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Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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Browse the glossary using this index

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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.

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