(s). Functional Assessments are usually performed in order to develop behavior interventions and supports that address challenging or inappropriate behaviors.


Gastroenterologist doctor specializing in diagnosis & treatment of disorders of Gl tract, including esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, pancreas, liver, gallbladder & biliary system.

Gastrointestinal pertains to the digestive tract, including the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and rectum.

General Education is a pattern of courses in multiple subjects taught to the same grade level to deliver a well-balanced education.

Generalization is the ability to take a skill learned in one setting, such as the classroom, and use it in another setting like the home or community.

Gestures are hand and head movements, used to signal to someone else, such as a give, reach, wave, point, or head shake. They convey information or express emotions without the use of words.

Global Developmental Delay is diagnosis in children younger than 5, characterized by delay in two or more developmental domains, sometimes associated with mental retardation.

Gluten is a protein present in wheat, rye, and barley.


Hyperlexia is the ability to read at an early age. To be hyperlexic, a child does not need to understand what he or she is reading.

Hyperresponsiveness, Hypersensitivity, see Sensory Defensiveness

Hyporesponsiveness, is abnormal insensitivity to sensory input. Child who appears to be deaf, whose hearing is normal, is under reactive. Child who is under reactive to sensory input may have a high tolerance to pain, may be clumsy, sensation-seeking, and may act aggressively.

Hypotonia is a term that means low muscle tone.


Incidental Teaching teaches a child new skills while in their home or community, in natural context or “in the moment,” to help make sense of what they learn during formal instruction and generalize new skills.

Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) is developed by a multidisciplinary team including family as primary participant. Describes child’s level of development in all areas; family’s resources, priorities, & concerns, services to be received and the frequency, intensity, and method of delivery. Must state natural environments in which services will occur.

Individualized Education Plan (IEP) identifies student’s specific learning expectations, how school will address them with appropriate services, and methods to review progress. For students 14 & older, must contain plan to transition to postsecondary education or the workplace, or to help the student live as independently as possible in the community.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the US law mandating the “Free and Public Education” of all persons with disabilities between ages 3 and 21.

Inclusion involves educating all children in regular classrooms, regardless of degree or severity of disability. Effective inclusion takes place with planned system of training and supports; involves collaboration of multidisciplinary team including regular and special educators.

Interdisciplinary Team is the interventionists from different disciplines that join together to problem solve and develop educational and behavioral plans. Team members may include occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech therapist, special educator, parent trainer, etc.


Joint Attention is the process of sharing one’s experience of observing an object or event, by following gaze or pointing gestures. Critical for social development, language acquisition, cognitive development. Impairment in joint attention is a core deficit of ASD.


Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is setting that least restricts opportunities for child with disabilities to be with peers without disabilities. The law mandates that every child with a disability be educated in a Least Restrictive Environment.


Mainstreaming is where students are expected to participate in existing regular ed classes, whereas in an inclusive program classes are designed for all students. May be gradual, partial, or part-time process (e.g., student may attend separate classes within regular school, or participate in regular gym and lunch only).

Modified Checklist of Autism in Toddlers (MCHAT) is a screening tool for identifying young children who may be referred to specialist for further evaluation and possible Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis.

Motor deficits are physical skills that a person cannot perform or has difficulty performing.

Motor function (or Motor Skills) is the ability to move and control movements.


Neurologist refers to a doctor specializing in medical problems associated with the nervous system, specifically the brain and spinal cord.

Nonverbal Behaviors are things people do to convey information or express emotions without words, including eye gaze, facial expressions, body postures, and gestures.


Obsessions are persistent and intrusive repetitive thoughts. Preoccupations with specific kinds of objects or actions may be an early sign of obsessions.

Occupational Therapy assists development of fine motor skills that aid in daily living. May focus on sensory issues, coordination of movement, balance, and self-help skills such as dressing, eating with a fork, grooming, etc. May address visual perception and hand-eye coordination.

