Babies born to mothers who took
antidepressants early in their
pregnancy are approximately three
times more likely to develop autism.

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Adaptive Behavior

A type of taught behavior designed to change a negative behavior into something positive or useful. If a person routinely and repetitively hits something, that person might be taught to hit something acceptable and useful, like hitting a drum set. The unconstructive repetitive hitting behavior is therefore adapted to the constructive hitting of a drum set.

Adaptive Functioning

See Adaptive Behavior


A communication disorder characterized by failure to understand or express language due to a disease or brain injury. The severity can range from not remembering words to not being able to write, read or speak. The disorder can be evaluated and diagnosed in neurological screenings or testing performed by a language pathologist. Aphasia and autism are two distinct conditions that share similar language development symptoms.


A disorder that affects a person's ability to perform purposeful movements despite having the physical ability and desire to execute the movements. Apraxia is caused by disease or brain injury, specifically from dysfunction in certain areas of the cerebrum. Although Apraxia and autism share similarities, they are two different and distinct conditions. Individuals may be diagnosed with both autism and Apraxia.

Asperger Syndrome

Within the autism spectrum Asperger syndrome is considered a milder form of autism, which impacts social skills and communication. Asperger syndrome (also known as Asperger's disorder) is characterized by lack of empathy for peers, obsessive interests, peculiar speech, problems with motor skills and difficulty comprehending facial expressions and body language. People with Asperger's usually demonstrate normal cognitive levels (intelligence) and have better verbal skills then those with classic autism.

Assistive Technology

An item, product or system designed to maintain or improve functional capabilities in people with developmental disabilities, including autism. Assistive technology doesn't necessarily have to be electronic - flash cards, for example, can be an assistive technology.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Communication alternatives used to help children or adults with significant speech and language disabilities, including language impairments associated with autism. AAC can be used to augment speech or language skills, or replace speech and writing if the impairment is severe.

Autism Speaks

The largest autism advocacy organization in the world. Autism Speaks funds research and organizes events designed to bolster autism awareness and outreach. Since its founding in 2005, Autism Speaks has raised millions of dollars for autism research.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), generally referred to as autism, refers to a range, or spectrum, of congenital developmental disorders. Conditions in the autism spectrum vary considerably and include autistic disorder ("classic" autism), Asperger syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). ASD is defined by impairments in social interactions and communication. Repetitive, stereotyped behavior and limited interests also characterize ASD.

Autistic Disorder

Also called "classic" autism, Autistic Disorder is the most severe form of ASD. Autistic Disorder is characterized by significant language delays, social and communication difficulties, and unusual or obsessive behaviors and interests. Many people with Autistic Disorder may also have mental retardation.

Behavior Modification

A technique used to help children with autism manage their everyday environment. Children with autism can be prone to temper tantrums, self injury and hitting. Behavior modification is used to decrease or eliminate disruptive behaviors and increase appropriate behaviors through positive and negative reinforcement.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (Heller's Syndrome)

This rare type of ASD is characterized by a late onset of autism symptoms which normally occur when a child is between three and four years of age. After seemingly normal development, a child with Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, or Heller's Syndrome, will lose the skills previously acquired (this includes language skills, motor skills and social skills).


The mental processes of attention, talking and understanding speech, memory, problem solving and decision making. Children with autism or ASD often experience delayed cognitive development. According to some estimates, 70 percent of children with ASD experience some degree of cognitive delay.

Comorbid Disorders

Comorbidity is the effect that a disorder or disease has on a primary disorder or disease. There are many conditions that are comorbid to autism, including anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, Fragile X syndrome, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, mental retardation, nonverbal learning disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, tourette syndrome and seizures.


Also known as motor skills disorder, dyspraxia is a human developmental disorder that affects coordination and motor skills. Dyspraxia can be comorbid to an autism spectrum disorder, meaning that autistic children can also suffer from motor dyspraxia. Dyspraxia is characterized by difficulty with performing purposeful movements like drawing, sports, or anything involving muscular planning. People with dyspraxia also tend to demonstrate problems with language and perception.

See: Comorbid Disorders

Early Intervention

Early intervention is used to treat children between the ages of birth to three years who are at risk for ASD (autism spectrum disorder). The Early Intervention program (EI) is mandated by Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The programs themselves vary from state to state, but most are simply designed to improve social and communication skills. Experts believe that when early intervention is used on a child with autism, outcomes for the child and the family are improved.

See: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Fine Motor Skills

The ability to use small muscle groups in the hands and fingers (usually in coordination with the eyes) in order to grab or hold onto objects. Children with disabilities like autism generally have problems developing fine motor skills. If a child has a weakness in fine motor skills, it can affect their ability to dress themselves, eat or write.

Fragile X Syndrome

Also known as Martin-Bell syndrome, Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most common single-gene cause of inherited mental disability. The impairments associated with Fragile X syndrome can be anything from learning disabilities to cognitive disabilities like autism.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, FAPE ensures that every disabled child receives the benefit of a free education to prepare for further education, employment and independent living. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantee that children with disabilities have the right to regular or special education that meet their specific needs in the same way that non-handicapped children's education needs are met.

