Glossary of Terms

A non-exhaustive list of terms used by the neurodivergent community.

June 2, 2021

Disability: A condition that significantly impairs an individual’s function. Disabilities can be mental or physical, and it is often an individual’s choice to identify as disabled.

Neurodivergent: An umbrella term used to describe conditions that are related to cognitive or developmental abilities. There is no widely agreed-upon set of conditions that fall under the umbrella, but the most common are autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and OCD. Some people with these conditions prefer the term “neurodiverse.”

Neurotypical: A term for anyone who is not neurodivergent.

Stimming: Short for “self-stimulatory behavior.” Refers to a set of behaviors involving the repetition of movements, sounds, or other behaviors. Anyone can stim, but it most commonly occurs in neurodivergent people, especially autistic people.

Echolalia: The repetition of sounds or vocalizations made by another person. Up to 75% of autistic people may have exhibited the behavior.

Nonverbal: A state in which someone is unable to speak. They may want to speak, but there is a mental block or other inability preventing them from doing so. When someone is nonverbal, they may use alternative forms of communication such as writing, AAC, or sign language.

AAC: Stands for “augmentative and alternative communication.” AAC is any method of communication that does not utilize speech, and is often used by nonspeaking autistic people. However, anyone can use AAC, not just neurodivergent people.

Hyperfocus: A state in which someone is almost obsessively focused on something. Hyperfocus can make it very hard to do anything else, even basic tasks like using the bathroom. Though hyperfocus can be a positive thing in terms of productivity, it can also have negative impacts depending on the situation and how long it lasts. This mostly occurs with ADHD.

Executive dysfunction: A state in which it is very hard for someone to get anything done, even if they want to. Mostly occurs with ADHD, but can occur with other forms of neurodivergence.

High-functioning/Low-functioning: A pair of terms intended to describe how much support an autistic person needs. While these terms are widely used in the medical field, many autistic people don’t like them, because they can be restrictive and are often not wholly accurate.

Person-first/Identity-first language: The two prevailing kinds of language used to refer to neurodivergent people. Identity-first language is preferred by most neurodivergent people, and puts the identity before the name or noun. An example of this would be “a neurodivergent person” or “they are neurodivergent.” Person-first language is the opposite, and puts the name or noun before the identity. An example of this would be “a person who is neurodivergent.” If you don’t know which kind of language someone prefers, ask them!

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