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Autism Glossary

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AAC: See Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

ABA: See Applied Behavior Analysis.

Abscess: An accumulation of pus, usually caused by an infection.

Absence Seizure: Once called a petit mal seizure, this type of seizure is characterized by blank staring and eye blinking.

Accommodation: An adaptation of the environment, format, or situation made  to suit the needs of those participating.

Adaptive Behavior (Functioning): The ability to adjust to new environments, tasks, objects, and people, and to apply new skills to those situations; the capacity to meet the demands of daily life for personal self-sufficiency and independence.

Adenoids: Soft tissue in the upper part of the throat, behind the nose, that may become enlarged and contribute to problems with breathing or ear infections.

ADHD: See Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Age Equivalent Score: The age (in years and months) that the child's performance would be typical of in the "normal" population.  For example if the child's ability to understand words was an age equivalent of 2-10 this would mean it is the kind of score that an average 2-year 10-month-old child would achieve.  This is not the same as standard score.

Allergy: A hypersensitivity to a specific substance which results in the immune system trying to defend the body against the substance, triggering adverse symptoms such as runny nose or itchy eyes and skin.

Amblyopia: Loss of vision in one eye due to the child's failure to use both eyes equally during the developmental period.

Anemia: A condition in which there are insufficient red blood cells in the bloodstream.

Anesthesia: A substance administered to reduce the pain or consciousness and make a medical procedure more comfortable; local anesthesia reduces sensation in one part of the body, while general anesthesia produces complete loss of consciousness.

Anesthesiologist: A medical doctor who administers anesthesia.

Anticonvulsant: Medication used to control seizures.

Antihistamine: The type of drug most often used for treating allergies.

Anxiety: A feeling of unease, dread, fear, or "nervousness," which can be accompanied by physical symptoms such as increased heart rate or sweating.  Some degree of anxiety may be normal (for example, in new situations), but when anxiety is irrational, excessive, or causes distress or impairment, it can be part of an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety Disorders: Psychiatric illnesses characterized by high levels of anxiety that cause distress or impairment to the individual.  Types of anxiety disorders include phobias (fear of some specific thing), generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder, among others.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): A behavioral approach that uses researched-based, highly structured teaching procedures to develop skills in individua1s.  An emphasis is placed on modifying behavior in a precisely measurable manner using repeated trials. See also Discrete Trial Teaching; Behavior Management Plan.

Apraxia: A disorder that makes it difficult or impossible for an individual to plan and sequence movements needed to accomplish a task.

Asperger's Disorders: A pervasive developmental disorder characterized by early language and cognitive skills that seem relatively normal, but significant difficulties with social skills.

Aspiration: Breathing a substance (such as food or bacteria) into the lungs.

Assessment: The process used to determine a child's strengths and weaknesses. Includes testing and observations performed by a variety of professionals, including special educators, psychiatrists, psychologists, speech-language pathologists, etc. Also called evaluation.

Assistive Technology: A tool or device that increases, maintains, or improves the abilities of a child with disabilities to function.  Examples include communication devices, computers, adapted pencil grips.

Asthma: A condition in which the airways in the lungs become inflamed and narrow often due too oversensitivity to a trigger (such as pollen, exercise, or smoke) that does not affect normal lungs.

''At Risk of Experiencing Developmental Delay": The term applied to children under the age of three who have not been formally diagnosed with a specific condition. This label may render them eligible for special education services.

Ataxia: Difficulty coordinating movements of the body, as in walking.

Atonic Seizure: A type of seizure causing sudden loss of muscle tone.

Attention: The ability to focus on and sustain concentration, on a task.  See also Attention Span.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD): A term sometimes used for a condition that does not inc1ude the hyperactivity found in ADHD.

Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD): A condition characterized by distractibility, restlessness, short attention span, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.

Attention Span: The amount of time one is able to concentrate on a task

Audiologist: A healthcare professional who evaluates hearing and prescribes assistive listening devices (such as hearing aids).

Auditory: Relating to the ability to hear.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication: Any method that assists or supplements speech and language (augmentative communication) or replaces speech as the primary communication system (alternative communication). Examples include sign Ianguage, picture cards, or electronic communication devices.

Aura: A sensation (such as a strange feeling or vague fear) that precedes some types of seizures.

Autism: A form of pervasive developmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication acquisition and use, as well as odd or unusual mannerisms, behaviors, and habits. Mental retardation is frequently present.

Autism Spectrum Disorder: Another term sometimes used for Pervasive Developmental Disorders.

