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  • Writer's pictureJo Richardson Au

Don't Fear the Acronyms

When you first start (and throughout as well, to be honest) the autistic journey to diagnosis, you quickly find yourself lost in a sea of acronyms and terms that professionals seem to expect you to instantly know and understand.

So I thought it would be beneficial to have a glossary of acronyms and terms that are commonly associated with autism to make it a little easier to navigate your way through.

Autism – A neurological difference that has characteristics under the umbrella terms of social and emotional communication, social interaction, repetitive behaviour and interests. These can be delayed speech, lack of imagination skills, slow processing speed, literal thinking, difficulty interpreting other’s body language or tone of voice, having special interests, difficulty making or maintaining eye contact, sensory processing difficulties, etc.

Aspergers Syndrome – This is a diagnosis that is no longer used and has been incorporated into the umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder/Condition. When it was a diagnosis, it would have been described very much like Autism except there would be no delayed speech and the level of IQ would be in the range of average to high. This has been commonly referred to as High Functioning Autism.

Classic Autism – This is a diagnosis that is no longer used and has been incorporated into the umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder/Condition. When it was a diagnosis, it would have been described as having a high level of impairments and having most or all of the characteristics that are commonly understood as being autistic. This has commonly been referred to as Low Functioning Autism.

High Functioning Autism – This is generally regarded as a harmful term. It is used to describe autistics that appear to have a low level of impairments and appear more neurotypical. This term is negatively viewed by autistics as it diminishes and belittles the struggles that the autistic may be experiencing.

Low Functioning Autism – This is generally regarded as a negative term. It is used to describe autistics that appear to have a high level of impairments. This term is negatively viewed by autistics as it suggests that the autistic is not capable of anything and can greatly reduce opportunities that they may well have been presented with, were they not viewed as being unable to function.

Co-Morbid – This is a term to mean conditions or disorders that are commonly occurring alongside autism. I.e. ADHD/ADD/GDD etc.

ABA – Applied Behavioural Analysis therapy – This is a therapy designed to improve social, communication and learning skills through positive reinforcement. It is widely rejected and abhorred by the autistic community as, in practice, it is very much like dog training, is training autistic kids to mask their true selves by pretending to be like NTs and can cause serious and life long mental health issues such as low self esteem, depression and PTSD.

ADD -Attention Deficit Disorder – This is a neurological disorder that is the same as

ADHD but without the hyperactivity. Characteristics include; having difficulty paying attention or remaining focused on a task, hyper focus on a task that you are interested in, disorganised, forgetful, frequently losing things, etc.

ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – This is a neurological disorder that is the same as ADD but with hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

APD – Auditory Processing Disorder - This is a neurological disorder that is often mistaken for a hearing problem. However the issue is not that you have an impaired hearing problem, but that there is a problem with the way your brain processes that information. Characteristics include; difficulties understanding speech, distinguishing between similar sounding words and being able to concentrate when there is any background noise.

ADOS Assessment – This stands for Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. This is a semi-structured assessment of communication, social interaction, and play (or imaginative use of materials) for autism or other pervasive development disorders. It is the most commonly used assessment for autism in children.

ARFID – Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder – This is an eating disorder that used to be known as Selective Eating Disorder. Characteristics are similar to that of anorexia, though the motivation behind the selective eating is different in that body image or calorie intake is not a factor with ARFID.

ASC – Autism Spectrum Condition – See Autism. This is the latest umbrella diagnosis in the DSM-5.

ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder – See Autism. This was the last umbrella diagnosis in the DSM-5.

BPD – Borderline Personality Disorder – This personality disorder’s characteristics include; unstable emotions, extreme fear of abandonment, unstable relationships, explosive anger and excessive mood swings, impulsive or destructive behaviour, etc. This is commonly misdiagnosed as ASC.

CAMHS – This stands for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. This is the term for the various departments that work with children who are having difficulties with their emotional or behavioural wellbeing.

CFS – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – This is quite a common co-morbid condition. Symptoms include; extreme tiredness and exhaustion that is not remedied with rest, loss of memory, poor concentration, muscular pain, etc. This used to be known as M.E.

C-PTSD – Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – This is very similar to PTSD but, in C-PTSD, the trauma has been continuous in an on-going situation that you have not been able to escape from. I.e. Childhood domestic abuse, sex slavery, prisoner of war, etc. On top of symptoms of PTSD, suffers also may experience a deep mistrust of others or the world, difficulty in regulating their emotions, experience fierce hostility towards others and the world, have feelings of complete isolation and that no one understands you, etc.

ED – Eating Disorder – This is an umbrella term for any disorder that involves eating. I.e. Anorexia, ARFID, Bulimia, etc.

EDS – Ehlers – Danlos Syndromes – This is the umbrella term for inherited conditions that affect your conductive tissue, such as Hypermobile EDS (hEDS), which is the most common EDS.

