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Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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Small-scale evaluation

Relatively informal evaluation of an intervention which precedes a full-scale controlled trial. Small-scale evaluations involve testing the intervention with a small number of individuals and usually include observations before, during and after it has taken place.

Social communication and interaction

This involves all forms of interaction between two or more people, ranging from the use of spoken language, facial expressions, gestures and body language to making friends and forming long-term relationships.

Socio-emotional explanation

This approach to explaining the causes of behaviour, including the development of conditions such as autism, identifies children’s social environment as the key factor. This means influences such as parenting style and the quality of social and emotional interactions the child has with other people.

Special interest

In relation to autism, this refers to an intense and focused interest in a particular subject or topic, which may in some cases seem unusual or eccentric. Autistic people often have just one or two special interests which they pursue for a long time. They may acquire very detailed knowledge or skill and approach their interest with an intensity that tends to exclude other subject matter. Yet evidence suggests that special interests can be beneficial.

Special school

A school or stand-alone unit whose main purpose is to provide education tailored to the additional support needs of children and young people with significant special educational needs. Some special schools are designed specifically for children on the autism spectrum, while others cater for a range of special needs. This definition refers to the UK, but similar provision exists in some other countries.

Speech and Language Therapist (SLT)

A health professional whose role is to assess and treat children and adults with speech, language and other communication difficulties.

Splinter skills

This is where an individual has a skill in one specific area, such as numeracy or art, which does not characterise their overall abilities or level of functioning. For example, an individual with a low IQ may nonetheless be able to complete complex jigsaw puzzles. Very exceptional levels of such skill are referred to as savant talent. (See also savant talent.)

Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN)

A legal document in Wales or Northern Ireland drawn up by the local authority, after specialist reports are obtained, which specifies the school-related support needs for a child or young person up to age 19.

Statistically significant

A term meaning that the result from an experiment or evaluation of an intervention is highly unlikely to have occurred by chance. If the statistical probability of a chance result is calculated to be sufficiently low, the researcher may reasonably conclude that the result is due to the influence under investigation. For instance, the researcher may conclude that an intervention really has helped the individuals who have participated, or that autistic and neurotypical people really do differ in how they respond to sounds.


A short-hand term for self-stimulatory behaviour or self-stimulation. The repetition of physical movements and sounds, and the repetitive manipulation of objects, which are common in individuals with developmental conditions, and especially in autism, are thought to have pleasant self-stimulatory effects.

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