Glossary of Autism Terms

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a type of research design used to determine the effectiveness of a particular treatment by observing a single subject before treatment (A), while undergoing initial treatment (B), upon  withdrawal of treatment (A), and after reintroduction of treatment (B)

DNA coding that occupy the same position (locus) on a chromosome, alleles account for variations of a gene

the complete loss of the ability to use or understand language, more commonly found in adults than children with brain damage (see also dysphasia)

Apraxia (Dyspraxia):
a motor disorder in which voluntary movement and the ability to select and sequence movements is impaired although there is no muscle weakness

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA):
a systematic process of manipulating the environment and studying changes in behavior, followed by modification of the behavior through consequences

Asperger Syndrome (AS):
a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum characterized by lack of nonverbal communication and failure to demonstrate empathy with peers as well as narrow interests and repetitive behaviors, despite apparently normal intelligence

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD):
a condition with symptoms that include a persistent pattern of inattention, disorganization of thinking, forgetfulness, distractibility, problems with concentration, poor impulse control, and hyperactivity, often resulting in limited social skills, disruptive behaviors and academic problems

Atypical Antipsychotic Drugs:
a class of prescription  medications that are used to treat severe emotional or behavioral disorders and tend to have fewer side effects such as involuntary movements than typical antipsychotics; atypical antipsychotics include clozapine (Clozaril), loxapine (Loxitane), olanzapine (Zyprexa), quetiapine (Seroquel), and risperidone (Risperdal)

Atypical autism:
conditions similar to autism but that don't satisfy the definition of autism or other identifiable related conditions

Auditory Integration Training (AIT):
a type of music therapy designed to address sensory problems such as hearing distortions, hyper-acute hearing, and sensory processing anomalies by retraining the small internal organs of the ear in order to relieve discomfort and confusion in persons suffering from learning disabilities, including Autistic Spectrum Disorders

Augmentative communication:
speech is replaced or augmented by alternative forms of communication such as gesture or body language, manual signing and photographs

Autism Behavior Checklist (ABC):
a checklist used to determine a person's level of autistic behaviors

Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI):
a diagnostic scale for autism utilizing a standardized parent interview designed to assess children and adults with a mental age of 18 months and up

Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale (ADOS):
a method by which communication and social behavior typically associated with autism are observed for 20-30 minutes in a standardized play setting 

Autistic savant:
a combination of both autism and Savant Syndrome by which a person with a severe developmental or mental handicap also has specialized mental aptitude or skill in one or two fields

Autistic Spectrum Disorders:
a spectrum of five psychological conditions characterized by widespread social abnormalities, severely restricted interests and highly repetitive behavior, i.e.,  Autistic Disorder, Asperger's Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Rett Syndrome

Bayley Scales of Infant Development:
a developmental tool used to assess mental, motor and behavioral growth in children aged one month to three years

how much study results deviate from the actual truth the study was designed to discover, often caused by methods of data collection, analysis, interpretation or publication (see also Recall bias)

Blind study:
a study method used to prevent research results from being influenced by participants by concealing from subjects, experimenters or both which subjects are in a control group and which are in an experimental group

Case-control study:
comparison of a group of patients with a particular condition and a group without to identify factors that may contribute to that condition

Case series:
a study that tracks cases of exposure to and outcome of a specified condition or disease

Celiac (or coeliac) Disease:
an autoimmune disease caused by a reaction to gluten and similar proteins of the tribe Triticeae in which the intestinal lining becomes inflamed, which interferes with the absorption of nutrients, causing symptoms such as diarrhea, slow growth (in children), fatigue, bloody stools, weight loss, and vomiting

Central coherence:
tendency commonly found in people with autistic disorders to focus on the smallest possible details, thereby hindering their ability to understand context or “the big picture”

Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS):
an diagnostic tool in which a child is rated in 15 areas to determine placement on a “non-autistic” to “severely autistic” scale

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (Heller's Syndrome):
occurs when children develop normally until age 3 or 4, but then experience a severe loss of intellectual, social, communication and other skills

a large molecule of DNA within a cell nucleus containing genetic and related information

Cohort study:
a cohort, or group of people who share a common characteristic or experience (e.g., are exposed to a drug or vaccine the same year at the same age), is observed over a period of time and compared with another cohort or the general population over the same time period usually in an attempt to refute the existence of a suspected association between cause and disease

treatments that are being administered in addition to the treatment being studied, which can interfere with the researcher's ability to determine the effectiveness of the treatment being studied

Control group:
the group in a study that does not receive the treatment being studied, which is compared with a group that does receive the treatment

Convenience sample:
a group of people, not necessarily a representative sample, selected to participate in a study because their records and information are readily available or they are easy to interview

Crossover study:
a research design in which a varying sequence of treatments is administered to different groups of patients

Cross-sectional study:
an analysis of a “snapshot” in time of a particular population to determine if the condition or disease being investigated is related to a substance or activity prevalent in that group at that time

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA):
encodes genetic information or “blueprints” in the nucleus of a  cell that pertain to the structure and function of that cell