Occupational Therapist helps minimize impact of disability on independence in daily living by adapting child’s environment and teaching sub-skills of the missing developmental components.


Paraprofessional is a teaching assistant typically supervised by a special educator.

Perseveration is repetitive movement or speech, or sticking to one idea or task, that has a compulsive quality to it.

Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) group of conditions involving delays in development of many basic skills, including ability to socialize with others, to communicate and use imagination. Includes Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Rett Syndrome and Pervasive Development Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) a category of PDD referring to children having significant problems with communication & play, and some difficulty interacting with others, but are too social for diagnosis of autism.

Physical Therapy uses specially designed exercises and equipment to help patients regain or improve their physical abilities.

Physical Therapists design and implement physical therapy programs and may work within a hospital or clinic, in a school, or as an independent practitioner.

Pica is persistent eating or mouthing of non nutritive substances for at least 1 month when behavior is developmentally inappropriate (older than 18-24 months). Substances may include items such as clay, dirt, sand, stones, pebbles, hair, feces, lead, laundry starch, vinyl gloves, plastic, erasers, ice, fingernails, paper, paint chips, coal, chalk, wood, plaster, light bulbs, needles, string, cigarette butts, wire, and burnt matches.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) an alternative communication system using picture symbols. Taught in phases starting with simple exchange of symbol for desired item. Individuals learn to use picture symbols to construct complete sentences, initiate communication, & answer questions.

Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) therapeutic teaching method using incidental teaching opportunities to target and modify key behaviors related to communication, behavior, and social skills.

Prevalence is the current number of people in a given population who have a specific diagnosis at a specified point in time.

Prompt is an instructional technique that facilitates the correct response. A prompt may be verbal, gestural or physical.

Prosody is the rhythm and melody of spoken language expressed through rate, pitch, stress, inflection, or intonation. Some children with ASD have unusual intonation (flat, monotonous, stiff, or “sing songy” without emphasis on the important words).

Psychologist is a professional who diagnoses and treats diseases of the brain, emotional disturbance, and behavior problems. May have a master’s degree (M.A.) or doctorate (Ph.D.) in psychology. May have other qualifications, including Board Certification and additional training in a specific type of therapy.


Receptive Language the ability to comprehend words and sentences. Begins as early as birth and increases with each stage in development. By 12 months a child begins to understand words and responds to his name and may respond to familiar words in context. By 18 to 20 months a child identifies familiar people by looking when named (e.g., Where’s mommy?), gives familiar objects when named (e.g., Where’s the ball?), and points to a few body parts (e.g., Where’s your nose?). These skills commonly emerge slightly ahead of expressive language skills.

Regression Reverting to a more immature form of behavior or decreased skill level. For example, a child who resumes sucking her thumb after a substantial period (months or years) of no thumb-sucking.

Reinforcement is the act or process of presenting or receiving a stimulus that when presented immediately following a response increases the probability that the response will occur again. Can be the presentation of something pleasant or the removal of something unpleasant.

Reinforcer is a stimulus that has been determined to be positive, highly desirable and motivating so that when presented immediately following a response increases the probability that the targeted response will occur again. It is any object or event following a response that increases the rate of responding..

Reinforcement Schedule is the systematic planning of delivery of a stimulus for the occurrence of desired behavior or for the absence of targeted behavior.

Replacement Behavior is a socially acceptable alternative response that results in the same functional outcome as the problem behavior.

Respite Care is temporary, short-term care provided to individuals with disabilities, delivered in the home for a few short hours or in an alternate licensed setting for an extended period of time. Respite care allows caregivers to take a break in order to relieve and prevent stress and fatigue.

Rett Syndrome is a very rare disorder in which patient has symptoms associated with PDD along with problems with physical development. They generally lose many motor, or movement, skills – such as walking and use of hands – and develop poor coordination. Condition has been linked to defect on the X chromosome, so it almost always affects girls.


Self-Injurious Behavior (SIB) Abnormal behaviors that are harmful to oneself, such as head- banging or scratching or biting oneself.

