20 Words to Know When Discussing Autism [Vocab]

At We Rock the Spectrum, we serve families from all walks of life. Some are very familiar with the autism community and the language to discuss it, while others are new to it all, and learning. Either way, everyone has to start somewhere, and sharing helpful information about autism spectrum disorder is one of the best ways to spread understanding and awareness. We are the indoor play gym for autism and aim to have autism-friendly kids gyms all around the world.

That’s why we’ve put together our own list of important terms that help to understand autism and many of the medical and therapeutic terms associated with it.

Here’s our list of the 20 must-know words about Autism Spectrum Disorder:


This is the repeating of sounds, words, or phrases. People who “echo” may not always be able to communicate effectively or express their own thoughts, but they parrot back what they have heard. If asked a question, they might repeat the question, and not answer the question.


The repetition of words, phrases, intonation, or sounds of the speech of others, sometimes taken from movies, but also sometimes taken from other sources such as favorite books or something someone else has said. Echolalia is sometimes referred to as scripting.


Repeating or persisting with an action or behavior after the stimulus that prompted it has ceased. To perseverate is to become stuck on something and to not be able to mentally shift gears.

Applied Behavioral 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.

504 Plan

A plan that ensures a student with any disability, physical or mental, will receive accommodations that will help him or her to achieve academic success.

Individualized education program (I.E.P.)

A plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability will receive specialized instruction and related services so he or she may be educated effectively.


A change from one environment or activity to another. Transitions can be hard for a person with autism. It sometimes helps if warnings are given before a transition.


Often mistaken as temper tantrums, meltdowns are common with people who have autism and are typically not anger-infused. Instead, it is the body’s way of reacting to a confusing or over-stimulating situation. Meltdowns can be loud or they can be very quiet.

Stimulatory behavior (Stimming)

Repetitive behavior, such as the spinning of objects, vocal echoes, or other repetitive actions, that people with autism commonly partake in to alleviate the stressors of overstimulation.

Visual schedule

A visual schedule tells a person what to expect next and in what order. People with autism often benefit by knowing what is next as it may be harder for them to transition from one activity to another.


To leave without permission or without letting others know where you are going, and without processing the dangers/risks involved in leaving. Elopement is a great concern in the autism community.


To have detailed knowledge in a specialized field. A small percentage of people with autism are savants. Savants may have many different skills not specific to one field.

Splinter skill

A skill that is stronger than other skills a person has. A person with autism might be able to do one or more things really well but have far less ability in other areas.

Sensory processing disorder (SPD)

A neurological condition that exists when sensory signals are not adequately processed in order to appropriately respond to the demands of the environment. For example, many people with sensory processing disorder are highly sensitive to fabrics and certain food textures.

Vestibular system

Our vestibular system (or sensory system) gives us a awareness of balance and spatial orientation so we can coordinate our movements. People with autism have a harder time managing their movements, such as their walk and gait.


The simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient. Many things are often comorbid with autism, including epilepsy and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Joint attention

A social-communicative skill that’s developed early and includes pointing, sharing interests and following the eye gaze of others. Most children like to say, “Watch me” to others as they play. They point things out in their environment so they are sure others are seeing what they see. Children with autism often participate in little or no joint attention.


The rhythm and melody of spoken language. Prosody is shown in the rate, pitch, stress, inflection, and intonation used in our speech. People with autism have a harder time with intonation, and can often be more monotone or speak in a singing voice.

Discrete trial

A structured way of teaching in simple steps. A task is broken down and taught in steps and then built back up to the entire task. Discrete trial is used in ABA therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

A type of psychotherapy in which negative patterns of thought about the self and the world are challenged in order to alter unwanted behavior patterns or treat mood disorders such as depression. People with autism struggle with anxiety and depression alike. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to help reduce these feelings and behaviors associated with them by working to adjust thoughts and perceptions.

With this new knowledge, you’ll be better prepared to help the people in your life who have autism, or a relative with autism. As you may well know from helping a child with autism navigate the world, knowing the words for something you’re experiencing can make a huge difference.

At We Rock the Spectrum, our gym owners create a playground space that speaks the language of autism – but we also speak the language of fun!

Want to be a resource for people with autism and families with autistic children in your community? Contact us about opening your own We Rock the Spectrum franchise.