Learning Disability Autism - Glossary - Top Image

ADHD/ ADD/ Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder are conditions that someone can have alongside autism. People who have ADHD might be more hyperactive or struggle with attention than people who don’t have ADHD.

Alternative and augmented communication (AAC)

This is an umbrella term which covers the different communication methods that may be used by people to communicate or aid communication. These can range from picture cards, symbols and gestures to computer software.


Anxiety is a condition which means you worry more than normal about things. Anxiety can be mild or very difficult to live with and can change dependent on the situation and support available. There are many causes for anxiety and different ways it can present and it doesn’t always make sense to the non-anxious person.

Ask, Listen and Do

This is a strategy you can use to ask for feedback, listen to what the person is saying and do what they say. For autistic people and those with learning disabilities this structure can help them to voice their opinions.

Auditory Processing Disorder

This is a condition where the person has difficulty processing sound as you would expect.
They might understand speech more slowly, struggle to distinguish similar spoken words, be unable to concentrate when there is lots of noise and might hear music differently.

Autism and Asperger’s

Autistic people process the world around them differently to non-autistic people.
Someone who is autistic or has a diagnosis of autism/ Asperger’s is different in four areas. These are social interaction, social communication, routines and repetition (social imagination) and sensory issues.

Behaviour that challenges

When an autistic person is distressed their behaviour indicates their distress. The behaviour of those around them can be challenging for the autistic person and the autistic person’s behaviour can be challenging for those around them.


When an autistic person over-stretches themselves by doing too many tasks, too much socialising or making their brain work too hard they can burnout. Burnout is similar to when you are ill, tired and need a rest but are unable to do so.
The autistic person might not act like themselves because they aren’t able to think as clearly as they did before a burnout started.

Developmental disorder

This is a type of disorder that interrupts what is medically classed as normal or typica development in childhood. A developmental disorder may affect a single area of development (specific developmental disorder) or several (pervasive developmental disorder or global developmental disorder).


Autistic people can choose whether to tell other people that they are autistic and what that means for them. Some people choose not to disclose, and others choose whether to disclose depending on the situation they are in.


This condition means the individual has a difficulty with reading and processing written information.


This is repetition of another person's spoken words or repeating of the same word over and over. It can help someone to process the information that they have been given.


Empathy is our feeling and our understanding of other people’s feelings.

Cognitive Empathy
This is understanding another person’s perspective. Autistic people may struggle to empathise with non-autistic people in this way. Non-autistic people may struggle to understand an autistic person’s perspective in a similar way.
Emotional Empathy
This is where we understand another person’s perspective and respond in an emotional way. Some people become sympathetic and show compassion when another person is distressed, other people show empathy by becoming distressed themselves.


Epilepsy is a common condition that affects the brain and causes frequent seizures. The main symptom of epilepsy is repeated seizures. These are sudden bursts of electrical activity in the brain that temporarily affect how it works.

Executive function

This is our ability to manage multiple tasks and responsibilities at once. Autistic people might struggle with one or more of the areas of executive function.

Working memory

This is the thinking skill of holding information in your mind and being able to apply it to the situation you are in.

Cognitive flexibility

This is the ability to think flexibly or have multiple approaches to the same problem. Autistic people may struggle with this due to liking routine and plans that do not change.


This aspect of executive function means controlling your actions and keeping track of what you are doing and how they relate to your goals.

Learning difficulty

Unlike a learning disability, a learning difficulty does not affect intellect. Examples of learning difficulties are: dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyslexia, dyspraxia and language and social communication disorders.

Learning disability

A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which may result in difficulty with everyday activities or taking longer to develop new skills. Learning disabilities are lifelong and can be mild, moderate or severe. With the right support people with learning disabilities can lead independent lives.
Some people can be autistic, have a learning disability or both.


Makaton is a language programme using signs and symbols to help people to communicate. It is designed to support spoken language and the signs and symbols are used with speech, in spoken word order.


Masking or camouflaging is when an autistic person acts to appear less autistic or not autistic at all. They may change how they look, how they talk and their behaviours. Too much masking can lead to a burnout.


A meltdown is a response to an overwhelming situation. The response can be very loud and sometimes physical. The person needs time to recover and should not be laughed at for having a meltdown.


Neurodiversity is the idea that the way we think is not always the same. Instead, this it recognizes that all variations of human neurology should be respected as just another way of being, and that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of natural variations in our genes.


This is someone who is not autistic.


Some autistic people might have very strict routines that they like to stick to. Their routine is predictable and helps them to manage anxiety.

Sensory aversive

This is the term given to a group of behaviours in which someone seeks to reduce sensory input. They individual may avoid sensory inputs and environments they find overwhelming, they can be hyper-sensitive to some sensory inputs which may cause them physical pain, discomfort or impede their processing.

Sensory processing and sensitivity

Sensory processing is how we take in and perceives sensory information. This may include hyper (high) or hypo (low) sensitivity to the 5 senses, as well as balance and body awareness.

Sensory seeking

This is the term given to a group of behaviours in which someone seeks out sensory input. They may specifically seek loud noises, highly visual displays, textures, strong tasting foods, strong smells, physical/ tactile pressure or any of their personal sensory preference. This is viewed as the opposite of sensory aversive behaviours.


Shutdowns are similar to meltdowns but are not as visible or loud. A person may withdraw instead of being their usual self.

Special interest

This is an intense and passionate level of focus on things of interest on a specific subject. For some people this can be a game or TV show, a type of animal, a type of machine or a country. Special interests are varied and bring the person joy.

Social Communication

This is the way we communicate, understand and use language with others. Autistic people might show differences in understanding and expressing communication and language.

Social Interaction

This is how we interact with other people, develop relationships and socialise with other people. Autistic people may be differ in the ability to understand social behaviour and the feelings of others, which informs the development of friendships and relationships.

Social Stories™ by Carol Gray

A Social Story™ describes a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format. The goal of a Social Story™ is to share accurate social information in a patient and reassuring manner that is easily understood by its audience.


Stimming is short for ‘self-stimulatory’ behaviour. Stimming can be a repetitive movement, repeating words, hand movements and making noises. Some stims are barely noticeable and some are very visible. Stimming behaviours are a way of self-regulating and shouldn’t be stopped or reduced as they are an autistic person’s way of managing a situation.

Visual supports or stories

The presentation of information in a visually structured manner to make it easier to understand.

Last updated20 Jun 2023
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