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)