Acronyms and Terms -
Our Words About Words

The Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities-National Training Center makes an effort to use inclusive and respectful language whenever possible. Click on each word to see a description of the language guidelines that we will follow. These guidelines will be updated as needed.

Because we strive to include and understand diverse perspectives in our content and language, please send us feedback about our website material. We want everyone to feel welcome in our online community.

In an effort to provide information that is accessible to all, we will use terms and language that do not require special knowledge to understand. We understand that it can seem disrespectful when some writers and speakers oversimplify difficult concepts or avoid words over a certain length. Instead, we will provide definitions for key words and thorough explanations of central concepts.

We will make every effort to accommodate the preferences and access needs of different groups (people with various disabilities, including psychiatric disabilities, people of different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences). When necessary, we will consult with members of relevant groups to determine what words to use. When sharing individual stories, we will abide by the preferences of the individual(s) telling the story.

The use of person-first language (PFL) serves as a reminder that a person is more than their disability. In person-first language, disabilities are spoken of as a single characteristic of a person and not as the identity of a person. Examples of person-first language are, “person with cerebral palsy,” “person with a developmental disability,” or “person with Down syndrome.” This practice originated among people with disabilities and is preferred by many subgroups of the disability community. (Learn more about person first language on The Arc website)

There are also disability groups that prefer identity-first language (IFL). These include the Deaf and Autistic communities, as well as others who do not see their disabilities as separate from who they are. These communities use identity-first language as an expression of pride and solidarity. We will use identity-first language to discuss these groups, except when writing about an individual who prefers person-first or another type of language. (Learn more about identity-first language on the ASAN website)

In general, we strive to use strength-based language as used in positive psychology, by focusing on the mental health of individuals.  When talking about mental illness, we will use person-first language, such as: “person with schizophrenia” or “person with major depression” except for when writing about an individual who prefers identity-first language.

Some words that are commonly used in discussions of mental health issues and disabilities can be triggering for those who have experienced abuse or mistreatment because of their diagnosis. For example, we will not use the word “symptom” in describing characteristics of autism. We will not use the word “commit” when discussing suicide, as it implies a criminal act. The choices we have made acknowledge the importance of language in shaping thought and action; they are not chosen for “political correctness,” but are an intentional choice to demonstrate solidarity with people who are working to improve systems of support for people with disabilities and mental health concerns. There may be words not discussed in this section that can cause distress for people using our services. We will do our best to reduce potential distress by using non-judgmental or triggering language whenever possible.

Sometimes people may use seemingly derogatory language toward themselves and others in their group. Examples include “mad,” “crazy,” and “crip.” If you do not identify in those groups, it can be very disrespectful to use these words. People who are interviewed or write their own stories for this project may do so to describe themselves.

For all individuals interviewed or written about for this project, we will respect their self-identified pronouns. When discussing someone whose gender identity is unknown, we will use “they/them” pronouns unless told otherwise.

We will practice cultural humility in all of our interactions. Cultural humility is being open to new ideas and experiences, appreciating the culture of others, accepting cultural practices that may be different than our own, and being flexible in how people experience their own culture. We will do our best to educate ourselves on a variety of cultural topics, but we are still limited in our knowledge and will not know about every person’s unique circumstances. Because we strive to include and understand diverse perspectives in our content and language, please send us feedback about our website material. We want everyone to feel welcome in our online community. You can contact us at

Glossary of Acronyms & Terms

All | # A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
There are currently 134 names in this directory
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
A form of counseling that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies to encourage commitment and change.

How easily someone can access a structure, regardless of their disability status.

When a facility, technology, or other aspect of everyday living is readily usable by someone, regardless of their disability status.

Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)
Brain damage that is caused by something that happens to a person after birth, not by another disorder.

The ability of a space or system to adapt to the needs of those using the space or system.

When a person is physically or mentally dependent on a substance and unable to stop without adverse effects.

Adjustment Disorders
When a person has emotional or behavioral symptoms in direct response to an identified stressor. These symptoms begin within 3 months of the stressor.

