So Much Stranger, So Much Darker, So Much Madder, So Much Better

Essays and poetry about autism, neurodivergence, disability, and life

Dictionary of Autism

This is a collection of words used to talk about autism, the autistic community, or disability.


Discrimination towards, prejudice against, or oppression of disabled people on the basis of disability. This includes mental illness, developmental disorders, and intellectual disabilities.


People who do not have a physical disability regardless of neurotype.

#actuallyautistic/actually autistic

Hashtags used by the autistic community on Tumblr to share posts, thoughts, and ideas about autism and the autistic experience. This tag is to be used by autistic people regardless of diagnosis status.


Attention Deficit Disorder. A diagnosis that is no longer in use in countries that use the DSM, though still used in countries that follow the ICD. Equivalent of ADHD-PI.


Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder. A neurodevelopmental disorder distinguished by difficulty regulating attention. Commonly comorbid with autism. Many of the traits of ADHD overlap or may appear similar to autism. For more information, check out these links:


Expression of one’s internal state of emotion through nonverbal means such as facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. Many autistic people have a flat affect which means that they have diminished nonverbal communication. Others have heightened affect which involves an intensification of nonverbal communication.


The difficulty or inability to identify or express one’s emotions.


A term for people who are not autistic.

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

A federal law in the US that guarantees equal opportunity for disabled people in employment, public accommodation, transportation, government services, and telecommunications.


A person who is against vaccination because of the erroneous belief that vaccines cause autism (a concept that has been thoroughly disproven. See this resources page for more information.)

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA Therapy)

A form of therapy often praised as highly effective by allistic people but widely despised by the autistic community. The primary goal of this therapy is to make autistic people “indistinguishable from peers”, in other words, make them seem neurotypical. This is achieved using a system of rewards and aversives (punishments). It is, in essence, compliance training, meaning that it trains children to obey what they are told regardless of the consequences.

This practice is often harmful, dehumanizing, abusive, and/or traumatic for the autistic people who are subjected to it. Many autistic people have developed c-PTSD as a result of ABA.

For more information on ABA and why it is harmful, check out this resources page.


Abbreviation for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s Syndrome is an outdated diagnosis that was replaced with the creation of Autism Spectrum Disorder which also includes PDD-NOS, Classical/Kanner’s Autism, and Atypical autism. This change occurred in 2013 for countries that use the DSM and is expected to change in the upcoming release of the ICD-11 in 2018.

Prior to the absorption of Asperger’s into ASD, there was little difference between Asperger’s and Kanner’s autism aside from when a child learned to speak. However, Asperger’s was often used in practice as a synonym to “high-functioning autism,” however, like any use of functioning labels, this is ableist. Functioning labels and, in many cases, the Asperger’s diagnosis have been used to separate “useful” autistic people, i.e. those with skills deemed useful by society, from those who are considered burdens. For more thoughts on the Asperger’s label, check out this post.


A shortened form of Asperger’s used by some autistic people as a self-identifier.

Aspie Supremacists

Autistic people who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s who pride themselves as being “high-functioning” and typically see themselves as better than autistic people who are more visibly autistic/need more help. For more, check out the following links:

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)

A brain difference that results in difficulty processing verbal speech. APD does not affect the ability to hear but rather alters the ability to comprehend speech. Typically, with APD, a person is aware that someone has spoken but is not sure what was said. It can also result in mishearing what was said or delays in processing speech.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

All forms of communication other than oral speech that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas. Some forms of AAC include, but are not limited to, sign language, a paper and pen, picture boards, and text to speech apps.


An gender identity used by some autistic people who feel that their understanding of gender is inextricably linked to being autistic.


A shorted form of autism used by some autistic people as a self-identifier.


A neurodevelopmental disability that affects language, communication, sensory processing, cognition, and social interaction. Autism is a spectrum that encompasses a wide range of experiences and abilities. For a more in-depth definition of autism, check out the following links:

Autism Acceptance

The idea that autism is a natural part of human diversity and that autistic people should be accepted as a neurological minority group entitled to the same rights as everyone else. It is the belief that autism doesn’t need to be fixed or cured for autistic people to lead happy and fulfilling lives. This belief challenges the goal of indistinguishability from peers, and, rather, advocates for supporting autistic people as we are.

