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Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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Packing therapy

A highly controversial and potentially harmful intervention, involving wrapping a child in wet towels. Described by medical journal The Lancet (2011) as an abuse of human rights.


Acronym for Pre-school Autism Communication Therapy, an intervention which trains parents to enhance the communication skills and language development of their own children, commencing as early as possible after diagnosis. Parents learn to tailor their own language and interactions to facilitate their child’s communication and participant. PACT also stands for Pre-school Autism Communication Trial, the RCT which has evidenced the effectiveness of this approach.

Parent to Parent service

A free UK-wide confidential telephone service provided by the NAS where the parents of offspring with autism can seek emotional support through talking to another trained parent with personal experience of autism.


Relating to, or caused by, a medical disorder such as a disease.


Acronym for Picture Exchange Communication System, an intervention widely used in clinical, educational and home settings, in which children are taught to communicate using pictures and other symbols. PECS is naturalistic and especially helpful for children with little or no language.

Person-centred planning (PCP)

An approach intended to allow a person as much input as possible into decisions about their own care and support needs, in order to increase their self-determination and improve their independence. It focuses on what is important to them, with family and friends as partners in planning.

Pilot study

A preliminary study conducted in advance of a full-scale research study. In clinical work, a pilot may be an informal evaluation of a proposed intervention involving a single participant or a very small group of participants.


Refers to whether a sound is high or low. The pitch of speech plays a role in communication and may be atypical in people on the autism spectrum. (See also non-verbal communication.)


A condition or trait that is due to the combined effects of multiple genes (as opposed to the influence of a single gene). This applies to all but a small minority of autism cases (for instance those where autism is associated with a single gene disorder called neurofibromatosis). In autism the role of multiple genes is further complicated because different gene combinations may be involved in different individuals. (See also genetic heterogeneity.)

Pretend play

A type of play in which children use imagination to enact events or scenarios they may have experienced or that are completely imaginary. It can involve taking another person’s perspective, manipulating ideas and emotions (‘role-playing’) or the imaginative use of objects as props.


An estimate of the number of cases of a condition within a population at a particular time. Prevalence is estimated by identifying how many people in a population sample have been diagnosed with the condition, or who would in principle meet the diagnostic criteria. Prevalence (e.g. of autism) does not necessarily indicate how many people have the condition: cases may go undetected due to factors such as low cultural awareness or limited availability of diagnostic services.


A prediction offered by a medical or other expert concerning the probable course and outcome of a disorder or condition.

Protodeclarative pointing

Protodeclarative pointing is the use of pointing to draw someone else's attention to an object or item of interest, thus enabling an individual to share their interest with another. Thus a child might point to a bird so that his mother will look at it too. Children on the autism spectrum tend not to use this form of pointing, though they may use protoimperative pointing to indicate an object or item that they want or desire, such as pointing to a biscuit to indicate they want to have it.

Psychological processes

Refers to the way the mind works to interpret information about the physical world and social world, and to respond appropriately. This includes perceptual processes such as recognising objects and events, and communicative process such as understanding language, perceiving and interpreting other people’s behaviour, including their gestures and facial expressions, and communicating both verbally and through one’s own behaviour.


This is the scientific study of the way the mind (generally the human mind) works and how this dictates and influences behaviour. Processes investigated include communication, memory, thinking and emotion.


Techniques that provide ways of measuring intelligence, language skills and other cognitive and behavioural capacities or traits.

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