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 [email protected].

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 23 names in this directory beginning with the letter A.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
A form of counseling that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies to encourage commitment and change.

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

Accessible
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.

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

Addiction
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.

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

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

Agoraphobia
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.

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