Autistic Disorder: The "official" term for autism used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Autistic-Like Behaviors: Behaviors that include verbal and physical perseveration and rituals, poor eye contact, and limited social awareness; sometimes seen in individuals with developmental disorders who do not have autism.

Avoidant Personality Disorder: A disorder characterized by long-standing feelings of social inhibition, oversensitivity, and feelings of social inadequacy. This condition is typicaIly diagnosed in adults; as children, these individuals often are shy and become more so during adolescence.

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Barium: A chemical used in tests of the digestive tract; typically the patient swallows a barium liquid or a piece of food coated in barium and X- rays are used to track the progress of the barium, which shows up as white on X-ray.

Behavior Management Plan: A plan designed to modify or reshape the behavior of an individual with disabilities that addresses existing behavior, interventions, support, and goals.

Bilirubin: A pigment formed by breakdown of hemoglobin and found in bile. High levels may indicate liver disease.

Biofeedback: A method used in teaching relaxation through which the individual learns to control heart rate or some other observable measure of anxiety.

Bipolar Disorder: The condition, formerly known as manic-depression, in which an individual experiences periods of depression and or periods of more elated (even abnormally positive and excited) mood.

Birth to Three Program: A program that provides early intervention.

Bruxism: Grinding the teeth

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Cardiac: Related to the heart.

Case Manager: A person who coordinates services for individuals with disabilities.  See also Service Coordinator.

Case Reports: Accounts of individual patients' responses to treatment; sometimes used as proof that a treatment works, but more properly regarded as an indication that the treatment may merit more formal research.

Casein: A substance found in milk and in products derived from milk.

CDD: See Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.

Celiac Disease: A disorder that results in sensitivity to gluten in food, and which results in damage to the lining of the small intestine if a gluten-free diet is not followed.

Cerebral Cortex: The outer layer of the brain, which is involved in sensory and motor functioning, as well as complex cognitive tasks.

Childhood Autism: See Autistic Disorder.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD): A rare form of pervasive developmental disorder in which a child, who has developed typically in early childhood, begins to display autistic-like characteristics.  His or her abilities are said to "deteriorate" from earlier, more capable behavior.

Childhood Schizophrenia: A psychiatric disorder with symptoms that include disturbances in form and content of thought, perception, emotions, sense of self, relationship to the external world, and other behaviors.  Childhood schizophrenia is very rare.

Chromosomes: The microscopic rod-shaped bodies in the nucleus of cells which contain the genes.  Unless they have a chromosomal disorder such as Down syndrome, people have twenty-three pairs of chromosomes in their cells.

Chronic: Long-lasting or permanent.

Cognition: The ability to know and understand the environment and to solve problems.

Comorbid: Related to two or more disorders occurring in the same individual.

Complex Partial Seizure: A type of seizure confined to one area of the brain which causes jerking or unusual movement in one part of the body and may eventually result in loss of consciousness.

Compulsions: Either repetitive behaviors (such as repeatedly checking that a door is dosed} or thoughts (such as repeating words silently to oneself) Which have the apparent goal of preventing or reducing anxiety; the person may feel that something bad will happen if they do not engage in the activity.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan: A diagnostic procedure in which a computerized picture of cross sections of the body is created by passing X-rays through the area that is being studied at various angles.

Conductive Hearing Loss: Hearing loss that results from a blockage in the middle ear or external ear canal (such as from fluid) which prevents or reduces transmission of sound to the inner ear;

Congenital: Present at birth. Constipation: Infrequent or hard· stools.

Controlled Substance: A medication specially regulated by the government because of, its potential for abuse.

Convulsion: A seizure.

CPR: Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation; the process of attempting to restart someone's hear for breathing in an emergency by delivering a specific sequence of breaths to the mouth and compressions to the chest.

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Decibel (dB): A unit of loudness used in assessing hearing; people with normal hearing can hear sounds that are 15-20 dB or softer.

Dehydration: The loss of excess amounts of body water.

Dementia Infantilis: An old term for childhood disintegrative disorder.

Development: The process of growth and learning during which a child acquires skills and abilities.

Developmental Delay: In children birth to eighteen, development that is significantly slower than average.

Developmental Disability: A condition originating before the age of eighteen that may be expected to continue indefinitely and that impairs or delays development.  Such conditions include autism, pervasive developmental disorders, and mental retardation.

Developmental Evaluation: See Assessment.

