working definitions

When I first started reading about Asperger’s syndrome, I was puzzled by words like neurotypical and stimming. Now that I find myself using these and other autism-specific words on a regular basis, I figured it might be helpful to create a list of simple definitions for readers new to the language of the spectrum.

Allistic: This refers to someone who is not autistic.

Asperger’s Syndrome (AS): Asperger’s syndrome is an autism spectrum condition characterized by deficits in social interaction together with behaviors, activities or interests that are repetitive or restricted. AS is generally differentiated from classical autism by the lack of a delay in language development. People diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome are autistic and I refer to myself as autistic, aspie or having Asperger’s interchangeably. Sometimes AS is referred to as Asperger’s disorder (AD) or high functioning autism (HFA). “High functioning” is a problematic term and one that I only use in my writing if I am referencing a study that uses the term as an identifier for a treatment group.

Aspie: An aspie is a person with Asperger’s.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): The official diagnosis for autism in the DSM-5. Previously, in the DSM-IV, there were a number of conditions included in the ASD category including: autism, Asperger’s syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), Rett’s disorder and childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD).

Central Coherence: This refers to a person’s ability to extract meaning or see “the big picture” in an information processing task.  People with weak central coherence tend to focus on the details at the expense of the big picture (think of an essay that is grammatically perfect but has poor organization). People with strong central coherence tend to see the overall meaning while sacrificing details (the essay is well organized but riddled with typos and grammar errors).

Echolalia: Echolalia is a fancy word for the repetition of spoken words.  For typical toddlers, it’s a transition period in language development. For autistic people who don’t have functional language skills, it’s a means of communication. There are two types of echolalia: immediate and delayed. Read more about echolalia.

Executive Function: Executive function is a catch-all term that includes our higher cognitive functions such as planning, working memory, attention, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibition, mental flexibility, multi-tasking, and initiation and monitoring of physical actions. Impaired executive function is a characteristic of AS and one that many people continue to struggle with throughout adulthood.

Neurotypical (NT): A mash-up of the words neurologically typical, neurotypical is often used as shorthand for people who are not on the spectrum, though nonautistic people can be neuro-atypical as well. A more correct term for nonautistic people is allistic. Read more: What is Neurotypical

Perseverative:  This is a fancy word for repetitive. It’s used to described the repetitive actions, thoughts or speech of people with ASD. It can also refer to the tendency of people with Asperger’s to continue doing something the same way even though the task at hand has changed.  You may also see perseveration (noun form) or perseverate (verb form).

Stimming: Short for “self-stimulation” stimming refers to repetitive movements like rocking or hand waving. The technical term for these repetitive movements, which is used in the formal diagnostic criteria is stereotypic movement. Read more: The High Cost of Self-Censoring (or why stimming is a good thing)

13 thoughts on “working definitions”

    1. I’m so glad you commented here, because it gave me the kick in the butt I needed to revise this page. I wrote it when I first started blogging and my understanding of autism has changed greatly since then. I’ve also been on a quest to embrace the word stimming and no longer dislike it. It’s not one of my favorite words, but I’ve begun using it regularly and am growing accustomed to it. So, I’ve revised all of the definitions to fit my current (and hopefully improved) understanding and added “allistic” to the list.

  1. Musings,

    Do you mind if I borrow some of this for my own definitions page? I will definitely credit you any definitions I use, of course.

    😉 tagAught

  2. My husband and I have coined the word “speckled”, as in On the Autism SPECtrum, to refer to someone who clearly shows traits of high-functioning autism without having full-blown classic symptoms. Being a visual person, I always visualize little specks of rainbow- like in the Skittles commercials- raining down on someone and interfering ever so slightly with their daily function/communication. Who could carry on a completely smooth conversation if someone was flicking tiny little candy Skittles into your eye or onto your head while you were trying to converse?

  3. Ps, my 19 year old son, who has ADD and possibly Aspergers, has taken it further and will say of someone (me) who is having an Aspergers related meltdown or just showing more extreme symptoms, that they are “Riding the rainbow!” Hahaha!
    I think it’s important to have a sense of humor in these matters.

    1. I like your Skittles visual – great metaphor for the sensory issues while incorporating the whole spectrum idea. Your son’s “riding the rainbow” is a nice code phrase too. Sounds like your house is very “colorful.”

  4. I followed an EF Pinterest repin to your WONDERFUL site! Thanks for all your work (and for your generosity).

    I love the way in which you present your info, as well as your writing style. I’m now following and will linking a great many of my articles to your “related content,” so watch for pings.

    I’m also adding your blog to my ADDCoach/Blogs and Bloggers Pinterest Board, with my strong recommendation.

    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

  5. Thank you for this site!!!!!!! I’m the lone NT in a family of four ( ASH and two ASDaughters), and your lessons from marriage hit the nail on the head!!!
    I am in love with my husband and his brain, but sometimes, try as hard as I might, I just don’t understand him! We have been together for 24 years and married for 15. Counseling and Gary Chapmans The love languages book ( paraphrasing title), have been amazing for us!

  6. Over time, I have tried to overcome a preponderance towards pedantry, unsuccessfully.I am a stickler for detail and accuracy, so much so that my electronic projects take far too long to come to fruition. Getting it right first time without errors or possibility of improvement wthin the scope of the project is an all-consuming passion. Ditto with programming which is exclusively assembly-language (cutting out unnecessary machine cycles and instructions is also a passion).
    I cannot multi-task; the worst that can happen for me is an interruption in what I am doing and interruptions are far too frequent trying to enjoy my hobby at home. I can sum the multitasking problem thus: the moment I start thinking, sounds go in one ear and out the other without being registered. I simply cannot absorb aural information while my mind is wandering. This can make it hard to put inormation in context. I have to listen first and think later. I have never understood how people can multitask.

  7. Neurotypical isn’t a mash-up word, it’s called an amalgamation. Correct me if I’m wrong, anyone. Or tell me if you noticed too.

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one woman's thoughts about life on the spectrum

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