FAQs and Definitions

New to the autism community? Learn about autism and its many flavors here!

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. I have defined some terms in the framework of my own experiences and sought peer-reviewed scientific literature (cited where appropriate). Some of these terms are not medical in nature, but specific to the autism/asperger’s community.



Autism Spectrum Disorder. After introduction of the DSM V back in 2013 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, used by clinical mental health professionals for diagnostic guidelines) ASD as a diagnosis is now inclusive of all forms of autism. The CDC has published the DSM V diagnostic criteria for ASD at this website.


Asperger’s Syndrome

Was a diagnosis previously given to those with high-functioning autism, characterized primarily by difficulty in social interactions. This diagnosis was discontinued in 2013 under the DSM V and instead will be diagnosed under autism spectrum disorder.



Someone who was previously diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Is sometimes more generally used to refer to someone with high-functioning autism.


The Spectrum

Short for the “autism spectrum”, represents the wide range and diversity of presentation of symptoms. Every person who is diagnosed with autism will have a different combination and severity of symptoms.


On the Spectrum

A person who is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.



A person who does not exhibit any ASD symptoms.



Symptoms are generally more severe and life-impacting compared to high functioning autism and may impact the ability to communicate verbally, attend school in mainstream classrooms, live independently and practice self-care.



Not exhibiting the severity of symptoms characterized by low/moderate functioning autism. Individuals with high-functioning autism may have difficulty or a lack of instinct for social situation, sensory difficulties, sleep disturbances and energy management issues, but are capable of self-care and independent living.



The release of energy by means of anger, frustration and other destructive and often violent means. Is a sign that energy is not being positively distributed over time. While mainstream treatment efforts have focused on behavioral and pharmacological interventions, in my experience these result in temporary, not permanent improvement as they are treating the symptoms and not the underlying cause of the aggression.


Energy Management

People on the spectrum often have a large reserve of energy. This can often become problematic if it builds up too high and can lead to explosive outbursts (see: meltdowns). Energy Management is a term I created to describe the practice of modulating energy levels to prevent meltdowns.



A hormone produced naturally by the pineal gland, it induces sleep. (A review of melatonin production and effects) Underproduction of this hormone in those with autism is often a cause of sleep difficulties. Supplementation beginning with 1-3 mg regularly approximately 1 hour prior to intended bedtime may help correct this. (See review article here which summarizes peer-reviewed research on natural under-production and supplementation with melatonin for autism spectrum disorder.)




Occupational Therapy. A form of therapy which can address many deficiencies of ASD such as “sensory processing, attention, play, coordination, and fine motor skills“.  See this comprehensive review article which summarizes the results of 49 peer-reviewed studies on the utility of OT as early-intervention therapy.



Physical Therapy. A form of therapy which seeks to improve coordination and motor skills.


Speech Therapy

Often referred to as “speech” for short, speech therapy for autism focuses on improving social interaction abilities.



A term of endearment I use for someone who is “on the spectrum”. This is not a term that is widely used, but rather something I came up with years ago to describe the culture shock of feeling like you’re from a different planet.


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