Administration for Community Living (ACL)
Part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. This organization is in charge of promoting independence through full participation within communities.

When a person, group of people, or organization support and argue for something that is important to them.

A way to describe the way a person is experiencing emotions or feelings and how they interact with stimuli.

A type of anxiety when people are afraid of feeling trapped, helpless, or embarrassed and avoid places or situations that may induce those feelings.

Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)
When a person has been affected by alcohol within the womb and has disabilities related to that exposure.

Alzheimer’s Disease
A brain disorder that slowly harms memory and thinking processes over time. This disease usually appears in people’s mid-60’s.

American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD)
A non-profit organization that provides leadership and advocacy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

American Psychological Association (APA)
An organization that does research and represents the profession of psychology in the United States.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
A law passed in the United States in 1990 that prohibits discrimination of people based on their disability status.

Anxiety Disorders
Several disorders that are characterized by worry, anxiety, or fear. These feelings interfere with everyday function.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
A technique of the principles of learning that help change behavior that is of social significance.

Assistive Technology (AT)
A term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities. These promote independence and self-determination.

Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD)
This organization supports and promotes a network across the United States of university-based programs that provide services and perform research for the benefit of people with disabilities.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
When someone has difficulty with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.

Authorized Representative (“Rep”)
Someone who is chosen by an individual to act on your behalf if you are unable to act for yourself.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD or “on the spectrum”)
Autism is a neurological variation that occurs in about one percent of the population and is classified as a developmental disability. Some experiences of Autistic people include: different sensory experiences, different ways of learning & problem solving, focused thinking, atypical movements, need for consistency & order, difficulties with understanding & expressing in typical social interactions.

Bipolar and Related Disorders
A disorder that includes emotional highs (mania/hypomania) and emotional lows (depression). These emotional highs and lows significantly impede daily functioning.

Physical or mental collapse caused by over-working or excessive stress.

A person (family member, friend, or professional) that helps take care of people with disabilities.

Client/Person-centered Therapy
A form of treatment that is directed by the client and focuses on their goals.

Clinical Psychologist
A mental health professional with specialized skills to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional illnesses.

Clinically Significant Distress
When mental health symptoms cause impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of daily functioning.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Short-term treatment that can help change thoughts and behaviors to help someone cope with everyday life.

When a person experiences two or more diseases or conditions at the same time.

Companion Animal
An animal with no special training in helping people, but provide psychological support to their owner.

An urge to behave in a certain way.

Congenital Condition
A condition that is present from birth

Counseling Psychologist
A type of psychology that focuses on a person’s functioning across the lifespan and many areas of their life.

A term that refers and organization that serves people with a variety of disabilities, not just a specific disability.

A belief that is firmly held despite being contradicted by what is accepted as reality.

When a person experiences a decline in memory and other thinking skills.

Developmental Disability (DD)
General term to describe a condition that affects the development of a personÕs mind or body, that begins before the age of 18 years old.

When a person has been identified with experiencing certain criteria defined by professional organizations based on research and experience.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5th edition (DSM-5)
The most recent edition of the mental health diagnostic manual created by the American Psychiatric Association.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
An evidence-based treatment for several different mental health diagnoses and experiences focusing on emotion regulation.

The interaction of a person’s impairments, societal attitudes, and environmental barriers. These can span across physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments.

Disability Etiquette
Recommendations regarding how people without disabilities interact with people with disabilities, both physically and through language use.

When a person becomes disconnected from their body, surroundings, or reality

Down Syndrome
Also called Trisomy 21, is a condition in which a person is born with an extra chromosome. Chromosomes contain hundreds, or even thousands, of genes. Genes carry the information that determines the features or characteristics passed on to a child from their parents. With Down syndrome, the extra chromosome causes delays in the way a child develops, mentally and physically.

Dual Diagnosis
When a person is experiencing more than one diagnosis at a time. In our work, this means that a person experiences a developmental disability and a mental health issue.

