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Autism-Related Terminology

Animated UFO. Actually Autistic/#ActuallyAutistic - A term/hashtag that is used on the Web, especially on social media, to distinguish autism-related articles and posts made by people that are actually autistic, from those made by neurotypicals. The term was invented to combat the stifling dominance of (often misinformed or even outright malevolent) neurotypicals in autism discourse, and make it easier to find accurate information from the people who actually understand the autistic experience.

Animated UFO. Applied Behaviour Analysis/ABA - A traumatic and torturous so-called "therapy" that is aimed at brute-forcing autistic children to communicate and carry themselves in ways found acceptable by neurotypical society. In spite of being hailed as a helpful therapy in mainstream autism discourse, it is an abomination based upon the same principles as gay conversion therapy and invented by someone who openly described autistic people as not being human.

Animated UFO. Autigender - A controversial phenomenon sometimes discussed in the autistic community, that describes how the nonconformist nature of autism can inform the autistic person's understanding of their own gender in peculiar ways. I wrote a detailed article describing my personal views on the phenomenon, which you can read here if you would like to learn more.

Animated UFO. Autism Cousin - A slang term that is occasionally used to endearingly describe ADHD people in the autistic community. Although I've only seen this mentioned a couple times personally, I thought it was worth including because ADHD shares many similiarities with autism, and many autistic people have either been initially misdiagnosed with ADHD as children, and/or find that they can relate to ADHDers much better than to neurotypicals.

Animated UFO. Autistic Burnout - A phenomenon where an autistic person falls into a period of complete exhaustion due to prolonged stress from masking (definition below) and/or becoming overwhelmed with managing the many demands of life in a neurotypical-centric world. Autistic burnouts usually occur in a "straw that broke the camel's back" moment, and not as a result of one particular event. They can last for varying periods of times and cause regression of life skills, decreased ability to mask, and even the autistic person completely giving up on life in more severe cases. The risk of burnouts is exacerbated severely for autistic people working in jobs that require constant masking and social interaction (such as retail or food service) and/or cause sensory issues in them.

Animated UFO. Cognitive Empathy - The ability to understand another person's emotions by observing them, or to put oneself into another person's shoes. Although autistic people are often said to have less cognitive empathy than neurotypicals do (a claim that is challenged by the fact that neurotypicals are just as bad at empathising with autistics), this does not actually have any effect on emotional empathy (see definition below).

Animated UFO. Dyspraxia - A neurological disorder that primarily affects motor skills and is often comorbid with autism. While dyspraxia can cause a wide variety of issues with posture, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, handwriting, etc, it does not affect intelligence in any way. Dyspraxia is usually far more severe in children, and tends to improve on its own as a person matures.

Animated UFO. Echolalia - A behaviour exhibited by some autistic people that manifests as repetition of specific words, phrases, or noises. Echolalia can be quietly used by autistic people all over the spectrum as a way of verbally stimming in particularly stressful situations, while in some "lower-functioning" autistics, especially children, it may be an unorthodox attempt to communicate.

Animated UFO. Emotional Empathy - The ability to feel another person/animal's emotions and to feel compassion towards them. Although there is believed to be a correlation between autism and lower levels of cognitive empathy, there is no evidence that autistic people are any less capable of emotional empathy than neurotypicals. If anything, it's likely that autistic people actually have more emotional empathy, sometimes to the point of being too overwhelmed to be able to show it appropriately, or at all.

Animated UFO. Executive Dysfunction - Any disruptions in executive function processes - cognitive processes that govern things such as mental flexibility and adaptability, planning, self-control, selective attention, etc. Executive dysfunction can cause difficulties with a myriad of things such as starting tasks that one does not want to take on, staying organised, adapting to changing situations, managing one's time, difficulty following schedules, and so on. Executive dysfunction is common in autistic people, but also in ADHD and numerous disorders, and can also occur as a result of drug addictions or simply long-term depression and/or stress.