See: Section 504; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Full Inclusion

A movement based on the idea that all students, regardless of severity or type of disability, should be educated in the same classroom as the peers in their age group. The reason for this notion is based on the idea that separating special education students from their peers is a form of segregation.

Heller's Syndrome

See Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an IEP is an education plan that outlines the services and special education needs for students with disabilities. This plan is highly individualized and tailored to meet each student's needs. Teachers, therapists, parents and the child (when appropriate) decide on curriculum, goals and objectives for the student, finally placing him or her in the least restrictive environment possible.

See: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); Least Restrictive Environment

Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Originally passed in 1975, this legislation addresses how public agencies and the states provide special education, necessary resources and services to children with disabilities. IDEA guarantees free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for every student from birth to 18-21 years of age with disabilities, as well as the right to be educated with peers that aren't disabled (link to least restrictive environment).

See: Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Least Restrictive Environment

To the fullest extent appropriate, a student with a disability should be given the opportunity to be educated with children that are not disabled. Children with disabilities should only be separated from children without disabilities if supplementary attention and services in a regular classroom setting can't be implemented in a satisfactory manner. The least restrictive environment is a regulation under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).

See: Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)

Low Incidence Disability

Any condition with an incidence rate below one percent of all children enrolled in a state's school system from Kindergarten to grade 12. Some examples of low incidence disability include the hearing impaired, vision impaired, those with severe orthopedic impairments or a combination of all three. Autism is also an example of low incidence disability.


Any alterations of a task a student is asked to perform, or changes made around a classroom or home environment that benefits someone with autism. For example, instructional accommodations can be a useful modification for an autistic student. Rephrasing questions, reinforcement and repetition of instruction can be helpful modifications. Additionally, environmental modifications such as defined learning areas and visual boundaries can help limit distractions for someone with autism.

Occupational Therapy

A treatment designed to assist those with a disability like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that works to develop skills needed to live "independent and satisfying lives." The therapy itself can be anything from helping someone develop better writing skills to helping someone tie their shoe laces. Occupational therapists also work with individuals with autism to better develop social, emotional and physical skills necessary to live an independent life.

Oral Motor Therapy

A therapeutic treatment used to bolster the necessary oral motor skills required for chewing, swallowing, sound production and speech. There are many tools and techniques used to stimulate oral muscles, which can help with mouth muscle control and strength as well as improve tone of voice and articulation of words.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) - Also called Atypical Autism, PDD-NOS is diagnosed when a child shows some (but not all) signs of either Autistic Disorder or Asperger Syndrome but cannot be placed into either of these categories. For example, a person diagnosed with PDD-NOS might have challenges with social interaction but will not show repetitive or obsessive behaviors.


Literally translates to "one's own" perception. Proprioception is our awareness of positioning, location, orientation and movement of our own bodies. People with autism often have proprioception dysfunction, meaning they have trouble processing their body's sense of movement or position. Children with proprioception dysfunction, or sensory processing disorder typically use excessive force when shutting doors or putting things down, push or hit other children, stomp their feet when they walk, or slam themselves into walls. All of these are "sensory seeking" behaviors.

See: Sensory Integration/Sensory Processing

Resource Specialist

Specially trained teachers that work with children that have learning differences such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Also known as resource teachers, these professionals give small group or individualized instruction to students who have received an IEP (Individualized Education Program). Resource specialists typically provide special education students with assistance in a regular classroom setting or pull students from their regular class for additional assistance.

See: Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Section 504

As part of Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 eliminates discrimination against people with disabilities in any program receiving federal funding. Section 504 guarantees rights for people with disabilities, maintaining that no one with a disability can be turned away from participating in, receiving benefits from, or discriminated against by any federally funded program or activity. It guarantees full participation and a level playing field for individuals with disabilities. Section 504 also requires school districts to provide Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to students with physical or mental impairments like autism. Children who qualify under Section 504 have physical or mental impairments that "substantially limit one or more major life activity."

See: Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Sensory Integration / Sensory Processing

The neurological process with which people use sensory information from their bodies to understand their place within an environment. Sensory integration happens for most people without having to give conscious thought to the process. However, some people have trouble comprehending sensory information. Sensory integration disorder, also known as Sensory Processing Disorder, occurs when people are unable to understand perceptual and cognitive experiences through different sensations. People with SID typically have poor motor skills, over-respond or under-respond to sensation stimulation, or display a lack of attentiveness and disorganization.

See: Proprioception

Special Day Class (SDC)

A class designed to accommodate children with special needs, including those with autism. Special day classes are taught by trained special education teachers that focus on developing social skills and self-control. If a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) places them in a regular classroom, special day classes provide students with individualized assistance tailored to fulfill a student's academic potential.

See: Individualized Education Program (IEP)


The process of a teen with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) leaving school and transitioning into adulthood. Transition services are coordinated actions set by parents, students and other school personnel to make a student's post-education life as seamless as possible. Transition services are based on individual needs, and can include post-secondary education, vocational training, employment placing and community involvement. A transition plan is part of an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) for students with disabilities or learning differences. In most cases, transition planning begins four to six years (or longer in some cases) before a student is due to leave school.

See: Individualized Educational Program (IEP)


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