Autism Terms & Abbreviations

Autism-Related Terms & Abbreviations 

“It is important to recognise that the diagnostic criteria are still a work in progress.”

Tony Attwood

We agree, it’s VERY important! There are so many different terms and abbreviations related to autism that to list them all here would be confusing, and more than a little daunting too.
If you’re unfamiliar with autism, you’ll have plenty of new information to process without worrying about what all the different terms mean, so to save you having to do hours of research, here are a few of the most common phrases you’re likely to come across when you’re dealing with the condition. It’s also hugely important to remember that people with autism are just that – PEOPLE with autism – and not strings of letters and diagnostic terms that make them behave in set ways, whatever people would have you believe. Who a person is will determine how they deal with the inevitable issues that autism brings. Everyone is unique in how they handle their symptoms, which is why the saying goes: ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism!’


The term used to cover all forms of autism, from classical autism to autistic tendencies.


The term used to describe a collection of conditions closely related to autism, including dyslexia, dyspraxia (DCD), Tourette’s syndrome and attention deficit disorders.


The term used to describe the areas autistic people find difficult to process: social interaction, social communication and social imagination, which can lead to repetitive behaviour patterns.


ABA – Applied Behaviour Analysis / Applied Behavioural Analysis

ABC – Autism Behaviour Checklist

ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder (short or erratic attention span without hyperactivity)

ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (short or erratic attention span with hyperactivity)

ADOS – Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule

APD – Auditory Processing Disorder (difficulty in recognising and interpreting sounds, especially those involved in speech)

AS – Asperger’s Syndrome (very similar condition to autism but usually without any language delay)

ASC – Autism Spectrum Condition (another term for Autistic Spectrum Disorder)

ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder (anything from classical autism to autistic tendencies)

CA – Classical Autism (autism which fits all of the diagnostic criteria)

CAMHS – Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service

CDD – Childhood Disintegrative Disorder a.k.a. Heller’s Syndrome (loss of previously learned communication, co-ordination and social skills)

COIN – Specialist centres for communication and interaction needs

DLA – Disability Living Allowance

DSM-V – Diagnostic Statistical Manual (edition V) the current version of this publication (lists the diagnostic criteria for all mental health disorders)

Dyslexia  – Specific difficulty with reading and organisational skills

Dyscalculia  – Specific difficulty with numbers, time and spatial reasoning

Dyspraxia a.k.a. Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD) or Motor Coordination Disorder (specific difficulty with co-ordination of movements and spacial awareness)

EHCP – Education and Health Care Plan

EP – Educational Psychologist

GFCF – Gluten Free / Casein Free (specific dietary requirement associated with a number of autistic people’s digestive systems)

HFA – High Functioning Autism (autism occurring with an IQ of 70 or over)

HD – Hyperkinetic Disorder – hyperactivity without a poor or erratic attention span – (another term for ADHD)

LFA – Low Functioning Autism (autism occurring with an IQ of 70 or below)

NOS – Not Otherwise Specified (usually seen in PDD-NOS)

NT– Neurologically Typical / Neuro Typical (no diagnosable neurological disorder a.k.a. ‘normal people!’)

NVLD – Non-verbal learning disorder (very similar to Asperger’s but less severe)

OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (feelings of high anxiety that are relieved by repetitive behaviours)

ODD – Oppositional Defiant Disorder (disobedient, hostile and aggressive behaviour towards authority figures)

OT – Occupational Therapist / Occupational Therapy (enables people to engage in appropriate everyday activities, improving their quality of life)

PDA – Pathological Demand Avoidance (avoidance of everyday tasks and manipulative, socially inappropriate, sometimes aggressive behaviour)

PDD Pervasive Developmental Disorder (a delay in social, communication and motor skills which does not meet the criteria for autism)

PDD -NOS – Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified a.k.a. Atypical Autism (almost classic autism or Asperger’s but with some diagnostic criteria missing)

RHLD – Right Hemisphere Learning Disorder (same as NVLD – non-verbal learning disorder)

SPD – Sensory Processing Disorder (difficulties taking in and responding to sensory information) Also known as Proprioceptive Dysfunction

SPD – Semantic Pragmatic Disorder (difficulty understanding the meaning of langauge with little ability to use it appropriately in social situations)

SIB – Self-Injurious Behaviour

TEACCH – Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children

TS – Tourette’s Syndrome (sudden involuntary movements or ‘tics’ with vocal noises or inappropriate sounds which cannot be controlled)

TOM – Theory of Mind (the ability to understand that others have thoughts, feelings and desires that are different from your own)

Physical conditions that can be associated with autism and you might also hear mentioned include:

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Tuberous Sclerosis

Fragile X

Rett Syndrome