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Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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Browse the glossary using this index

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A three-month education programme run by the UK National Autistic Society (NAS), providing support and encouragement and promoting good practice for parents of newly diagnosed children aged under five years on the autism spectrum. EarlyBird Plus is for parents of children aged four to eight years.

Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI)

An intervention for pre-school children on the autism spectrum, using a range of behavioural techniques based on Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) principles. Early forms of intervention such as EIBI have proved very effective with some children. However, intensity for the child and demands on parents are issues for consideration.


The repetition of words, phrases or sentences just spoken by others, in a 'parrot-like' fashion. Echolalia is common in individuals on the autism spectrum, and also occurs in conditions such as schizophrenia and Tourette's syndrome. In autism, the repetition may be immediate or delayed.

Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP)

A legal document in England drawn up by the local authority, after specialist reports are obtained, which specifies the support a child or young person up to age 25 needs, particularly in school, but also from health and social care.

Embedded Figures Test

A test of the capacity to identify an individual component or shape from a visual pattern in which it is embedded.


Empathy is broadly defined as the capacity to understand and 'enter into' another person's emotions. Empathising has been defined by Baron-Cohen as recognising what someone else is feeling and responding appropriately. This may mean feeling the same emotion yourself, e.g. feeling sad when someone else is, and/or showing them that you recognise their emotion, e.g. by trying to comfort them. (See also Empathy Quotient (EQ), Empathising-systemising theory, Systemising and Systemising Quotient (SQ).)

Empathising–systemising theory

A theory formulated by Baron-Cohen, which proposes that autism is characterised by limited empathising ability, combined with enhanced systemising.

Empathy Quotient (EQ)

A questionnaire based measure of empathising devised by Baron-Cohen and colleagues. A person’s overall test score on the EQ is assumed to reflect their ability to empathise. Each member of a population can receive a low, high or average score. On average, females tend to score highest whereas people on the autism spectrum generally have the lowest scores, although there is also considerable overlap. (See also Empathising, Empathising-systemising theory, Systemising and Systemising Quotient (SQ).)

Epigenetic influences

Most of a person’s inherited characteristics are due to the sequences of units within the genes making up their DNA, these changing from one generation to the next. Epigenetic influences refer to additional changes in genes which are not due to changes in the DNA sequence, but involve the addition or removal of small molecules to the outside of the gene. These may determine whether the gene is ‘switched on’ or ‘switched off’, thus affecting whether a characteristic coded by the gene is expressed or not.


Objective assessment of an intervention, assessing its effectiveness, which people with autism might benefit from it and whether there are any side effects.

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