Developmental Milestone: A goal that functions as a measurement of progress in development overtime; for example, rolling over from back to front or speaking in two-word phrases:

Developmental Test: A test, usually given to preschool children, which assesses developmental skills in multiple areas – for example, gross and fine motor, language, and cognitive abilities.

Diabetes: A chronic disorder of carbohydrate metabolism that results in abnormally high sugar levels in the blood and sugar in the urine, excessive urination and thirst, and sometimes other symptoms. Type 1 diabetes results when the body produces little or no insulin (a hormone that regulates the metabolism of blood sugar) and must be treated with injections of insulin. Type 2 diabetes may develop due to obesity and can often be controlled through diet and medication.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV): A manual published by the American Psychiatric Association that defines and describes the diagnostic criteria for mental disorders, and provides systematic descriptions of them.

Diarrhea: Abnormally watery or frequent bowel movements.

Dietitian: A professional with expertise in food and nutrition; registered dietitians have completed an internship and passed a national exam. (This is in contrast to a nutritionist, who does not have to meet any particular qualifications to use that title.)

Disability: A term used to describe a delay in physical or cognitive development. The older term, "handicap," is also sometimes used.

Discrete Trial Teaching: An instructional technique that is part of Applied Behavior Analysis. This technique involves four steps: 1) presenting a cue or stimulus to the learner; 2) obtaining the learner's response; 3) providing a positive consequence (reinforcer) or correction; and 4) a brief 3-5 second break until the next teaching trial is provided. See Applied Behavior Analysis.

Disintegrative Psychosis: Another term for childhood disintegrative disorder.

Dopamine: One of the neurotransmitters in the brain; it is presumed to play a major role in regulating movement.

Down Syndrome: A congenital disorder caused by the presence of an extra copy of the twenty-first chromosome; it is usually associated with some degree of mental retardation, low muscle tone, speech and language delay; and sometimes, autistic-like behaviors.

DSM IV: See Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV).

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Early Intervention: A specialized way of interacting with infants to minimize the effects of conditions that can delay early development. Early intervention may include services from an infant educator, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a speech-language pathologist, and/or other professionals with expertise in teaching developmental skills to very young children.

ECG: See Electrocardiogram.

Echolalia: A parrot-like repetition of phrases or words just heard (immediate echolalia, or heard hours, days, weeks, or even months before (delayed echolalia).

Eczema: Inflammation of the outer layer of skin, resulting in an itchy, scaly rash.

EEG: See Electroencephalogram.

EKG: See Electrocardiogram.

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): A recording of the heart's electrical impulses.  A painless procedure, it involves attaching electrodes to the individual's chest and other body parts and connecting them by wires to an electrocardiograph machine.

Electroencephalogram (EEG): The test used to determine levels of electrical discharge from nerve cells; used in diagnosing seizures.

Engagement: The ability to remain focused and interactive with (or responsive to) a person or object.

ENT: A physician who specializes in disorders of the ear, nose, and throat; also known as an otolaryngologist.

Epidemiology: The study of the incidence and distribution of diseases and other factors related to health.

Epilepsy: A recurrent condition in which abnormal electrical discharges in the brain cause seizures.

Epinephrine: Adrenaline-A hormone that is important to the body's metabolism and in helping the heart work and in relaxing muscles in the lungs.

Etiology: The study of the cause of disease.

Eustachian Tubes: Small tubes leading from the middle ears to the passageway behind the nose and throat area (the nasopharynx); these tubes regulate air pressure in the ears.

Evaluation: See Assessment.

Expressive Language: The use of gestures, words, and written symbols to communicate.

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Family Physician: A physician who sees both adult and child patients. Fever: An abnormal elevation of body temperature.

Fiber: The indigestible part of carbohydrates, essential to the digestive process.

Fine Motor: Relating to the use of the small muscles of the body; such as those in the hands, feet, fingers, and toes.

Folic Acid: A vitamin found naturally in leafy green vegetables, nuts, and organ meats that is important in the formation of red blood cells and in the production of DNA.  Also called folate.

Fragile X Syndrome: A condition caused by a mutation in the genetic information on the X chromosome. (The X chromosome is one of the two so-called sex chromosomes; children with two X chromosomes are girls, and those with an X and a Y chromosome are boys.) Fragile X often causes mental retardation or learning disabilities, language difficulties, distinctive physical characteristics, and sometimes autistic-like behaviors or autism.


Free Appropriate Education: An education that is provided to a child without cost to the parents, and that is expected to provide some educational benefit to him.