Autism Mom/Dad/ParentTM

Allistic parents of autistic children who identify as Autism Mom/Dad/Parent. These parents typically are rather ableist. They generally support ABA, Autism Speaks, and other harmful practices. They are focused on “fixing” their child and often speak of what a burden it is to raise an autistic child (or as they would say “child with autism”). They generally reject autism acceptance.

Autism Speaks (A$)

An organization that claims to help autistic people, but is hated by most of the autistic community. Most of their money goes to ad campaigns that vilify autism and researching a cure (aka eugenics). For more information, check out this post.

Burnout/Autistic Burnout

What occurs when the stresses of life outpace an autistic person’s coping skills, often as a result of trying to pass as neurotypical for too long. Burnout is typified by the loss of abilities and skills that an autistic person once possessed. Often, meltdowns/shutdowns become more frequent, executive dysfunction worsens, and a person may have more difficulty with verbal speech among other things.

Chronic Pain

Pain that lasts for a long time or indefinitely.


A condition that occurs alongside another condition. For example, ADHD is often comorbid with autism meaning that many people are both autistic and ADHD. Comorbid conditions may or may not be linked.

Cousin/Autism Cousin

An (autistic) cousin is a neurodivergency that shares traits with autism. People who are autistic cousins will have shared experiences with autistic people. The term is a way to be more inclusive in the ways we talk about our experiences.

Cure Culture

The belief or actions that uphold the belief that autism is a disease in need of a cure. This belief system purports that autistic people cannot live happy or fulfilling lives due to autism and that autism must be eradicated to end suffering. People opposed to cure culture typically believe that we need to change society to be more accepting of differences rather than changing autistic people to fit society.


An alternate term for ableism used more frequently in the UK. See ableism above.


A specific learning disability that affects the ability to read and write


A specific learning disability that affects fine and/or gross motor skills


A specific learning disability that affects mathematic ability


A specific learning disability that affects the ability to write by hand


A category of patterns that are common among autistic people as well as with several other disabilities. These patterns are repetitive in nature and are often repetitions of another, though some can be repetitions of the self. Some examples of echophenomena are:

  • Echolalia: the repetition or words or sounds orally
  • Echolalioplasia: the repetition of sign language
  • Echologia: the repetition of words or sounds in thought
  • Echomimia: the repetition of facial expressions
  • Echoprazia: the repetition of movements
  • Echographia: the repetition of words when written or typed
  • Echoplasia: the repetition of physically or mentally tracing the contours of objects.

Executive Dysfunction

A disruption to the executive functions which are a group of cognitive processes that regulate, control, and manage other cognitive processes. Executive function includes (but is not limited to) the following functions:

  • Abstract thinking
  • Attention
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Decision making
  • Emotional regulation
  • Initiating and inhibiting context-specific behavior
  • Initiation of action
  • Monitoring internal and external stimuli
  • Moral reasoning
  • Planning
  • Problem solving
  • Rule acquisition
  • Selecting relevant sensory information
  • Self-control
  • Sequencing
  • Working memory

Any of these functions can be affected by executive dysfunction, though most people will only be affected in some areas. Executive dysfunction can have wide reaching effects on day to day functioning and is common for autistic people, though it can also be an aspect of depression, anxiety, brain injuries, and more. For more information, check out this post.

Functioning Labels

Labels used to indicate the severity of a disorder (high-functioning, low-functioning). The majority of the autistic community rejects functioning labels as these terms do not communicate any useful information and are instead used against autistic people. Those labeled high-functioning generally are dismissed as not really being autistic while those who are labelled low-functioning are viewed as too disabled to understand. Further HF people have their struggles ignored while LF people have their abilities ignored.

Happy Flapping

A form of stimming that involves moving the hands up and down or side to side (flapping) used to express happiness. However, hand flapping can be an expression of any emotion, not just happiness.


The ability to focus on something to the degree that a person forgets everything else around them which can include the need to eat, sleep, and/or go to the bathroom. This is often an aspect of special interests for autistic people.


Learning to read prior to the age of five without any training in learning to read.

Identity-First Language

Language that puts the disability in the place of an identity, i.e. “disabled person” or “Person is disabled.” This language is generally preferred by the autistic community because many of us view autism as a part of our identities rather than something separate from us. Much as we say gay person or woman rather than “a person with gayness” or “a person with femaleness,” much of the autistic community prefers autistic person to “person with autism.” See below for information of person-first language.

Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA)

A federal law in the US that established the rights of disabled children to get a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.

Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

An educational plan that outlines a specific program of study for a disabled student as well as accommodations and services designed to meet the educational needs of the student.


Talking extensively about a subject that a person knows a lot about. Generally this takes the form of a monologue with little opportunity left for others to contribute. Autistic people often infodump about special interests.

Inspiration Porn

The use of images, videos, or stories of disabled people used to inspire abled people. This practice is dehumanizing and ableist. Check out this link for more information.


The sense of what is happening inside the body


“Is this an autism thing?”/“Is it an autism thing?”

Medical Model of Disability

A counter theory to the Social Model of Disability (see below). This model positions all disabilities as abnormal and in need of a cure. This model purports that all suffering associated with disabilities is due to the disability itself.


A response to extreme distress typically caused by overwhelming sensory input (sensory overload) or overwhelming emotions (emotional overload). A meltdown is an outward reaction to the distress and is a fight of flight response. A person may scream, lash out, cry, break things, and/or run away during a meltdown.

Neurodivergent (ND)

A person who has a psychiatric, emotional, developmental, or intellectual disability or any other disability that affects the brain.


The diversity of brains and minds that exist among the human race.

Neurodiversity Paradigm

A view of neurodiversity that purports that 1) neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human diversity 2) the idea of one type of “normal” or “healthy” brain is a social construct that should be rejected 3) the social dynamics that appear with regards to neurodiversity are similar to those that appear with regard to other types of diversity (race, gender, culture, etc.) and that these dynamics include social inequalities


The type of brain a person has. Autism is one neurotype. ADHD is another. Neurotypical is a neurotype.

Neurotypical (NT)

A person who does not have any condition affecting their brain/mind.

Neurotypical Passing

The ability to suppress neurodivergent traits to appear more neurotypical often at great cost to the neurodivergent person


The inability to communicate verbally. Some people are nonverbal all the time while others experience periods of going nonverbal.


Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified. An outdated term for autism. This diagnosis was used for people who did not fully fit the criteria for classical autism or Asperger’s but were still on the spectrum. This diagnosis has been absorbed into ASD for places that use the DSM though it is still in use in countries that use the ICD.

PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System)

A tool for communicating interests, needs, and thoughts using pictures

Person-First Language

Language that puts the person before the disability. This language is rejected by much of the autistic community as many of us view our autism as a part of ourselves rather than a separate affliction. Often, this language is pushed by allistic people, particularly those who work with autistic people, as being the most respectful language to use in reference to autism as it reminds people that autistic people are people. However, if someone needs to manipulate language to remind themselves that we are people, there are bigger issues at play.

Professional/Clinical Diagnosis

A diagnosis made by psychiatrist or other psychiatric professional. Required to access legal accommodations and services.


The sense of where the body is in space


Face blindness. The difficulty or inability to recognize faces one has seen before, including one’s own face.


A campaign created to counter Autism $peak’s Light It Up Blue campaign. Participants wear red to show their support for autism acceptance as opposed to the awareness campaigns pushed by A$.


Planning words prior to speaking them. This can be achieved mentally or by writing things down. Many autistic people make use of scripting some or all of the time due to difficulties with verbal speech.


A diagnosis made by the self through thorough research and self-reflection. Viewed by most of the autistic community, including groups like AWN and ASAN, as a valid form of diagnosis. Self-diagnosis is fully supported by this blog.


The state of having great difficulty with verbal speech. This can present in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to, needing to be prompted to speak, having a diminished vocabulary, having great difficulty getting words to move from brain to mouth, etc. Some people are semiverbal all the time while others experience periods of going semiverbal.

Sensory Hell

An environment, experience, or object that is extremely unpleasant because of the sensory input. For instance, many autistic people find parties to be sensory hell because there is too much noise, to many unexpected touches, too many smells, and too much sensory input in general.

Sensory Overload

A state in which a sensory input is too much to handle. Sounds may seem louder. Lights may seem brighter. Smells may be more intense. Etc. A person generally become very irritable and may have difficulty functioning. Often leads to a meltdown or shutdown.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

A disorder that affects the processing of sensory information. People with SPD are either oversensitive (hypersensitive) to sensory input or undersensitive (hyposensitive) to sensory input or a mix of both. People with SPD may have difficulty tolerating sensory input that is easily ignored by others. Those who are hypersensitive in one or more senses may become easily overwhelmed by sensory input and may become irritable or stressed by things like loud sounds, strong smells, certain tastes, or being touched. People who are hyposensitive may engage in sensory seeking behavior such as seeking out loud music, bring lights, bright colors, physical touch, spicy food, and/or activities that provide deep pressure or vestibular input. Sensory sensitivities can fluctuate meaning that sensory input that is bad one day could be enjoyable another day.