Early Intervention
A variety of services provided to families and children with developmental disabilities.

Eating Disorders
A variety of mental health experiences characterized by disturbances in typical eating patterns.

Educational Psychologist
A professional psychologist that focuses on the study of how people learn.

A natural state of mind that develops and grows as people age and experience life.

The ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

Environmental barrier
Obstacle preventing a person from accessing a building or other place that is generally accessible to others.

People with disabilities have equal access to education, employment, and resources, as well as full participation in society, just like people without disabilities.

When a group of people or community it blocked from a variety of rights, opportunities, or resources that are generally available to people in a different group.

Family Therapy
A type of therapy that helps families communicate and resolve conflicts.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD or FAEs)
A group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects can include physical problems and problems with behavior and learning.

Fragile X syndrome (aka “Fragile X”)
A genetic disorder that results in a spectrum of intellectual disabilities, specific physical characteristics, social anxiety, and behavioral characteristics.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
A diagnosis characterized by excessive worry about a number of different aspects of life.

Group Therapy
A type of therapy when people experiencing similar life circumstances get together and discuss their problems together with a therapist.

A legal tool that allows one person or entity to make decisions for another. They are typically appointed in instances of incapacity or disability.

When a person experiences seeing, hearing, or other sensory input from something that isn’t present.

How someone experiences them self and who they are.

Identity-First Language
A way of referring to a person that emphasizes their disability or mental health as an identity. (i.e., Autistic person, Schizophrenic person, etc.)

Any persons, regardless of disability status, is accommodated freely, openly, without pity, and without restrictions or limitations of any kind.

Individual Therapy
A type of therapy designed to help one person explore and develop themselves to achieve their goals in life.

Inpatient Treatment
When a person receives medical or mental health treatment and requires at least one overnight stay to help them become or maintain stability.

Intellectual Disability (ID)
A disability category categorized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior that manifests during the developmental period and, generally, effects academic performance.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ)
A number system that is used to measure intelligence based on specific tests.

Action taken to help improve a situation.

Involuntary Patient
A person who is required or forced based on a psychiatric assessment to receive services without their consent.

Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and related Disabilities (LEND)
Programs that provides graduate education to students that will be working in interdisciplinary fields with people with disabilities.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
A diagnosis characterized by persistently depressed mood and long-term loss of pleasure and interest, as well as disturbed sleep, and other feelings of guilt or inadequacy.

A characteristic of bipolar disorder that is marked by overexcitement, overactivity, and delusions.

A substance used for medical or mental health treatment.

When a person focuses their mind for a period of time to regain balance or relax.

Mental Health
A person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.

Mental Illness
When a person’s mental health is out of balance due to their experiences with mood, thinking, and/or behavior.

Using mental skills to focus on the present moment while accepting your experiences and is used as a technique in therapy.

A temporary state of mind or feeling.

Multiple Disability
A person that experiences two or more disabilities simultaneously.

A label often given to people people who are not Autistic or who do not experience other atypical thought or behavior patterns

An idea or thought that intrudes on a person’s mind.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
A diagnosis characterized by unwanted thoughts, feelings, ideas (obsessions), and behaviors that drive them to do something over and over (compulsions). Not doing these obsessive and compulsive rituals causes distress.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
A diagnosis characterized by a pattern of hostile and defiant behaviors directed at authority figures in children under age 18.

Outpatient Treatment
When a person visits a facility for treatment of some kind, but isn’t required to stay overnight.

Panic Attack
A sudden feeling of anxiety that stops a person from continuing what they had been doing.

Panic Disorder
A diagnosis characterized by debilitating anxiety and fear that arises frequently without a reasonable cause.

A condition characterized by a person believing that something is happening to them, but it isn’t and is often exaggerated. This is often comorbid with a personality disorder, drug abuse, or schizophrenia.

Passive-Aggressive Behavior
Behavior characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct communication.

A word to describe a person receiving medical, mental health, or other services.