Developmental regression:
occurs when a child's mental or physical development stops and begins a reverse cycle

Discrete trials:
a form of instruction which has 3 distinct parts: a direction, a behavior, and a consequence

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV):
published by the American Psychiatric Association, categorizes all psychiatric diagnoses for both children and adults, listing known causes, statistics, prognosis and some treatment information

Double-blind crossover study:
a research design in which patients receive varying sequences of treatments and neither the patients nor the researchers knows which patients are receiving which sequence of treatments

the partial loss of the ability to use or understand language, more commonly found in children than adults with brain damage (see also aphasia)

see apraxia

immediate or later (delayed) repetition of words or phrases said by another person, a technique thought to have a specific functional purpose for the person using it

how well or poorly a treatment or intervention works

the ability of a given intervention or treatment to produce an acceptable therapeutic effect

Empirical data:
data that is produced by experiment or observation

Empirical evidence:
evidence that is observable by the senses

Endogenous opioid peptides:
naturally occurring substances that are responsible for regulating pain perception, social and emotional behaviors, and motor activity

refers to expertly and methodically retrieved, interpreted and applied results of scientific studies

External validity:
a measure of the "real world" applicability of research results, or their generalizability to other settings.

Extrapyramidal effects:
coordination, balance and movement disorders suffered as a result of taking neuroleptic (antipsychotic) drugs

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Facilitated communication:
a controversial technique that enables communication via a facilitator by people who were previously unable to communicate

False belief tasks:
used to determine whether children understand the relationship between beliefs and behavior

Fragile X Syndrome:
an inherited genetic disorder that causes autistic-like behaviors, it is identifiable by karyotype analysis (see also karyotype)

Functional analysis:
observing behavior in order to identify the factor or factors that lead to tantrums or aggression, with the objective of removing the trouble factor(s), thereby preventing the problem behavior

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI):
an imaging technique that can show what the brain is doing when a subject is exposed to certain stimuli or performs particular tasks such as reading or calculating

Gaze pattern:
nonverbal behaviors such as eye contact and head movements that communicate roles, level of understanding, level of interest, etc. during the course of a conversation

passed down to offspring from their parents, genes contain the information needed to determine a person's traits, such as eye color, straight or curly hair, and height

Generalized (or global) anxiety disorder:
chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension about everyday things such as work, family, friends and money, and can result in physical symptoms and interfere with daily life and work

Gluten-free/casein-free diet:
a diet free of gluten (a protein found in wheat and other grains) and casein (a protein found in milk) used by many parents to alleviate the symptoms of autism

Gold standard:
a generally accepted best practice for diagnosis and treatment

High Functioning Autism (HFA):
an informal term to describe autism that does not affect a person's intelligence or their ability to speak, read or write

a hereditary defect of the enzyme histidase and one of several metabolic abnormalities associated with autism, symptoms include mental and speech retardation

the spontaneous mastery of reading at an unusually early age (typically between 18 months and 2 years), over-fascination with books, letters and numbers, accompanied by autistic tendencies such as routine, ritualistic behaviors, anxiety and sensitivity to sensory input

motor deficit seen in children with autism, characterized by insufficient muscle tone resulting in muscles being stretched beyond normal limits

Inborn error of metabolism:
a large class of genetic diseases involving metabolic disorders thought to be a fundamental cause of autism

Intention to treat analysis:
analyzes study participants according to which group they were assigned to, whether they received the assigned treatment and if they remained in the study, in order to provide a more accurate picture of the reality that people are inconsistent in following prescribed medication or treatment

Internal validity:
refers to how well a study was conducted and how confidently the researcher can conclude that the treatment given, and not extraneous factors, caused the difference between the control and experimental groups

International Classification of Diseases (ICD):
endorsed by the World Health Organization, the international standard diagnostic classification for diseases and other health problems, includes definitions and diagnostic guidelines for autism and other childhood disintegrative disorders

Individualized Educational Plan (IEP):
identifies a student's particular learning needs and outlines how the schools will address those needs through special education programs and services, as well as how progress will be measured, and for students 14 years and older, it includes a transition plan to postsecondary education or the workplace, or to help the student live as independently as possible in the community

Joint attention:
the process of following another's gaze or pointing gestures to share attention with respect to certain objects or events, a deficit could be an early indicator of childhood autism

the complete profile of the chromosomes of a cell or organism arranged and numbered by size from largest to smallest, used to predict genetic disorders

Ketogenic diet:
a diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates used to control epileptic seizures

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Leiter International Performance Scale:
assesses the cognitive abilities of children without the use of reading or writing to determine if low academic performance is a result of a specific neuropsychological cause such as ADHD

a protein hormone that regulates appetite and metabolism, levels are often elevated in autism

the condition in which the head is abnormally large, occurring in a high proportion of those with autism

Mainstreaming (Inclusion):
placing a high-functioning autistic child a typical classroom with minimal extra support, where the child is expected to behave appropriately, pay attention and work at or near grade level