Frequency: In audiology, a unit used to measure pitch (how high or Iowa sound is).

Functional Behavior Analysis: Observing a child's behavior and evaluating its purpose.

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Generalization: Transferring a skill taught in one place or with one person to other places and people.

Genes: The microscopic sequences of protein and DNA found on the chromosomes which determine which traits an individual inherits from his parents.

Genetic: Inherited; relating to the genes.

Geneticist: A professional who evaluates people for genetic disorders and may provide counseling and information about these disorders.

GERD: Gastroesophageal reflux disease: a condition in which stomach acid and other stomach contents flow up into the esophagus and sometimes the mouth, damaging tissue and causing pain, vomiting, or other symptoms.

Gluten: A protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other grains.

Grandiosity: A feeling that one is more powerful or important than one really is; sometimes a symptom of bipolar disorder.

Grand Mal Seizure: See Tonic Clonic Seizure.

Gross Motor: Related to the use of the large muscles of the body, such as those of the back, legs, and arms.

Guardian: A person appointed by law to manage the legal, medical, and/or financial affairs of someone else.

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Hand Flapping/Hand Biting: Perseverative behaviors often seen in people with developmental disorders. These behaviors may be motivated by a sensory need, or a desire to focus and calm oneself or to escape from a demand.

Heimlich Maneuver: A procedure used to help someone who is choking by delivering a hard, upward thrust beneath their breast bone until the object that is causing the choking is dislodged.

Heller's Syndrome: An alternate (older) name for Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.

Hepatitis: An inflammation of the liver.

Hives: An itchy rash, usually caused by an allergic reaction.

Homeopathic: Related to homeopathy-the theory that diseases can be cured by giving very small doses of drugs that cause symptoms of the disease you are trying to cure.

Hormone: A chemical produced by an organ or gland in the body that is released into the bloodstream and affects activity elsewhere in the body.

Hyperactivity: A nervous-system-based difficulty that makes it hard for a person to control motor (muscle) behavior. It is characterized by frequent movement, rapidly switching from one activity to another, or having difficulty remaining seated or controlling restless movements.

Hypotonia: Low (reduced) muscle tone; muscles feel "floppier" than usual, and it takes more effort to initiate movement and maintain posture.

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ICD: The International Classification of Diseases; the manual used in place of the DSM in countries other than the U.S. for diagnosing medical disorders.

IDEA: See Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Identification: The determination that a child should be evaluated as a possible candidate for special education services.

IEP: See Individualized Education Program.

IFSP: See Individualized Family Service Plan.

Imitation: The ability to observe the actions of others and to copy them in one's own actions. Also known as modeling.

Immunization: The process of inducing protection against an infectious disease by administering a vaccine.

Impetigo: A contagious, bacterial skin infection characterized by reddened skin that can blister and fill with pus.

Impulsivity: Behavior that is characterized by acting without thinking through the consequences of one's actions.

Inclusion: Placing children with disabilities in the same schools and classrooms with children who are developing typically. The environment includes the special supports and services necessary for educational success.

Individualized Education Program (IEP): The written plan that specifies the special education and other services (such as occupational or speech therapy) the school has agreed to provide a child with disabilities who is eligible under IDEA; for children ages three to twenty-one.

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP): The written plan that specifies the education and related services to be provided to children eligible for early intervention under IDEA and their families; for children birth to age three.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): A federal law originally passed in 1975 and subsequently amended that requires states to provide a "free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment" to children with disabilities. This is the major special education law in the U.S.

Infantile Autism: See Autistic Disorder.

Input: Information that a person receives through any of the senses (sight, hearing, touch, feeling, smell).

Insistence on Sameness: A tendency in many people with autism to become upset when familiar routines or environments are changed.

Instrument: A set of questions or activities administered to evaluate functioning; a test. Intellectual Disability: An alternate term for mental retardation.

Intelligence: The ability to learn, think, and use knowledge to deal with problems. Intelligence Test: A tests that examines various aspects of intelligence; commonly verbal (language related) and nonverbal (non-language related) tasks are examined. The score from an intelligence test is typically expressed as an IQ.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ): A numerical measurement of intellectual capacity that compares a person's chronological age to his or her "mental age," as shown on standardized tests. These scores are distributed on a bell-shaped curve, often with 100 being average. IQ scores below 70 are in the mentally retarded range; above 130 in the gifted range.

Internist: A physician who specializes in internal medicine, or the diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of illnesses, particularly in adults.