Person-First Language
Referring to a person before their diagnosis to demonstrate that their diagnosis is only one part of their whole identity. (i.e., person with cerebral palsy, person with depression, etc.)

The combination of characteristics that define a person and how they interact with those around them.

Personality Disorders
A deep pattern of behavior that distinctly deviates from typical personalities and generally causes long-term distress in relationships.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)
A group of disorders classified by delays in the development of social and communication skills.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
A diagnosis characterized by persistent stress experiences following a physically or emotionally distressing event.

The study and treatment of mental health conditions, emotional struggles, and behavior.

A type of therapy that investigates the interactions between what is conscious and unconscious in a person’s mind.

Psychodynamic Therapy
A type of therapy that helps people gain insight into their life and experiences to help them overcome struggles.

Psychological Assessment
A way to learn about a person’s behavior, personality, cognitive abilities, and much more depending on the information needed for helping.

The scientific study of the human mind

A condition characterized by a severe disconnect from reality due to impaired thoughts and emotions.

The treatment of mental health conditions through talk-therapy instead of medical means.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)
A type of short-term therapy that helps people overcome irrational beliefs and self-defeating thoughts and feelings.

Process by which professionals and clients collaborate to create goals, timeframes, and means for achieving the best possible functioning of the client, and promote independence.

Residential Treatment
When a person seeks inpatient help and they stay at a facility as their new place of residence for a time.

How well a person is able to recover after difficulties.

Respite Care
Short term care for people so their primary caregiver(s) can have temporary time for self-care or other tasks.

Respite Care (aka “Respite”)
Short term care for people so their primary caregiver(s) can have temporary time for self-care or other tasks.

Thinking deeply about one topic.

A pattern of thought or behavior that organizes information in our minds and helps us interpret the world.

A diagnosis characterized incoherent thought, delusions or hallucinations, and other experiences. This usually presents itself in early adulthood.

A series of tools that mental health providers use to gather information to help them determine if a person is at risk of or are currently experiencing mental health concerns.

How well a person knows their own character, feelings, motives, and desires.

How a person views themselves and how they interact with the world.

How a person feels about who they are and their abilities.

When a person hurts their body as a way to deal with their struggles.

Service Animal
A trained animal that provides specific assistance or performs certain tasks for a person with physical or mental disabilities.

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
A diagnosis characterized by anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation.

Specific Learning Disability
A category of disability that describes a psychological disruption in a person’s ability to learn. (i.e., dyslexia, ADHD, auditory processing disorder, etc.)

Specific Learning Disability (LD)
A category of disability that describes a psychological disruption in a personÕs ability to learn. (i.e., dyslexia, ADHD, auditory processing disorder, etc.)

Specific Phobia
A diagnosis characterized by anxiety and an irrational fear related to exposure to specific objects or situations. People tend to avoid interaction with the object or situation that they fear.

A mark of shame associated with certain circumstances, qualities, or persons.

Mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.

The act of intentionally causing one’s own death.

Systemic, Therapeutic, Assessment, Resources, and Treatment (START) Services
An organization dedicated to adding to research and improving services for people with intellectual developmental disabilities and behavioral health needs.

Tic and Related Disorders
A category of diagnoses that are characterized by a variety of experiences related to involuntary muscle movements, including vocalization.

A deeply distressing or disturbing experience.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
An injury to the brain that is caused by an external force that results in possible impairments to cognition, language, memory, attention, reasoning, abstract thinking, judgment, problem solving, speech, etc.

Care given to a person of medical or mental health needs.

Universal Design
The designing of products, environments, programs, and services that are accessible for the greatest number of people, without the need for adaptations. Also known as Design for All.

Universal Design (UD)
The designing of products, environments, programs, and services that are accessible for the greatest number of people, without the need for adaptations. Also known as Design for All.

University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education (UCEDD)
Organizations that work to promote inclusion, independence, and productivity for all people, especially for people with developmental disabilities.

Another way to experience anxiety that is characterized by dwelling on difficulty or troubles.

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