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI):
a non-invasive medical test that uses a combination of a powerful magnetic field, radio waves and a computer to study brain enlargement and other abnormalities associated with autism

Mental age:
a measure of intellectual development expressed as a chronological age for which that level of intelligence is typical

Neuroleptic (Antipsychotic):
a major tranquilizing drug sometimes used to control behavior problems in autism

a medical specialist who diagnoses and treats disorders of the nervous system, specifically the brain and spinal cord

a chemical messenger that permits communication between brain or nerve cells; some studies suggest that abnormal levels of serotonin or other neurotransmitters in the brain could be a cause of autism

normal neurological development and function

New variant autism:
no evidence exists to support this suspected  form of autism caused allegedly by the MMR vaccine in which children deteriorate over time developing autism and an associated bowel disease

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
characterized by recurring unwelcome thoughts and performing of repetitive or ritualistic behavior as an attempt to make the obsessive thoughts go away

Occupational therapist (OT):
a specialist who trains disabled people in day-to-day tasks to enable them to live as normal, independent and meaningful lives as possible

Opioid Peptides theory:
the idea that peptides with opioid (morphine-like) activity, caused by the incomplete digestion of gluten and casein proteins, travel through the bloodstream to the brain where they interfere with the function of neurotransmitters

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD):
commonly associated with autism and characterized by a tendency to deliberately irritate other people and behave aggressively with acts of defiance, temper tantrums, argumentativeness, provocative behavior or stubbornness

uncontrollable repetition of a particular response, such as utterances or an activity, after the original stimulus has ceased, usually caused by brain injury or other organic disorder

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD):
one of five conditions along autism spectrum, the cause is unknown, symptoms include increased or diminished sensitivity to sound, diminished ability to understand language and to communicate with and to interact with others, as well as limited interests and performance of repetitive activities

Phenylketonuria (PKU):
a genetic disorder characterized by the  inability to break down the amino acid phenylalanine, leading to progressive mental retardation and seizures unless a lifelong diet is followed that restricts or eliminates foods containing phenylalanine, such as meat, chicken, fish, nuts, dairy products, starchy foods, and the sweetener aspertame 

Positron Emission Tomography (PET):
a medical imaging technique that produces 3-D images of functional processes in the body and can be used to study the relationship between cerebellar functioning and autism

Prevalence study:
makes use of surveys, chart reviews and population studies to analyze the occurrence of a particular condition in a given population at a given time

a medical prediction of how a disease will progress and the likelihood of recovery

a proper awareness of where one's own body parts are in relation to one another, the dysfunction of which can cause clumsiness, odd body posture, and difficulty manipulating small objects

Prospective study:
a forward-looking study in which a cohort of subjects are observed over a period of time for the development of a condition or disease which is then related to suspected risk or protection factors (see also Retrospective study)

examines the psychological process involved in language development, use and comprehension

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Randomized controlled trial:
a study in which subjects are randomly assigned to a control or experimental group rather than by their choice or the researcher's decision

Recall bias:
a greater tendency by those who have been diagnosed with a particular condition or disease to remember exposure to contributing factors or to admit to participation in risky behavior that may have caused their affliction

Refrigerator Mother:
now-discredited concept once used to blame a mother who behaved in a cold, uncaring manner for traumatizing her child to the point that the child retreated in to autism

Retrospective study:
a backward-looking study that collects and analyzes data related to suspected risk or protection factors in a cohort of subjects after a condition or disease has developed (see also Prospective study)

a hormone that controls digestion and despite previous reports, has been found ineffective in treating autism

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI):
an  antidepressants, such as Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft, prescribed to autism patients to help with sensory integration difficulties, obsessive compulsive disorder, sleep problems and irritability

the hormone in the brain that regulates sleep, mood, speech, sensory integration, body temperature and appetite

Speech-language pathologist:
a communication specialist who works with people who have difficulty producing speech sounds

lack of variation in or continuous repetition of pattern of  thought, movement or speech

Stim (Self-Stimulation):
in autism, fixating on a comforting or compelling thing or action, such as rocking or humming, reportedly for the purpose of calming themselves, increasing their concentration or shutting out an overwhelming sound

Theory of Mind:
the ability to attribute mental states (beliefs, desires, and intentions) to oneself and understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own, a capability lacking in many individuals with autism

Time Series:
a research design in which subjects are tested at designated times during the course of a long-term study.

Tourette's Syndrome:
a neurological disorder characterized by at least one vocal and multiple motor tics

Tuberous sclerosis:
a rare genetic disorder characterized by seizures, developmental delay, behavioral problems, skin abnormalities, lung and kidney disease, and benign brain tumors

Vineland Adaptive Behavioural Scales (VABS):
assesses the personal and social skills of handicapped and nonhandicapped people from birth to adulthood

Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC):
an intelligence test for children ages 6-16 that is used as one of a battery of tests in the diagnoses of ADHD and learning disabilities

Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence
WISC designed for children ages 2 years 6 months to 7 years 3 months

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