Intervention: Action taken to improve a child's potential for success in compensating for a delay or deficit in their physical, emotional, or mental functioning.

In Utero: within the uterus or womb.

IQ: See Intelligence Quotient.

IV: This abbreviation for intravenous (in the vein) is often used as shorthand for "intravenous catheter"-a means of delivering medication or nutrition straight into the bloodstream by inserting a thin tube into one of the patient's veins.

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Ketogenic Diet: A diet that is high in fat and very low in protein and carbohydrates that is sometimes helpful in controlling seizures.

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Landau-Kleffner Syndrome (LKS): A disorder that has some similarities to childhood disintegrative disorder. The child loses the ability to understand and use spoken language (after previously having normal abilities) and usually experiences seizures. Children with LKS may regain all or some of their language skills over time and become seizure free.

Language: A system of symbols (spoken, written, signed) used to communicate. See Expressive Language; Receptive Language.

Learning Disability: Learning difficulties in one or more specific areas of study (such as reading, spelling, or math) that are greater than would be expected based on the individual's overall intelligence; this contrasts with mental retardation, where abilities are significantly below average in all areas. (To make matters confusing, in some countries such as England, the preferred term for mental retardation is learning disability.)

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): The educational setting that enables a child with disabilities to have the maximum contact with typically developing children while allowing him to make appropriate progress in the curriculum.

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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): A computerized diagnostic procedure that involves creating cross-sectional images of the body or its organs by exposing the patient to a magnetic field. No radiation is used.

Malnutrition: Nutritional intake that is insufficient to promote or maintain growth and development.

Malocclusion: An abnormal relationship between the upper and lower jaw, resulting in a faulty bite (e.g., underbite, overbite).

Mannerisms: Repetitive, seemingly purposeless movements or sounds; stereotyped behavior. Medicaid: A joint state and federal program that offers medical assistance to people who are financially needy and are therefore entitled to receive SSI.

Medicare: A federal program, not based on financial need, that provides payments for medical care to people who are receiving Social Security payments.

Megadose Vitamin Therapy: Using vitamins in dosages that are at least ten times the recommended daily allowance.

Mental Age: See Age Equivalent Score.

Mental Retardation (MR): The term used in the U.S. to describe people who score in the lowest three percentiles on cognitive assessment tests (generally 70 or below) and who also have significant difficulties with adaptive behavior. May also be referred to as intellectual disability.

Mercury: A heavy, silver metal that is liquid at room temperature; in the past, used in some preservatives for vaccines.

Mixed Hearing Loss: Hearing loss resulting from both conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss.

MMR: The abbreviation for the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. Modeling: See Imitation.

Motor: Relating to the ability to use muscles to move one's body parts.

Muscle Tone: The degree of stretch or relaxation in a resting muscle. See also Hypotonia. Mutation: A change or alteration in genetic information.

Myoclonic Seizure: A seizure that produces brief, involuntary jerking of muscles.

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Naturopathic: Referring to "natural" treatment with sunshine, water, exercise, or other naturally occurring agents; without drugs.

Nebulizer: A device used in the treatment of asthma that produces a medicated mist to be inhaled.

Negative Reinforcement: Any situation or stimulus whose removal or avoidance increases a specific response. For example, typically developing children display good behaviors in the classroom so as to avoid the teacher's disapproval.

Neuroleptic: A group of medicines (sometimes referred to as major tranquilizers) that act on various chemical systems in the brain-particularly those involving the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Neurologist: A physician specializing in medical problems associated with the brain and nervous system.

Neurotransmitter: A chemical substance in the brain that allows the transmission of impulses from one nerve cell to another. Abnormal levels of neurotransmitters may result in difficulties with mood, attention, impulse control, etc. See Dopamine; Norepinephrine; Serotonin.

Nonverbal Learning Disability: A pattern of strengths and weaknesses that includes relatively better verbal abilities than nonverbal abilities (which can be quite impaired), as well as difficulties with social skills and motor skills. I'."'VLD appears to be common in individuals with Asperger's disorder, but is not synonymous with Asperger's disorder.

Norepinephrine: A neurotransmitter that plays a role in maintaining blood pressure and also in regulating various behaviors. Also known as noradrenaline.

Nurse Practitioner: A registered nurse who has additional training in medical practices and therapies.

