menu toggle icon
Find Care:
Speech Therapy
Occupational Therapy
Physical Therapy
Read Expert Guides
The Autism Acronym Dictionary

The Autism Acronym Dictionary

Updated: August 29, 2023 · 30 Minute Read

Amy Gong

Reviewed by:

Amy Gong, Neurodiversity Advocate


  • The world of autism has its own vocabulary.
  • The first thing you might notice while learning about autism spectrum disorders is that there are a lot of terms and acronyms you’ve never heard of.
  • To help make your autism journey easier, we’ve compiled a list of the most common autism acronyms to keep handy.



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.



Adult Autism Waiver: A Medicaid waiver designed to provide long-term services and support for community living. The AAW is tailored to the specific needs of adults age 21 or older with an autism diagnosis.



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 the ultimate guide to ABA therapy for more information. 


ABC Data

Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence: A way to gather information related to behavior. The event, action, or circumstance that occurs immediately before a behavior (antecedent), the behavior itself (behavior), and the response that immediately follows the behavior (consequence). 



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. 



Americans with Disabilities Act: The federal civil rights law protecting individuals with disabilities. The ADA was enacted in 1990.


ADHD (also known as ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A group of symptoms believed to be caused by slight abnormalities in the brain. These symptoms include difficulty with listening to and following directions, impulsivity, distractibility, clumsiness, and hyperactivity. ADHD occurs in as many as three percent of children, with onset prior to 4 years of age in about 50 percent of cases.



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.



Auditory Integration Therapy: A type of sound therapy that aims to reduce a person’s sensitivity to sounds. AIT is also used to help with problems with how sounds are processed. 



Auditory Processing Disorder: A disorder where the brain has difficulty understanding speech and sound. A person with APD will struggle to hear subtle sound differences in words. APD may also be referred to as a central auditory processing disorder. 



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. 



American Sign Language: The predominant language of Deaf communities in the United States.



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.



Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist: An assessment tool used to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments on autistic symptoms. 



Burks Behavior Rating Scales: An assessment used to evaluate problem behaviors in school-aged children, grades Pre K - 12. 



Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst: Also known as behavior specialists, BCBAs have an undergraduate-level certification in behavior analysis. BCaBAs provide behavior-analytic services under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (see BCBA below). Professionals certified at the BCaBA level may not provide behavior-analytic services without the supervision of a BCBA. However, BCaBAs may supervise the work of Registered Behavior Technicians (see RBT).



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 (see BCaBAs), Registered Behavior Technicians (see RBT), and other professionals who implement behavior-analytic interventions.



Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctorate: A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (see BCBA) who received their Ph-D. 



Behavioral Health Center of Excellence: A certification and a distinction among ABA providers that demonstrates an organization’s commitment to quality and continuous improvement in applied behavior analysis. 



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. A BIP is part of an IEP (See IEP).



Behavioral Management Plan - See BIP



Behavior Specialist Consultant: A Behavior Specialist Consultant works in school and community settings. They can help with assessing challenging behaviors and developing plans to reduce behaviors while teaching new skills. Some BSCs hold a master's degree in psychology or social work, and some do not. A BSC is not the same as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). 



Central Auditory Processing Disorder - See APD



Center for Autism and Related Disabilities: The world’s largest autism treatment provider.



Childhood Autism Rating Scale: A screening tool used to distinguish between mid to moderate and severe ASD (see ASD) in children 2 years of age and older.  



Council of Autism Service Providers: A non-profit association of for-profit and not-for-profit agencies serving individuals with autism spectrum disorders.



Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A common, evidence-based form of talk therapy that focuses on the interaction between how we think, how we feel, and how we act. 



Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (Heller’s Syndrome): A condition in which a child will develop typically up until the age of 3-4 yrs and then over a few months will begin to lose language, motor, social, and other skills that they already learned.



Council for Exceptional Children: The largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the success of children and youth with disabilities and/or gifts and talents.



Central Nervous System: The structure that consists of the brain, the spinal cord, and related systems that control all aspects of learning, thinking, and movement.



Checklist for Autism in Toddlers: A screening tool used to detect early signs of  autism. It is commonly recommended that CHAT be used to examine a child during their 18-month developmental check-up. CHAT looks at early communication and social developmental milestones in a child. 



Cerebral Palsy: A group of disorders that affect a person's ability to move and maintain balance and posture. 



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. 



Department of Education: A federal agency that establishes policy for administrators and coordinates most federal assistance to education.



Department of Human Services: A department in the state government that houses services for developmental disabilities.



Diphtheria, Pertussis, and Tetanus Vaccine: An immunization against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus that is usually given to infants and young children.



Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: A handbook widely used by healthcare professionals in the United States, and much of the world, as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association.