Animated UFO. Masking - The very uncomfortable practice of suppressing natural autistic behaviours in order to not offend neurotypical social norms. This can include anything from forcing oneself to make eye contact with people, to refraining from stimming, to speaking and emoting in ways that neurotypicals consider "normal", to hiding the distress one is feeling due to offensive sounds or smells. Masking can easily lead to a meltdown depending on the degree that a person is masking, and how long they are forced to maintain the facade. Over the long term, the daily stress of masking can lead to autistic burnout.

Animated UFO. Meltdown - An intense and often involuntary reaction to an overwhelming event including but not limited to sensory overload, abrupt and serious changes in routine, prolonged stress, and so on. Depending on the severity of the situation and where on the spectrum a person is, a meltdown can involve anything from irritability or quiet withdrawal from the situation, to physical violence. Autistic meltdowns are not tantrums, which are purposeful and voluntary outbursts intended to manipulate people into submitting to the person's demands.

Animated UFO. Neurodiversity - A movement to recognise and celebrate the diversity of human minds, including autism and other neurotypes that have been pathologised and treated as illnesses or disorders.

Animated UFO. Neurotype - A label describing the way someone's brain is wired. Autism is largely considered in the autistic community to be a neurotype as opposed to a disorder, disease, or disability, due to the many fundamental differences between autistic and neurotypical brains, and the many positive aspects that accompany autism.

Animated UFO. Neurotypical - Someone who isn't autistic, or alternatively, someone who isn't in some way neurodivergent. Neurotypicals generally have sensory tolerances that society accommodates, develop through life at rates that society expects, and have communication methods and mannerisms that society accepts as "normal".

Animated UFO. Sensory Overload - A state of overwhelm that occurs as a result of excess sensory input. Sensory overload can be caused by a wide variety of things depending on an autistic person's specific sensory sensitivties. Possible causes include but are not limited to loud noises, bright/flashing lights, too many simultaneous conversations, uncomfortable clothing textures, and so on. Sensory overload can cause a person to become irritable and stressed, and in severe cases can lead to a meltdown. Sensory overloads are not limited to autistic people; their occurrences are dependent on a person's sensory sensitivities and autistic people simply tend to have lower sensory tolerances than neurotypicals.

Animated UFO. Sensory Processing Disorder/SPD - A condition characterised by the brain having issues with processing sensory information, which can manifest in a virtually infinite number of ways from being overwhelmed by loud sounds, to having difficulties filtering out extraneous noises, to being averse to the tastes and/or smells of common foods, to being unable to tolerate the textures of certain clothing, to being hurt by the sensation of being touched, to a myriad of other things. While Sensory Processing Disorder can cause someone to have almost superhuman senses, in some cases it can actually manifest in someone being being extremely unresponsive to certain sensory input such as dangerously cold or hot temperatures. SPD is incredibly common in autistic people, yet it can and does occur sometimes in neurotypicals and other neurodivergent people, notably ADHDers.

Animated UFO. Special Interests/Spins - Autistic obsessions with specific subjects ranging from anything to an anime or other show, to a field of science, to s historical time period in a certain country. Trains are a very popular stereotype of an autistic special interest. These obsessions can be temporary or can last for an autistic person's entire life. Autistic people often enjoy talking at length about their special interests, an act that is usually referred to as "infodumping" (this website is one massive example of this!) Special interests are not inherently bad, and many autistic people have leveraged their special interest to achieve great success in life. The term "Spin" is sometimes used in place of "special interest" due to the stigma attached to the word "special," especially when used relative to neurodivergent and/or mentally disabled people.

Animated UFO. Stimming - Short for "self-stimulatory behaviour," stimming refers to any repetitive actions that autistics (and some neurotypicals!) engage in, in order to self-regulate and relieve anxiety or other negative emotions. Think of an impatient businessperson tapping their foot or fidgeting with their hands. Stimming commonly involves physical movements such as rocking back and forth, flicking one's fingers, flapping one's hands, fidgeting with one's hair, chewing on things, etc; but it can also involve making repetitive noises (echolalia) or even watching soothing and repetitive videos or objects such as lava lamps. Understandably, physical stimming can also be quite a wonderful way of rocking out to music.

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