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Obesity: Weight that is 120 percent or more of the desired body weight for height. For example, if the desired body weight for height is 100 pounds and a child weighs 120 pounds or more, he is obese.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): A disorder that causes anxiety due to abnormal recurring thoughts or images (e.g., fear that the door is unlocked) which the individual can only dispel by performing a specific act (e.g., repeatedly checking to make sure the door is locked).

Occupational Therapist (OT): A therapist who specializes in improving the development affine motor and adaptive skills.

Ophthalmologist: A physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating eye and vision problems; ophthalmologists can perform surgery and prescribe medications, as well as prescribe corrective lenses.

Opiate Antagonist: A medicine the reverses the effects of opiate drugs.

Optometrist: A specialist in diagnosing and nonmedical treatment (e.g., with prescription lenses) of vision problems.

Oral Motor Skills: Skills involving muscles in and around the mouth, including chewing, swallowing, and forming speech sounds.

Orthodontist: A dentist who specializes in diagnosing, preventing, and treating irregularities of the teeth and jaw.

OT: See Occupational Therapist.

Otitis Media: An inflammation or infection of the middle ear.

Otolaryngologist: A physician specializing in the ear, nose, and throat; also known as an ENT.

Otoscope: A lighted instrument that is inserted in the outer ear to examine the ear canal and eardrum.

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Paradoxical Reaction: The opposite reaction than would typically be expected.

PDD: See Pervasive Developmental Disorder.

PDD-NOS: See Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified.

Pediatrician: A physician who specializes in the care of infants, children, and adolescents.

Perineum: In females, the area between the anus and the vagina, and in males, the area between the anus and the scrotum.

Perseveration: Seemingly purposeless, repetitive movement or speech that is thought to be motivated by a person's inner preoccupations.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD): An umbrella category in the DSM for a range of conditions that can include symptoms such as difficulties with communication and social skills, unusual interests or habits, and insistence on sameness. The PDDs are: autistic disorder; Asperger's disorder; PDD-NOS, Rett's disorder; and childhood disintegrative disorder. The term may be used synonymously with autism spectrum disorder.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS): A pervasive developmental disorder that includes most characteristics of autistic disorder but not enough to meet the specific diagnostic criteria for autistic disorder.

Pervasive Lack of Relatedness: A condition characterized by an individual's extreme difficulty relating to objects or people in a typical or appropriate fashion.

Petit Mal Seizure: See Absence seizure.

Physical Therapist (PT): A therapist who specializes in improving the development of gross motor skills.

Pica: The eating of nonfood substances.

Placebo: A "dummy" medication or treatment used as a control in testing another medication or treatment in order to see whether the "real" treatment is more effective than no treatment.

Placebo Effect: The tendency of patients who are receiving a placebo to feel better or to be perceived as doing better when they are participating in a new treatment or study.

Play Therapy: A diagnostic and treatment method sometimes used by child psychologists in which the child is encouraged to play or draw as a means of expressing his thoughts or feelings.

Positive Reinforcement: Providing a pleasant consequence after a behavior in order to maintain or increase the frequency of that behavior.

Potency: Strength, as of a medication.

Pragmatics: The use of language for social communication. Includes requesting, protesting, commenting, sharing information, and the knowledge of the "rules" governing conversation.

Pressure Equalizing Tubes: Tiny tubes inserted into the eardrums to allow fluid to drain from the middle ear; sometimes referred to as grommets.

Prompt: Input such as physical guidance or a verbal or visual reminder that encourages an individual to perform a movement or activity.

Prompt Dependence: When an individual requires a prompt in order to perform a taught task or behavior.

Proprioception: The body's innate sense of its position in space.

Psychiatrist: A medical doctor who diagnoses and treats mental illness; in contrast to a psychologist, he or she may prescribe medications in treatment.

Psychological Assessment: An assessment of various abilities, often including intelligence, adaptive skills, visual-motor skills, attentional skills, and other skills.

Psychologist: A professional who specializes in the study of human behavior and treatment of behavioral disorders and administers tests (e.g., of intelligence).

Psychosis: A mental disorder that alters an individual's understanding of reality, and may include delusions, hallucinations, or disturbed thought processes.

Psychotherapy: Treatment of mental disorders such as anxiety through psychological means (such as counseling and talking).

Psychotropic Medications: Medications that alter brain function. Psychotropic drugs are often used in the treatment of mental illness and sometimes for certain autistic behaviors.

PT: See Physical Therapist.

Puberty: The stage of physical development at which sexual reproduction first becomes possible.

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Reactive Attachment Disorder: A disorder that develops in infants and young children as the result of emotional or physical neglect or abuse; children with the disorder have social skills delays and difficulty bonding with others.

