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The 10 Words I Wish I Knew Before My Son’s Autism Diagnosis

Before the door was open to my world of special needs parenting, autism, attention deficit and all that fun stuff, I had little need to know these words and expressions. Afterward though, I realized how little I knew about so many things, especially the vernacular of the special needs parent. Wish there was a dictionary of terms somewhere but, since there isn’t, I’ll start one now.

  1. perseverate – see, even spell check has no idea what this word was I to know???

definition: verb (used without object), per·sev·er·at·ed, per·sev·er·at·ing.

to repeat something insistently or redundantly:

to perseverate in reminding children of their responsibilities.

2. vestibular – okay, maybe therapists know this one, or maybe exercise-aholics but I had no clue about how this system worked, or even that it existed!

definition (NOT found on, by the way!) The vestibular system is a sensory system responsible for providing our brain with information about motion, head position, and spatial orientation; it also is involved with motor functions that allow us to keep our balance, stabilize our head and body during movement, and maintain posture.

3. stimming – no results found on the ol’ for this one either, folks, although spell check likes to think I am saying either “swimming” or “stemming” whenever I type it. 

definition: Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, words, or moving objects.

4. echolalia – okay, THIS one was found but note that it’s most likely because the second definition refers to a neurotypical baby.

definition: noun – the uncontrollable and immediate repetition of words spoken by another person.

the imitation by a baby of the vocal sounds produced by others, occurring as a natural phase of childhood development.

5. IEP – no idea what this acronym was for or even that is existed until entering school. Also, note that you HAVE to know the difference between a 504 Plan and an IEP because they are VASTLY different.

definition – The Individualized Education Program, also called the IEP, is a document that is developed for each public school child who needs special education. The IEP is created through a team effort, reviewed periodically.

6. case manager – sure, we may have known what a social worker was but that the person you needed to seek out before your child started school was this person??? No that little gem remained a mystery up until the moment I needed to know.

definition: A case manager is a licensed teacher or related service provider who is a member of the IEP team and is responsible to coordinate instruction and related services for the student. The case manager will coordinate the delivery of special education services and will be the primary contact for the parent.

7. scripting – similar to echolalia (who knew??) scripting is…

definition: The repetition of words, phrases, intonation, or sounds of the speech of others, sometimes taken from movies, but also sometimes taken from other sources such as favorite books or something someone else has said. Echolalia is sometimes referred to as scripting

8. parallel play – what the shit was this? I mean, it’s really self explanatory but I didn’t know that there was an expression for when I wanted to play Barbies and my friend wanted to NOT play Barbies and we were just in the same room, playing side by side, NOT playing Barbies.

definition: Parallel play is a form of play in which children play adjacent to each other, but do not try to influence one another’s behavior. Children usually play alone during parallel play but are interested in what other children are doing. This usually occurs after the first birthday.

9. proprioception – another term learned in occupational therapy when my son first started his therapies. 

definition: Proprioception is the medical term that describes the ability to sense the orientation of your body in your environment. Ya know, like knowing your place in space so you don’t stand too close to that lady in line next to you at the mall. (Also, why it’s important to get the special passes at amusement parks so my son doesn’t stim so hard and step on some stranger’s (or, heaven forbid, his sister’s!!) feet while we wait on line.

And, finally…

10. neurodevelopmental pediatrician – when we first began seeing our doctor, it wasn’t even in my computer’s dictionary! Now, it seems to know the word, either from me typing it all the time, or maybe it’s so popular that it finally was inputted into the system!

definition – Neurodevelopmental pediatricians evaluate and treat infants, toddlers and children who show signs of motor and developmental delays. Pediatric behavior health is also a part of neurodevelopmental pediatrics.

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