20 Autism Words You Need to Know

The world of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) encompasses a large list of diagnosis-specific vocabulary. Often this jargon can be confusing to those who may not know much about ASD. Understanding these words might help you better comprehend how this condition impacts loved ones on the spectrum and provide insight into their unique needs.

  1. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy – applying the principles used for learning and motivation toward social situations or problems of social significance. Therapists use ABA Therapy to teach communication, play, social, academic, and self-care skills to those with autism.
  2. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – a developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior.
  3. Compliance – the ability of a person with autism to complete a request given to them within a certain period of time.
  4. Echolalia – when a person with autism repeats what is being said to them because they may not be sure how to respond.
  5. Eloping – when a person with a cognitive or intellectual disability leaves an area of safety, such as a home or classroom, without telling anyone.
  6. Expressive Language – the ability to form sounds into words and words into sentences.
  7. Interoceptive Awareness – the ability to recognize the inner signals of the body (such as hunger, thirst or pain) and be able to answer the question, “how do I feel?” at any given moment.
  8. Meltdown – a severe reaction a person with autism may have from feeling overwhelmed.
  9. Nonverbal Communication Skills – the ability to use gestures, body language, facial expressions, and eye contact to express yourself and to be able to interpret these nonverbal cues in others.
  10. Receptive Language – the ability to comprehend the words and phrases spoken by others.
  11. Reinforcer – something that a person is willing to work for, reinforcers can be tangible such as a treat or toy or intangible such as praise. Reinforcers can be very helpful in increasing compliance in children with autism.
  12. Repetitive Behaviors – when a person with autism repeats a behavior over and over such as hand flapping, toe walking, or rocking.
  13. Restricted Behaviors/Interests – when a person with autism is insistent on doing the same things the same way or is obsessed with certain objects or topics.
  14. Scriptingrepeating memorized words, phrases or scenes from movies, tv shows, books or things other people have said. Often this occurs in emerging talkers or when people with autism don’t know how to respond in conversation.
  15. Sensory Processingthe way a person reacts to sensory input such as temperature, taste, texture or sound.
  16. Social Interaction – how people interact with each other, often people with autism don’t behave or interact the way other people expect them to.
  17. Stimming – when a person with autism engages in repetitive behaviors for self-stimulation or self-regulation.
  18. Transition – moving from one activity or environment to another. Transitions can be difficult for people with autism especially if moving from a preferred activity to a non-preferred activity.
  19. Verbal Communication Skills – the ability to use sounds and words to express yourself and to be able to interpret the use of sounds and words spoken by others through conversations.
  20. Vestibular System – the sensory system responsible for our sense of balance, movement and coordination. People with autism can have poor vestibular system function which may impact their balance and coordination.

Are there any other autism words you use that aren’t listed? Please share them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list!

Words do two things: they provide food for the mind and create light for understanding and awareness. – Jim Rohn

Published by

Amy Nielsen

Amy Nielsen is a former children's librarian of nearly twenty years. She now spends most of her time obsessively pounding on a keyboard. She is the author of It Takes a Village: How to Build a Support System for Your Exceptional Needs Family, Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her upcoming YA Worth it debuts in May of 2024. She is also a freelance writer for The Autism Helper. When she's not writing, she and her family are most likely crusing the waters of Tampa Bay.