Receptive Language: The ability to understand spoken and written communication as well as gestures.

Reflex: An involuntary; unlearned response to a stimulus.

Refractive Error: An inability of the eye to sharply focus images due to problems with the length of the eyeball, the shape of the cornea, or the power of the lens; nearsightedness and farsightedness are examples of refractive errors.

Regression: The loss of skill or ability.

Reinforcement: Any consequence that increases the likelihood of the future occurrence of a behavior. A consequence is either presented or withheld in an effort to prompt the desired response. See Positive Reinforcement; Negative Reinforcement.

Related Services: Services that enable a child to benefit from special education. Related services include speech-language, occupational, and physical therapies, as well as transportation.

Reliability: In psychological testing, the degree to which a test produces about the same results each time a particular individual is administered that test.

Repetitive Speech: Also called echolalia. See also Perseveration.

Rett's Disorder: A rare pervasive developmental disorder that affects mostly females, is characterized by typical early development, and later, a pervasive loss of social, cognitive, and physical skills. Some improvement in these areas may take place in late childhood. Many children with Rett's disorder develop seizure disorders.

Rigidity: Inflexibility of behavior; needing things to happen in a very specific way in order for them to "feel right" to the child.

Ritualistic Behavior: Seemingly purposeless behavior that a child always engages in when in a particular situation. For example, on entering a room, a child may always have to turn the lights off and on twice.

Rubella: German measles; a disease that causes a mild rash in adults but that can lead to birth defects if a woman contracts it while pregnant.

Rumination: Regurgitating food and chewing on it again.

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Schizophrenia. See Childhood Schizophrenia.

Schizotypal Personality Disorder: A personality disorder (usually seen in adults) in which there is discomfort with close personal relationships and often eccentric behavior. Odd beliefs and thinking may be present. This is sometimes confused with Asperger's disorder.

Scoliosis: Abnormal curvature of the spine.

Screening Test: A test given to groups of children intended to determine which children need further assessment.

Secretin: A naturally occurring hormone that aids in digestion; some people have theorized that a deficiency of secretin plays a role in causing symptoms of autism.

Sedation: The process of reducing anxiety, nervousness, or wakefulness with medication; it may or may not involve loss of consciousness.

Seizure: A change in consciousness or behavior or involuntary movement produced by abnormal electrical discharges in nerve cells in the brain.

Selective Mutism: A disorder characterized by failure to speak in specific situations despite speaking in other situations.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI): A medication used for treating depression or anxiety that works by preventing serotonin produced in the brain from being reabsorbed quickly, thus increasing the amount of serotonin available in the brain.

Self-Regulation: The capacity to remain organized in the face of external or internal stimulation.

Self-Stimulation: The act of providing physical, visual, or auditory stimulation for oneself; rocking back and forth and hand flapping are examples.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Hearing loss caused by damage to the inner ear or to the auditory nerve, which transmits sounds to the brain.

Sensory: Relating to the senses.

Sensory Integration: The ability to receive input from the senses, to organize it into a meaningful message, and to act on it.

Serotonin: A neurotransmitter that is believed to play a role in mood regulation and sleep; levels of serotonin may be deficient in children who have depression or anxiety.

Service Coordinator: The individual designated to oversee the education and related services for a child with disabilities and the services provided to his or her family. See also Case Manager.

Side Effect: An effect which results unintentionally from the administration of medication; manifestations of side effects from medication vary from person to person.

Simple Partial Seizure: A type of seizure causing involuntary jerking of muscles that does not result in the loss of consciousness.

SLP: See Speech-Language Pathologist.

Social Security Administration (SSA): The federal agency that administers both SSI and SSDI.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Money that has been funneled into the Social Security system through payroll deductions on earnings. Workers who are disabled are entitled to these benefits. People who are born or become disabled before the age of twenty-two may collect SSDI under a parent's account if the parent is retired, disabled, or deceased.

Social Skills: Learned abilities such as sharing, turn-taking, asserting one's independence, and forming attachments, that allow people to effectively interact with others.

Social Worker: A professional who aids and counsels others to function within society; he or she may help to secure services such as counseling, financial assistance, or respite care.

Special Education: Specialized instruction to address a student's unique educational disabilities as determined by an assessment and as specified in a child's lEE Instruction must be precisely matched to the child's educational needs and adapted to his or her learning style.

Speech/Language Pathologist: A therapist who works to evaluate and improve speech and language skills, as well as to improve oral motor abilities.

