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Do you see the term Neurodivergent everywhere but have no idea what it’s referring to? How about acronyms like PDA, ODD, and ExD? Are you foggy on what words like stimming and special interest mean?
It can be hard to connect with a community when you don’t understand the language they speak! That’s why we’ve created an entire encyclopedia to reference when you come across a Neurodivergent term
*Note on outdated terms. The understanding of Neurodivergence is changing all the time. Many terms are evolving in order to be more inclusive. In this glossary we will list all terms negative, positive, and neutral with appropriate commentary to make note of ableism and suggest alternative terms.
Are we missing a term? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Table of Contents
Most Common Terms:
An umbrella term that encompasses many different processing differences. Basically anyone who’s brain processes stimuli differently from what is considered “typical.” The term is often shortened to “ND.”
*Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Cluster B Personality Disorder should be included in this graphic
Someone who’s brain is wired according to what’s considered “typical.” Often shortened to “NT”
AA (Actually Autistic)/AA Community
A term to describe both a community and the individuals in that community. The Actually Autistic Community is made up Autistic individuals and advocates who promote “lived experience” education and seek overall acceptance and appreciation for Autism vs. clinical pathologization. Their motto is “nothing about us, without us.”
Similar to the AA Community but also encompasses other Neurodivergents as well as Autistics.
Neurodiversity and Neurodiversity Paradigm
Neurodiversity is not synonymous with Neurodivergence though they often intersect. Neurodiversity is the concept that everyone’s brain works differently because we are all unique.
The Neurodiversity Paradigm is a social justice movement based on that understanding. In the Neurodiversity Paradigm, those with differing processing systems should be accepted, accommodated and empowered to be themselves instead of being considered “broken” or forced to make their brains work more “typically.”
*Grammatical note – Neurodiverse is not a synonym for Neurodivergent. “Neurodiverse” is used when there are many different Neurotypes (processing variations) within a given group. “Neurodivergent” generally applies to an individual who’s brain is different than what is considered typical.
Allistic refers to anyone who is not Autistic. This includes not only Neurotypicals but other Neurodivergences as well. Example: I am ADHD and OCD, but not Autistic therefore I am Allistic (and Neurodivergent).
RSD (Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria)
While not in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria describes a process that deeply affects many Neurodivergent people. RSD generally happens when a person feels rejection (real or perceived) in the form of criticism, being left out, shaming, abandonment etc.
The affected ND will often experience what seems like an “extreme” reaction to the event.
RSD can look like a person having a meltdown or shutdown after what seems like an inconsequential event to an outsider. Someone who is triggered might go from feeling fine one moment to entirely panicked, clingy, angry, shutdown, depressed, or even suicidal in no time at all.
The term was coined by a researcher in an ADDitude.com article and was used in reference to ADHD folx. However it appears to be an experience many neurotypes deal with and seems to be connected to the trauma of being ND in an NT dominated world as well as other traumas – especially those concerning death, abandonment, and/or childhood bullying.
Discrimination and societal prejudice against disabled people. Ableism is a construct propagated by capitalism where individuals are valued only for their ability to be productive. Many (but not all) of the ND community consider themselves disabled and are often subject to ableism both externally and internally.
ADHD/ADHC (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder/Condition)
A neurodevelopmental difference which primarily affects a person’s Executive Function. It is classified under three types – Inattentive, Hyperactive, and combined. Many know about the most common traits, including impulsivity, hyperactivity, lack of focus, restlessness. However, there’s SO much more to ADHD!
Many ADHDers have a hard time with emotional regulation, often dealing with Meltdowns. They may also have issues with memory, organization, and planning. Learning and motor disabilities such as Dyspraxia, dyslexia and dyscalculia also commonly co-occur.
ADD/ADC (Attention Deficit Disorder/Condition)
ADD is an older diagnosis that was once used to describe one of the three types of ADHD (Inattentive). It is no longer in use clinically but some NDs may still refer to themselves as ADD because that’s how they were diagnosed
(ACE) Adverse Childhood Experience
ACES are traumatic experiences that happen in childhood that include but are not limited to abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction.
These are instances that range from sexual assault to domestic violence to substance abuse or divorce. ACES can be cumulative, stacking on top of each other to create what’s known as an ACE score. They deeply affect a person’s mental health, physical health, core beliefs, and self esteem. Read more about adverse childhood experiences here and take the ACE quiz here.
Alexithymia is a condition in which a person has difficulty understanding their emotions, also known as emotional blindness. It occurs on a spectrum on which impairment depends on the person, situation, stress levels, etc.
Alexithymia can co-occur with Autism as well as other conditions like Schizophrenia and Depression. It can be primary (genetic) or secondary (brought on by trauma).
Those with Alexithymia might
- Have a harder time understanding their own feelings
- Have difficulty naming or expressing feelings
- Find themselves emotionally distanced from others
- Struggle to create an inner world or indulge in fantasy
- Seem to “explode” with emotion because they might not be able to “see” the internal warning signs of emotional overwhelm
ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)
APD (Auditory Processing Disorder)
ASPD (Anti-social personality disorder)
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Device
ASD/AS (Autism Spectrum Disorder/Autism Spectrum)
The clinical name for Autism. Many Autists are moving from ASD to less pathologized labels in order to describe their experience as a Neurodivergent.
A label that was once used to describe “high functioning” autism. It has since been rolled into Autism Spectrum Disorder in the DSM-V
The term is considered outdated in the ND community because of its ties to Nazi eugenics and its ableist connotations. However, some Autists still claim the term, affectionately calling themselves Aspies for short. There is much debate in our community about this self identification. Some Autistics stick with the term because it was how they were diagnosed and is a part of their identity while others have shifted to identifying as Autistic.
A processing difference that is primarily diagnosed because of an individual’s communication differences and sensory sensitivities. Autism is also often linked to rigidity, anxiety, and repetitive behavior like stimming, however, traits vary from individual to individual.
N. An Autistic Person
Adj. describing an Autistic person
Another way of self identifying as an Autistic. Kind of like switching out “I’m artistic” with “I’m an artist” or “I’m a piano player” vs “I’m a pianist”
Autigender is when an Autistic’s Neurodivergence plays a pivotal part of their gender identity. Those who use this gender identity say that Autism is a core part of everything in their life including their gender. Similar to “Neurogender” which is also on this list
Cluster B Personality Disorder
Cluster B Ableism
CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy)
Double Empathy Problem
ExD (Executive Dysfunction)
EFT(Emotional Freedom Technique) Tapping
HSP (Highly Sensitive Person)
(IFS) Internal Family Systems
NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder)
ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)
PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)/Pervasive Desire for Autonomy)
Clinically known as Pathological Demand Avoidance, PDA is now more commonly known in Actually Autistic circles as Pervasive Demand for Autonomy.
This is where a person feels emotional danger from any request or demand, big or small-producing an adrenal stress response in the person’s body that can produce avoidance.
This avoidance can look like shutting down, fleeing (literally leaving), fighting (cussing, hitting biting), meltdowns, or even a “fawn” response (people pleasing to ease anxiety)
PDA was originally thought to be an Autism profile but more research and lived experience from the ND community suggests PDA may also be connected to PTSD and other mental health conditions/Neurodivergences.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
Rapid Prompting Method
RO-DBT (Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy)
RSD (Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria)
(SPIN) Special Interest
Spelling to Communicate (S2C)
TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury)
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