Discrete Trial Training: A method for teaching desired behaviors, skills, or tasks. The skill, task, or behavior being taught is broken down into small, discrete steps that are taught in a highly structured and hierarchical manner. The therapist or caregiver systematically rewards or reinforces desired responses and ignores, redirects, or discourages inappropriate responses. Data on all learning is recorded regularly and the therapist adjusts the teaching program as needed.



Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: Also called emotional disturbance or emotionally challenged, EBD is an umbrella term under which several distinct diagnoses (such as Anxiety Disorder, Manic-Depressive Disorder, Oppositional-Defiant Disorder, and more) fall.



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



Electroencephalogram: A test that uses electrodes to record brain waves. EEGs are used to identify seizures.



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


Extended School Year: Special education and related services provided beyond the normal school year in accordance with the child’s IEP (See IEP). This special education is provided at no cost to the parents.



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). 



Functional Behavior Assessment: An assessment that identifies challenging behaviors, hypothesizes their function, and guides the development of a treatment plan.



Food and Drug Administration: The federal agency responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, the nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.



Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act: A 1974 federal law addressing the privacy of students’ educational records.




High Functioning Autism: HFA is not an actual clinical diagnosis and can be a problematic term. However, when used, HFA 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. 



Independent Educational Evaluation: An evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the public agency responsible for the education of the child in question. 



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. 





Local Education Agency: A public board of education or other public authority within a state that maintains administrative control of public elementary or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district, or other political subdivision of a state. School districts and county offices of education are both examples of an LEA.



Least Restrictive Environment: The educational setting that permits a child with disabilities to derive the most educational benefit while also participating in a regular educational environment to the maximum extent appropriate. LRE is a requirement under IDEA (See IDEA). 



Mean Length of Utterance: MLU is used to measure the linguistic productivity in children. MLU measures the average number of morphemes per utterance. Morphemes are the smallest units of meaning in a language. Morphemes can be both words such as “place” or “I”, or a part of a word such as “un” or “ing.” For example, “unbreakable” consists of three morphemes - “un” “break” and “able.”



Magnetic Resonance Imaging: A diagnostic tool which creates internal images of selected parts of the body. Rather than sending X-rays through the body, like an x-ray machine, MRI’s build their image data by testing the magnetism of the body tissue.



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



National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities: A national information and referral center that provides information on disabilities and disability-related issues for families, educators, and other professionals.



National Institutes of Health: The primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and public health research. It was founded in the late 1880s and is now part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.



National Institutes for Mental Health: The lead federal agency for research on mental disorders.



Neurotypical: The most common type of brain. 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.



Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.



Oppositional Defiant Disorder: A type of behavior disorder commonly diagnosed in childhood. Children with ODD are uncooperative, defiant, and hostile toward peers, parents, teachers, and other authority figures.



Office of Special Education: Part of the Department of Education (see DOE), OSEP is dedicated to improving results for infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities, ages birth through 21, by providing leadership and financial support to assist states and local districts.



Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services: A program within the Department of Education (see DOE). OSERS supports programs that serve children, youth, and adults with disabilities.



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.



Pervasive Developmental Disorders: An old diagnostic category in the fourth edition of the DSM-IV-TR, (see DSM) that now falls under ASD (see ASD).



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 (see ABA). They are supervised by a BCBA or BCaBA (see BCBA and BCaBA).



Significant Developmental Delay: SDD refers to a delay in a child’s development in adaptive behavior, cognition, communication, motor development, or emotional development to the extent that, if not provided with special intervention, the delay may adversely affect a child’s educational performance in age-appropriate activities. The term does not apply to children who are experiencing a slight or temporary lag in one or more areas of development or a delay which is primarily due to environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage or lack of experience in age-appropriate activities.



Sensory Integration: A form of occupational therapy that supports a person’s ability to regulate response to sensory input.



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



Specific Learning Disability: SLD is a disorder affecting one or more of the basic processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written. SLD may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or perform mathematical calculations. Dyslexia, executive function disorder, perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, and developmental aphasia are all examples of SLDs. 



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.



Supplemental Security Income: A federal program that provides monthly payments to disabled adults and children who have low income and resources. SSI is also available to eligible seniors, age 65 and older. 



Traumatic Brain Injury: An injury that affects how the brain works. 



Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication handicapped CHildren: TEACCH is an evidence-based academic program that is based on the idea that autistic individuals are visual learners. TEACCH utilizes methods that include physical structure, schedules, individual work systems, visual structure, and routines. Developed in the 1960s, TEACCH is a clinical, training, and research program based at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. It became a statewide program in 1972 and is now a model for programs around the world.  




Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program: Another tool to diagnose autism in children younger than 2 years old





Dive Deeper