SSA: See Social Security Administration.

SSDI: See Social Security Disability Insurance.

SSI: See Supplemental Security Income.

SSRI: See Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor.

Standard Deviation: A measurement of the degree to which a given test score differs from the mean (average) score. On many IQ tests, for example, the mean or average score is 100 and the standard deviation is 15 (so a child who scored one standard deviation below the mean would have an IQ of 85). The majority of children (94 percent) score within two standard deviations (30 points) above or below the mean of 100 (between 70 and 130).

Standard Score: A test score based on the normal distribution curve (the "bell curve"). In tests scored with standard scores, 100 usually is considered exactly average, with scores from 85 to 115 considered to be in the average range.

Standardized Test: A test that is administered in exactly the same way each time and that is designed so that results can be compared with the performance of other individuals who have taken the test.

Statistical Significance: An estimate of the likelihood that an observed result is not simply due to chance; the usual level of statistical significance (probability of or less than 5%) means that there is 1 chance in 20 that the event would have happened as a result of chance alone.

Status Epilepticus: A life-threatening condition in which seizures continue without a break for many minutes and the child remains unconscious.

Stereotypic Behavior: Purposeless, repetitive movements or behaviors such as hand flapping.

Stereotypy: See Stereotypic Behavior.

Stimulant: A psychotropic drug often used to control hyperactivity in children.

Stimulus: A physical object or environmental event that may trigger a response or have an effect upon the behavior of a person. Some stimuli are internal (earache pain), while others are external (a smile from a loved one).

Strabismus: A condition in which the two eyes do not work together; one or both eyes may turn inward or turn outward, or the gaze of one eye may be higher than the other.

Stridor: A crowing sound made when inhaling due to a narrowed upper airway.

Subthreshold: Not meeting full criteria (guidelines) for a diagnosis.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI): A program of payments available for eligible people who are disabled, blind, or elderly. 551 is based on financial need, not on past earnings.

Sustained Release: A long-lasting form of medication in which small amounts of the medication are released over time rather than releasing all of the medication immediately upon ingestion.

Swimmer's Ear: A painful infection of the outer ear; common in children who often go swimming.

Syndrome: A group of symptoms or traits that, occurring together, are characteristic of a particular disorder.

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Tactile: Relating to touch.

Tactile Defensiveness: Oversensitivity or aversion to touch.

Tardive Dyskinesia: A condition characterized by involuntary jerky movements of the mouth, tongue, lips, and trunk. Some medications prescribed for behavior control may contribute to the development of this condition.

Thimerisol: A mercury-based substance formerly used to preserve some vaccines such as the MMR.

Tics: Involuntary; purposeless movements or sounds that occur, for example, in Tourette syndrome. Tics are usually distressing to a child who has them, in contrast to stereotypic behavior, which children with autism find pleasurable or neutral.

Tolerance: A diminished ability to benefit from some drug due to repeated or prolonged administration.

Tonic-Clonic Seizure: A type of seizure with two phases: a tonic phase, in which the body stiffens and the child loses consciousness; and a clonic phase, in which the muscles alternatingly jerk and relax.

Tonsils: The two masses of tissue on either side at the back of the throat that help defend the body from infection.

Tourette Syndrome: A disability characterized by vocal and movement tics that change in severity and nature over time.

Transition: The period between the end of one activity and the start of another.

Transitional Object: An object such as a blanket or stuffed animal that a young child habitually uses to comfort himself.

Tuberous Sclerosis: A congenital disorder in which benign tubers develop in the skin, organs, and brain, and which sometimes includes seizures, autism, and/or mental retardation.

Tympanometry: A test performed to measure the amount of pressure in the middle ear; abnormal pressure may indicate middle ear fluid or difficulties with Eustachian tube function.

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Vaccine: A solution that is administered orally or as an injection in order to help the body create defenses against a specific disease. Vaccines contain bacteria or viruses (or parts of them) that ordinarily cause disease, but have been altered so that they won't cause an infection.

Vestibular: Pertaining to the sensory system located in the inner ear that allows the body to maintain balance and enjoyably participate in movement such as swinging and roughhousing.

Visual Imagery: Using recalled scenes or visual images in an attempt to relax or to tolerate more stressful situations.

Visual Motor: Related to the use of the eyes to discriminate and track objects and to perceive environmental cues. Visual motor skills are required to carry out tasks such as putting a puzzle piece into a puzzle or a key into a keyhole.

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