EHCP – Educational Health Care Plan – This is a plan that consists of information from reports written by each of those (specialists, therapists and parent/s) who support an autistic child. It lays out what your child’s educational needs are and gives instructions on how the educational provision (teachers, TAs, SENCO) can best support your child. It also includes targets for your child to reach with support from the educational team. This plan also states which school/education provision your child is in and how many hours of paid support your child is allocated and should receive whilst being educated in the setting. This money can go towards a 1:1, equipment to help support your child, etc.

GAD – Generalised Anxiety Disorder – This anxiety disorder is characterized as the patient suffering with persistent and extreme worrying about several different things all the time.

GDD – Global Development Delay – This is an umbrella diagnosis for those who are experiencing significant development delays in several different areas. This covers both cognitive and physical developments.

IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome – This is a syndrome where your intestines are painfully spasming; causing painful cramping, constipation, diarrhoea or both. This can be triggered by stress or by food intolerances. I.e. Sugar, lactose, wheat, etc.

ISP – Individual Support Plan – These are used in educational provisions as well as in social care and employment. These plans lay out short term and long terms targets for an individual to reach with support by, for example, the teacher or SENCO.

JHS – Joint Hypermobility Syndrome – This is a condition where your joints move much further than the normal expected range. Due to this, symptoms often include pain in the most commonly used joints; knees, elbows, hips, etc.

MDA – Multi-Disciplinary Assessment – This is quite a common diagnostic assessment used with autism in children. This is where specialists from each relevant field (paediatrician, speech and language therapist, child psychologist, development specialist) observe your child for a period of time and then each write a report before discussing your child’s case and formulating a diagnosis.

NAS – National Autistic Society – This is the main, and highly thought of, autistic charity in the UK. They have been able to affect laws and regulations around restraining in schools and social care as well as spearheading campaigns such as the Autistic Hour in shops (where shops are made far more accessible to autistics by reducing music volumes, having lowered lighting etc. for an hour) and Autism Awareness Month.

NPD – Narcissistic Personality Disorder – This is a personality disorder with characteristics that include; having an exaggerated sense of importance, a need to be the centre of attention or to be excessively adored by all those around them, a belief that they should be seen as superior to everyone else; even when their achievements do not warrant it, belittling those that they believe are inferior to themselves, manipulative and taking advantage of people, expecting their needs and wants to be met without hesitation, an inability to recognise the needs or feelings of others, gas lighting others, arrogant, etc. Autistics are, unfortunately, frequently targeted by narcissists as we are easier to manipulate and take people, and their words, at face value.

OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – This is a disorder that has four subtypes of characteristics; Washing and contamination. Order, counting, symmetry and neatness. Doubts about accidental harm. Unacceptable thoughts and mental rituals.

ODD – Oppositional Defiant Disorder – This disorder is defined as ‘an on-going pattern of uncooperative, defiant, and hostile behaviour toward authority figures that seriously interferes with the child's day to day functioning’

OT – Occupational Therapy – An occupational therapist works with the client to help them learn and develop skills needed for everyday activities. Also see SOT – Sensory Occupational Therapy.

PDA – Pathological Demand Avoidance – PDA is currently believed to be a profile on the autistic spectrum. It shares many characteristics of autism but also has characteristics that are the polar opposite of those seen in autistics. These characteristics include; appearing highly skilled in social communication but lacks the understanding, socially manipulative, very extreme demand avoidance of everyday activities such as brushing teeth, having an explosive temper, extreme anxiety borne of a need to be in control, etc.

PDD-NOS – Pervasive Development Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified – This disorder is diagnosed when many characteristics of pervasive development disorders are present (ASD, Aspergers, Retts Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder) but there are not enough or they are not to a severe enough level, to fit into one of the diagnoses.

PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – This is an anxiety disorder that can develop after witnessing traumatic events. Symptoms of PTSD include; nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia, feelings of isolation or guilt, etc.

SLD – Severe Learning Difficulties – To be classified as having SLD, you need to have very significant intellectual or cognitive difficulties.

SALT/SLT – Speech And Language Therapy – This therapy assesses the speech and language development of the client and then helps them to learn and develop these skills.

SEND – Special Educational Needs and Disability – This is just a descriptive term for children who have special educational needs or are disabled.

SOT – Sensory Occupational Therapy – This therapy assesses the client’s sensory sensitivities and helps the client to learn how to self-regulate their sensory needs. They can provide a sensory diet sheet which states which activities need to be done daily in order to fulfil their sensory requirements in order to reduce the chance of anxiety or overwhelm. Being able to self-regulate your sensory needs is such a vital skill that autistics need to have, in my opinion.

SPD – Sensory Processing Disorder – This was formally known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction. This is where the brain has difficulties in translating the signals that are being received by the brain from sensory input. This can manifest as having a sensitivity to certain sensory stimuli (i.e. noise) or seeking certain sensory stimuli (i.e. the impact on the soles of the feet from jumping on a trampoline). There are seven different sensory areas; touch, taste, smell, sight, sound, interoception, proprioception and vestibular. It is not unusual to have varying sensitivities to different sensory types.

I hope that this glossary of terms and acronyms helps in some way.

If there are any others that I have missed out, please let me know and I'll get them added on.

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