Autism Glossary of Definitions


Someone who is not autistic.


A lifelong neurological difference; where the brain works differently.


Someone who is autistic.


A person who meets the diagnostic criteria for autism.

Autistic inertia

Refers to sometimes having difficulty in both starting or stopping a task once it has been started.


Repeating a phrase taken from TV, book, or said by someone else.


Cognitive empathy : the ability to know how someone else is feeling or what they are thinking. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Emotional empathy : when you are feeling the emotions someone else is having. For example, being sad because your friend is sad.

Compassionate empathy : where we understand not only how the person is feeling, we are also motivated to assist if necessary.

Identity first language

Use of the term “autistic person/people”. Generally seen as preferable to person first language by most in the autistic community.


Hiding autistic characteristics to appear less autistic.


Involuntary explosive release of emotions following sensory and/or emotional overload. Also see Shutdown.


Natural variations in the make-up of the human brain, in the same way biodiversity refers to the natural variations in biological life.


Neurodiverse refers to a group of people who do not share the same neurology, e.g. a mix of people, some who are neurodivergent and some who are neurotypical. An individual cannot be termed as neurodiverse, they will be either neurotypical or neurodivergent.


Having a brain that is built significantly differently from most others.


Someone not neurodivergent, i.e. not autistic, or without any other variation typically considered neurodivergent, e.g. ADHD, Tourette’s, learning difficulties or learning disability. This term is often erroneously used to mean not autistic.

“Neurodiversity is an essential form of human diversity. The idea that there is one “normal” or “healthy” type of brain or mind or one “right” style of neurocognitive functioning, is no more valid than the idea that there is one “normal” or “right” gender, race or culture.


Repeating words or phrases of your own as opposed to being from another source.


Where you consistently think about a certain idea to the exclusion of other thoughts or participate in an activity to the exclusion of all else. For example, autistic people often experience perseveration when something unjust has happened, and their desire to correct the wrong becomes all consuming.

Person first language

The use of the term “person with autism”. This is widely used by non-autistic people and some people with autism.

Sensory overload

When someone is taking in too much sensory information for their brains to process.


Involuntary implosive reaction following sensory and/or emotional overload. Also see Meltdown.


Short for self-stimulatory behaviours, or auto-stim. Includes hand flapping, finger flicking, rocking, repeating words, phrases or noises. An action that gives sought after sensory feedback.