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Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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Monday, 15 July 2024, 4:40 PM
Site: Open Learning
Course: Understanding autism (AUT_1)
Glossary: Glossary

Observational methods

Methods widely used in the natural and social sciences. Observational methods typically focus on naturally occurring behaviour, thus contrasting with experiments, which study responses to specially devised tests in a controlled setting. Observational studies may, like experiments, compare a target group (say of autistic participants) with a control group. The observational method usually involves coding of the observations, analysing this information either quantitatively (e.g. scoring or counting particular behaviours) or qualitatively (a more holistic appraisal).

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

This is an anxiety condition in which a person repeatedly experiences unwelcome thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts and tries to allay these by carrying out an activity repeatedly, for instance repeatedly checking that a door is locked. Due to the repetitive nature of the compulsions, they may have a serious effect on the person’s ability to carry out daily tasks.

Operant conditioning

B.F. Skinner’s key principle of learning, stating that all animals’ behaviour operates on the environment with consequences that modify the tendency to repeat the behaviour. Rewarding consequences make repeating the behaviour more likely. Skinner called this reinforcement. For instance, if a non-verbal child is rewarded for making a verbal request this should reinforce the occurrence of this behaviour. These ideas are central to the ABA approach to autism intervention. (See also reinforcement and ABA.)

Optimal outcome

A developmental outcome in which an autistic person’s symptoms have modified or ameliorated to such an extent that the diagnostic criteria for autism are no longer met.

Outcome measure

A measure of the extent to which a particular skill or behaviour targeted by an intervention has changed or improved at the end of a controlled study.

Outside perspective

A term used to indicate that descriptions of autistic behaviour and experience come from the perspective of someone who is not themselves autistic. Usually this is a researcher, clinician or other professional.


A hormone which is generated in the brain and released into the bloodstream. It has several functions, including in childbirth, breast-feeding and sexual activity. It is also involved in social bonding, and some research suggests that oxytocin treatment may facilitate social interaction in autistic people.