Sensory Defensiveness is a tendency, outside the norm, to react negatively or with alarm to sensory input which is generally considered harmless or non-irritating to others. Also called hypersensitivity.

Sensory Integration is the way the brain processes sensory stimulation or sensation from the body & then translates that information into specific, planned, coordinated motor activity.

Sensory Integration Dysfunction a neurological disorder causing difficulties processing information from the five classic senses (vision, hearing, touch, smell, & taste), sense of movement (vestibular system), and positional sense (proprioception). Sensory information is sensed normally, but perceived abnormally. May be a disorder on its own, or with other neurological conditions.

Sensory Integration Therapy is used to improve ability to use incoming sensory information appropriately & encourage tolerance of a variety of sensory inputs.

Social Reciprocity back-and-forth flow of social interaction. How behavior of one person influences & is influenced by behavior of another & vice versa. For example, a social story might be written about birthday parties if the child appears to have a difficult time understanding what is expected of him or how he is supposed to behave at a birthday party.

Setting Event is any occurrence that affects an individual’s response to reinforcement and punishers in the environment. Environmental, social, physiological factors can all contribute to a setting event.

Shaping is reinforcing successive approximations towards a desired response. Shaping is used to teach a new behavior by manipulating the consequences presented.

Social Worker is a trained specialist in the social, emotional & financial needs of families & patients. Social workers often help families & patients obtain the services they have been prescribed.

Special Education is specially designed instruction, at no cost to families, to meet unique needs of child with disability, including instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals & institutions, & in other settings & instruction in physical education.

Speech & Language Therapist, or Speech Language Pathologist, specializes in human communication. The focus is on communication, not speech, to increase child’s ability to impact and understand their environment.

Speech & Language Therapy is provided with the goal of improving an individual’s ability to communicate. This includes verbal and nonverbal communication. The treatment is specific to the individual’s need.

Spoken Language (also referred to as expressive and receptive language) use of verbal behavior, or speech, to communicate thoughts, ideas, & feelings with others. Involves learning many levels of rules -combining sounds to make words, using conventional meanings of words, combining words into sentences, and using words & sentences in following rules of conversation.

Stereotyped Behaviors refer to an abnormal or excessive repetition of an action carried out in the same way over time. May include repetitive movements or posturing of the body or objects.

Stereotyped Patterns of Interest refer to a pattern of preoccupation with a narrow range of interests and activities. Stim, or “self-stimulation” behaviors that stimulate ones senses. Some “stims” may serve a regulatory function (calming, increasing concentration, or shutting out an overwhelming sound).

Stimulus is anything that elicits or evokes action or creates a response.

Symbolic Play is where children pretend to do things & to be something or someone else. Typically develops between the ages of 2 & 3 years. Also called make believe, or pretend play. Syndrome is a set of signs & symptoms that collectively define or characterize a disease, disorder or condition.


Tactile Defensiveness is a strong negative response to a sensation that would not ordinarily be upsetting, such as touching something sticky or gooey or the feeling of soft foods in the mouth. Specific to touch.

Topography is the physical movements or description of a motor behavior.

Training and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) is a therapeutic approach broadly based on the idea that individuals with autism more effectively use & understand visual cues.

Typical Development (or healthy development) describes physical, mental, & social development of a child who is acquiring or achieving skills according to expected time frame. Child developing in a healthy way pays attention to voices, faces, & actions of others, showing & sharing pleasure during interactions, & engaging in verbal & nonverbal back-and-forth communication.


Verbal Behavior is a method of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) for teaching children with autism, based on B.F. Skinner’s description of the system of language.

Visual Picture Schedule is a set of pictures that communicates a series of activities or the steps of a specific activity. Visual schedules are meant to help children understand and manage the daily events in their lives. Visual schedules may be created using photographs, pictures, written words, or physical objects. Ideally, they communicate clear expectations for the child and decrease the need for constant adult involvement in the activity.