A-H | I-Z


Inability to walk due to a lack of muscle coordination.


Movement of a body part away from the midline of the body.


Inability to act or make decisions independently.


Lack of feeling associated with a subject that usually provokes strong emotions.

Activities of daily living (ADL):

Activities performed in the course of a normal day in a person’s life, such as eating, dressing, bathing, grooming, and homemaking.


Of sudden onset; not chronic.

Adaptive equipment:

Equipment that enables a person with a disability to function independently. This term is now being replaced by 'assistive devices'.

Adaptive response:

Where an individual’s response is appropriate for the action required.


Movement of a body part towards the midline of the body.


Working in support of the rights and needs of others; often used to refer to working in support of persons who have a disability.


The cause of a disease or disorder.


A person’s feelings, tone or mood; one’s emotional response.

Age appropriateness:

Activities that correspond with an individual’s chronological age.


Loss of the ability to write, resulting from injury to the language centre of the cerebral cortex.


Inability to comprehend written words.


Reduced vision in an eye without an obvious cause.


A neurological disorder caused by damage to the parts of the brain that are responsible for language. Signs include difficulty in expressing oneself when speaking, trouble understanding speech and difficulty with reading and writing.


Loss of the voice resulting from disease, injury to the vocal cords, or various psychological causes.

Applied behavioural analysis (ABA):

A method used to change behaviour. ABA is a discipline that requires consistency, behaviour prompting and rewards for correct behaviour or approximations of correctness.


A disorder of the brain and nervous system in which a person is physically unable to perform tasks or movements when asked, even though the request or command is understood.

Apraxia - verbal:

Verbal apraxia is a motor speech disorder of articulation characterised by difficulty with sequencing and organising motor or muscle movements specifically for the production of speech.


A state of the nervous system which describes how alert someone feels.


The movement of the mouth, lips, tongue and voice box (the 'articulators') to produce speech sounds. This term also refers to the clarity of sounds in speech and the pronunciation of sounds and words.

Articulation disorder:

Characterised by the inability to produce individual speech sounds clearly, and difficulty combining sounds correctly for words.

Asperger’s syndrome:

Asperger’s syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) characterised by severe and sustained impairment in social interaction, and development of restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, and activities. In contrast to autistic disorder (autism), there are no clinically significant delays in language or cognition, self-help skills or in adaptive behaviour, other than social interaction.


Formal (e.g. standardised tests) and informal procedures used to identify a person's unique needs, strengths, weaknesses and learning style, and the nature and extent of any intervention services needed.

Assistive devices:

See 'adaptive equipment'.


The inability to coordinate muscular movements, characterised by lack of balance or unsteadiness.


Describes muscles that are weak or lacking normal tone or vigour.


The emotional relationship between a child and his/her 'regular caregiver'.

Attending behaviour:

Responses to stimuli primarily through the use of eye contact, posture, gestures, and verbal behaviour.

Attention deficit disorder:

ADD/ADHD in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV (DSM-IV) refers to the following types:

1) Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder combined type;

2) Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder/predominately inattentive type;

3) Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder/predominately hyperactive-impulsive type.

Overall, behaviours include hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention, depending on the diagnosis. These behaviours must occur to a degree which is maladaptive and inconsistent with developmental level, and occur in at least two settings over a period of at least six months. The behaviours may interfere with speech/language learning, academic performance and social activities such as making friends and/or sustaining friendships. The disorder is diagnosed before the age of 7, or symptoms are present before this age. There must also be the presence of related impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning. Individuals with attention deficit disorder (ADD) have serious difficulty concentrating because they see, hear and feel almost everything in their environment and are therefore constantly being distracted from the task at hand. More importantly, it is difficult for them, especially as children, to determine which stimuli to pay attention to and which to try to ignore. With most of us, such a decision is automatic. Individuals with ADD must often make a conscious choice. When a child with ADD hears the buzz of the fluorescent lights overhead and his teacher’s voice, both seem equally important to his brain. He must choose which sound should take precedence, which takes both time and energy. Interventions often include medication and behavioural/educational skills training.


Attention span:

The length of time an individual can concentrate on one thing or participate in an activity before losing interest.


Unusual or uncharacteristic variations of a disorder.


A professional who specialises in the identification, testing, and treatment of hearing loss and hearing related disorders.


Pertaining to hearing and language processing skills, acquired as one hears and perceives sounds and interacts with the environment.

Auditory memory:

The ability to remember what was heard, repeat the information, and use the information at a later time. The three major types of auditory memory include:

  1. Short-term: the ability to remember information heard and recall it immediately;

  2. Long-term: the ability to remember information heard and recall it after a period of time (an hour or day or longer) has passed;

  3. Sequential: the ability to remember information in the exact order it was heard.

Auditory processing disorder:

Difficulties in processing the information carried by audible signals (sounds). Auditory processing disorders are not due to impairments of peripheral hearing or intelligence.

Auditory perception:

The ability to receive, identify, discriminate, understand and respond to sounds.

