The Confusing World of Autism Acronyms

I found this on the web and thought it would be beneficial to post as a reference (for my readers and myself!) Sometimes it feels like I am speaking another language.
Carmen, our EI, came to do an IFSP review in order to get Jayce in the PCD class with an IEP with OT and ST for his SID and HFA."

Its crazy, all the terminology you have to learn!

ABA: Applied Behavioral Analysis. This is a well-established behavioral approach to autism treatment, most often appropriate for younger children.

ADD/ADHD: Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficity Hyperactivity Disorder. Many children on the autism spectrum are also diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.

ASD: Autism Spectrum Disorder

DAN: DAN refers to the organization Defeat Autism Now. The DAN protocol refers to a specific set of biomedical theories and treatment approaches.

DIR: Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship-Based (DIR) Model is the basis for the Floortime method of treatment which involves, among other things, a form of therapeutic play.

FAPE: Free and Appriopriate Education. All children in the United States are entitled to FAPE; the definition of FAPE, however, is difficult to pin down.

HFA: High Functioning Autistic. Generally refers to individuals who are verbal and academically capable, but who are not diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Like "classic autism," this really isn’t a medical term -- but it does help to define an individual's profile.

IDEA: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Passed in 1990, this law is the basis for all educational law as it related to individuals with disabilities.

IEP: Individualized Educational Program. Most autistic children are entitled to an IEP, a legal document which lay out each child's personal goals and educational modifications.

LCSW: Licensed Social Worker. Many LCSWs offer Social and Behavioral therapy.

LD: Learning Disability. Many children with autism cope with learning disabilities in addition to their autism diagnosis.

MR: Mental Retardation

NT: Neurotypical. This term refers to siblings and classmates who are not diagosed with any disorder.

OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This is the disorder that Monk, the TV detective, is coping with. Many children with autism also have elements of OCD.

ODD: Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Some children with autism are also diagnosed with ODD.

OT: Occupational Therapist. In the world of autism, occupational therapists wear many hats. They may be involved with anything from handwriting to play therapy to sensory integration.

PECS: Picture Exchange Card System. This system uses pictures instead of words, and has been very successful in helping non-verbal autistic children to communicate.

PT: Physical Therapist. Many autistic individuals have low muscle tone and/or difficulties with gross motor activities. PT's can make a real difference.

RDI: . Relationship Development Intervention. A relatively new and growing therapeutic approach which places parents and therapists in a "coaching" relationship to their child.

SI: Sensory Integration. A form of occupational therapy which supports a child's ability to better manage his own body in space. SI is also thought to help with behavioral and attentional issues.

SLP: Speech Language Therapist. SLP's working with autistic children are most likely to address "pragmatics"; (how to use speech) as opposed to issues such as stuttering.

SSRI: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. These are medications, such as zoloft and prozac, which may be used to reduce anxiety (a common issue among autistic children). Some research suggests that SSRI's may not be safe for pre-adolescent children.

TEACCH: "Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children" An educational approach first developed in North Carolina.

TSS: Therapeutic Staff Support, otherwise known as "Wraparound" These are paraprofessionals who provide 1:1 support to autistic individuals during times when such support is needed (often when the individual is not in school or at a structured activity).


  1. This is great information. There are so many acronyms and most people think that the common person knows them all, I know I don't.

  2. thanks jess, this is a really useful list. I'm sure I'll be referring to it often, I get a little lost sometimes in all those acronyms!

  3. I thought I knew most of the acronyms since I used to do medical writing, but there were a few I was unaware of. Thanks for helping to spread awareness. Jacye is so lucky to have a mom who is also an advocate on his behalf!

    p.s. I remember going to the Greek Fest when we lived in the area. The food was fabulous. We love feta, tabouli, and hummus around here. :)

  4. I refuse to learnthem - lol - now I have a reference so I won't have to!


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