SPD is a part of autism and is now included in the diagnostic criteria. As such, autistic people should not be given SPD as a separate diagnosis. However, for those who are not autistic, SPD can be a standalone diagnosis.


Like a meltdown, a shutdown is a response extreme distress. A shutdown is an internal reaction to this distress. During a shutdown, a person may become unresponsive, lock in place, be unable to talk, and/or appear frozen.

Social Model of Disability

A model of disability that purports that struggles associated with being disabled are the fault of society rather than the disability itself. It argues that while a disability can cause impairments (not being able to walk, for example), the source of difficulties is the lack of accessibility and accommodations in society (not being able to get into stores because they only have stairs). This model of disability suggests that we change society rather than eradicating disability.

Special Interests (SpIn)

Interests that go above and beyond what is considered a “typical” level of interest. SpIns are distinguished by either their intensity or range of focus meaning that the interest is either very intense or focusing on a very narrow subject (or both). SpIns can bring autistic people a great deal of joy and pleasure. Autistic people often research SpIns intensely, speak at great length about them, get really excited/happy whenever we get to interact with the, and/or go out of our way to engage with the subject. A SpIn can be anything from the stereotypical trains to a TV show to a corporate brand or anything else.

Special Person

The person that is a special interest.

Spoon Theory

A metaphor used to explain the experiences of having limited energy due to being disabled to non-disabled people. With this metaphor, spoons represent the energy a person has for the day. While abled people generally have so many spoons they don’t need to pay attention to them, disabled people generally start with a limited number of spoons. Each activity that a person does throughout the day costs a variable amount of spoons. Once a person runs out of spoons, they are no longer able to do things. Everything from working to socializing to getting dressed in the morning costs spoons. Spoonies (people who identify with the spoon theory) generally do not know how many spoons they have for the day and must try to conserve them to accomplish all that must be done. Check out this link to read the origins of the spoon theory.


Sensory seeking, repetitive actions that stimulate one of the senses. While most of us have been taught that there are only 5 senses, there are actually a great deal more including, but not limited to, sight, hearing, taste, smell, texture, pressure, temperature, pain, balance, proprioception, and interoception. Any of the senses can be engaged through stimming, and many stims stimulate more than one sense (for instance, clicking a pen provides pressure and hearing feedback).

People of many neurotypes stim, including autistic people, ADHD people, people with anxiety, and schizophrenic people.

Autistic people use stimming to regulate sensory input, regulate emotions, and express ourselves. Stimming is part of autistic body language.

Stimming can include a wide variety of actions that stimulate the senses. Some examples for various senses are as follows (note, this list is nowhere near complete. There are many, many stims not included as well as several senses not listed):

Vestibular (balance) stimming:

  • Hand flapping
  • Rocking
  • Bouncing
  • Spinning

Visual (eye) stimming:

  • Watching paint mixing videos
  • Watching a lava lamp
  • Waving your hand in front of your face

Oral (mouth) stimming

  • Chewing or sucking on a chew toy or other object
  • Eating food
  • Echolalia- repeating words or phrases

Auditory (ear) stimming

  • Listing to the same song over and over
  • Clicking a pen to hear the sound
  • Squeezing a squeeze toy

Texture (skin) stimming

  • Touching soft fabrics
  • Splashing in water
  • Running hands over a textured surface

Stim Toys

Objects used for the purpose of stimulating one or more of the senses.

Support Levels

An alternative to functioning labels that are now used in the DSM. While some consider support levels to be a better alternative to functioning labels, others view support levels as a sugar coated version of functioning labels that have the same pitfalls and ableism as functioning labels.

Theory of Mind

The cognitive ability to recognize that one’s feelings, perceptions, beliefs, and desires differ from those of others. Autistic people may be delayed in developing this ability.

Tone It Down Taupe

A campaign created to counter Autism $peak’s Light It Up Blue campaign. Created as an alternative to #redinstead for those who cannot tolerate the color red. Participants wear taupe to show their support for autism acceptance as opposed to the awareness campaigns pushed by A$.

Vestibular Sense

The sense of balance

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