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Autism-Related Acronyms Parents Need to Know

Autism-Related Acronyms Parents Need to Know

Updated: June 27, 2023 · 5 Minute Read

Amy Gong

Reviewed by:

Amy Gong, Neurodiversity Advocate


  • Understanding autism can be overwhelming. There are a lot of new concepts, terms, and acronyms to learn.
  • To help you better understand autism and its complex space, here are the most important acronyms you need to know.


Augmentative and Alternative Communication: Any method of communicating that does not use speech. Speech signs, gestures, picture boards, electronic devices, non-electronic devices and other forms of communication may be used. These methods can help individuals who are unable to speak (or who need to supplement their speech) to communicate effectively.



Applied Behavior(al) Analysis: An evidence-based therapy that teaches communication skills, social skills, and skills for independence. This therapy can help reduce challenging and harmful behaviors such as self-injury. Review our guide to ABA therapy for more information.



Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills: A test for those with autism and other similar learning disabilities, designed to determine one’s current learning capabilities and one’s potential learning capabilities in regards to language. 



Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R): A common diagnostic tool used to screen for and diagnose children with autism. 



Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule: Another common assessment tool used for diagnosing autism in children. It’s an activity based assessment that evaluates your child’s communication skills, social interactions, and play skills.



Autism Society of America: A national nonprofit organization that promotes lifelong access and opportunities for those on the autism spectrum.



Autism Spectrum Disorders: An umbrella medical term used to describe a complex neurological and developmental condition. Autism often leads to a non-standard way of perceiving, processing, and interacting with the world. As a result, individuals with autism often express themselves by communicating and socially interacting differently than people without autism. Review the complete guide to autism for more information. 



Assistive Technology: Special items or equipment used to increase, maintain, or improve one’s functioning abilities. The term covers items such as computers, pencil holders, specialized switches, and calculators.



Board Certified Behavior Analyst: The graduate-level certification in behavior analysis. BCBAs are independent practitioners who provide behavior-analytic services. BCBAs may supervise the work of Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBA), Registered Behavior Technicians (see RBT), and other professionals who implement behavior-analytic interventions.



Behavioral Intervention Plan: A written plan to address challenging behaviors and to reach appropriate replacement skills. An effective BIP will include a definition of the behaviors, how to prevent the behaviors, and what to do when they occur. A BIP should help anyone understand how to reinforce positive behaviors and help set the child up for success.  A BIP may also be called a behavior management plan (BMP). A BIP is part of an IEP (See IEP).



Developmental Disability: A group of conditions classified by physical, learning, language, or behavior impairments that develop during a child’s developmental period and last throughout their lifetime. 



Evidence-Based Practice: The integration of clinical expertise or expert opinion, evidence, and client, patient, and caregiver perspectives. 



Early Intervention: A government-funded program designed to identify and treat developmental problems for children up to 3 years of age. 



Free Appropriate Public Education: FAPE is an individualized educational program that is designed to meet a child's unique educational needs. This education should prepare the child for further education, employment, and independent living. FAPE is required under IDEA (see IDEA). 



High Functioning Autism: HFA is not an actual clinical diagnosis and can be a problematic term. However, the term is still commonly used and refers to autistic people who have significantly developed language and independent living skills. Review our guide on how to talk about autism for more information.



The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: A federal law passed in 1997, IDEA provides free appropriate public education (see FAPE) for eligible children with disabilities. IDEA also guarantees special education and related services to those children. 



Individualized Education Plan: A written statement of a child’s current level of development (abilities and impairments) and a personalized plan that supports the child’s growth and development in school. An IEP includes: 

  • goals
  • specific services to be received
  • people who will carry out the services
  • standards and timelines for evaluating progress
  • the amount and degree to which a child will participate with other peers at school

The IEP is developed by the child’s parents and professionals who have evaluated the child. It is required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (see IDEA) for all children in special education, ages 3 and up.



Individualized Family Service Plan: A document created between the parent(s) of a child with special needs and early intervention professionals to outline goals for a child's development. The IFSP should include the criteria, procedures, and timelines used to evaluate progress and the specific early intervention services needed to meet those goals. Details include:

  • frequency of services
  • intensity and method of delivering services
  • the projected date of initiating services
  • the anticipated duration of services

IFSP applies to children up to 3 years of age.



Natural Environment Teaching: A type of ABA therapy where skills are taught in natural environments like at home, school, or out in the community.



Neurotypical: This describes the most common type of brain found in society. Neurotypical people have behaviors and processing that is considered typical. People with autism or other developmental conditions are considered neurodivergent. The concept of neurodiversity celebrates the vast human experience and different neurological profiles.



Occupational Therapy: A type of therapeutic treatment aimed at helping an injured, ill, or disabled individual to develop and improve self-help skills and adaptive behavior and play. Interventions may focus on sensory issues, coordination of movement, balance, and self-help skills such as dressing, eating with a fork and spoon, and/or grooming, and issues pertaining to visual perception and hand-eye coordination.



Picture Exchange Communication System: A method used for communication using pictures and symbols.



Physical Therapy: A therapeutic treatment designed to prevent or alleviate movement dysfunction. PT programs will be tailored to the individual and their specific goals. Program goals may be to develop muscle strength, range of motion, coordination or endurance, to alleviate pain, or to attain new motor skills. Therapeutic exercise may include both passive and active exercise. 



Registered Behavior Technician: A designation for professionals, created by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, who carry out treatment plans designed by autism therapists. An RBT will have a high school degree and specific training in ABA. They are supervised by a BCBA or BCaBA.



Self-Injurious Behavior: Behaviors that are harmful to oneself, such as head-banging, scratching, or biting oneself.



Speech-Language Pathologists: Also known as speech therapists, these communication experts work with people of all ages and treat many types of communication and swallowing problems.


Learning about autism is like learning a new language. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or for clarification from your doctor or other professionals and community members.

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