Auditory processing:

The human brain’s ability to use information it receives through the ears, a complicated process that involves much more than just ‘listening’.

Auditory verbal therapy:

Therapy using technology and teaching strategies to enable deaf and hard of hearing children to learn to listen, understand spoken language, and communicate through speech.

Augmentative communication:

A wide variety of non-verbal techniques used to supplement or 'augment' a person's oral speech, allowing them to use and develop their language. Techniques may include natural gestures, sign language, photographs and pictures, spelling out words on alphabet displays, or 'high tech' voice output devices.


Sensation experienced before a seizure.


A complex developmental disability that affects how the brain functions, specifically those areas of the brain that control social ability and communication skills. There can also be abnormal responses to sensations and/or ritualistic behaviour. DSM-IV specifies that autism includes delays and/or abnormal functioning, with onset during the first three years of life, in at least one of the following areas:

1) social interaction;

2) language as used in social communication;

3) symbolic or imaginative play.

It is four times more prevalent in boys than girls and knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries. Family income, lifestyle, and educational levels do not affect the chance of autism's occurrence.

Autistic spectrum disorders:

Also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders and include Asperger’s syndrome, autism, and pervasive developmental disorders not otherwise specified. The disorders share a set of behavioural characteristics, but each child or adult shows symptoms and characteristics very differently. Autism is referred to as a spectrum disorder to signify these differences among those sharing a common diagnosis.

Aversion or aversion response:

A negative response to sensory input, such as withdrawing from the input or protesting against it.


In typically developing infants there is a gradual emergence of increasingly complex and speech-like utterances during the first two years of life. This period of non-referential vocalisation is generally recognised as a foundation for meaningful speech and phonological development.

Behaviour management plan:

A plan which tries to prevent maladaptive behaviours and teaches socially acceptable behaviours to take the place of unpleasant behaviours.


On both sides; or having two sides.

Bilateral coordination:

The ability to use both sides of the body together in a smooth coordinated manner.

Bilateral integration:

The neurological process of integrating sensations from both sides of the body for bilateral coordination such as knowing left from right.

Binocular cues:

Humans are able to determine if objects are close or far away. This depth perception requires the use of both of our eyes, and is referred to as binocular cues.

Binocularity/binocular vision:

Forming a single visual image from two images separately recorded by the eyes.

Body image/body awareness/ body perception:

The mental picture of one’s own body parts, where they are, how they interrelate, and how they move.

Body language:

Expression of thoughts and emotions by body posture and movement.


The ability to transfer newly learned skills or information from one setting to another.

Cerebral palsy:

A condition characterised by the inability to control muscular movements due to injury, infection, or faulty development of the motor controls of the brain.


Continuing over a long period of time or recurring frequently; not acute.

Cleft lip and/or palate:

A disorder of the musculo-skeletal system where bone and muscle tissues do not fuse before birth, causing a cleft in the lip and/or palate (the arch of the mouth).


The simultaneous contraction of all the muscles around a joint to stabilise it, so that the joint can maintain its position.


The mental processes of comprehension, judgement, memory and reasoning.


Verbal and non-verbal transmission of ideas, feelings, beliefs and attitudes that permits a common understanding between the sender of the message and the receiver.


The experience of more than one disorder at the same time.


A change in behaviour consistent with a direct request.

Computerised axial tomography (CAT Scan):

Computerised x-ray that produces high-resolution images of the brain, blood vessels, arteries and veins.


Present or existing from the time of birth.

Constructive play:

Manipulation of objects for the purpose of constructing or creating something. Children use materials to achieve a specific goal that requires transformation of objects into a new configuration.

Cooperative play:

When children plan, assign roles and play together it is referred to as cooperative play. Cooperative play is goal-oriented with children playing in an organised manner towards a common end

Cystic fibrosis (CF):

Disorder of the exocrine glands that causes those glands to produce abnormally thick secretions of mucus. The glands most affected are the respiratory, pancreatic, and sweat glands.

Deductive reasoning:

A form of thinking in which one draws a conclusion that is intended to follow logically from two or more statements.

Defensive system:

The part of the sensory system that alerts one to real or potential danger and causes a protective response.


Performance below expected norms according to chronological age.

Depth perception:

The ability to see objects in three dimensions and to judge relative distances between objects, or between oneself and objects.

Developmental disability:

Children with developmental disabilities are those who have a delay in one or more of the following areas: cognitive development; physical and motor development, including vision and hearing; communication development; social or emotional development; or adaptive development.

Developmental language disorder:

Children who do not develop language skills appropriately or according to language norms have a language disorder.

Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV:



Paralysis of corresponding parts on both sides of the body, for example of both arms, or both legs.


Double vision.


The awareness of right/left, forward/back, and up/down, and the ability to move oneself in those directions.

Discriminative system:

The part of the sensory system that allows one to distinguish differences among stimuli. This system is not innate but develops with time and practice.


An ailment or condition that affects the function of mind or body.

Down Syndrome:


A congenital disorder, caused by the presence of an extra critical portion of the 21st chromosome in all, or some, of the body’s cells. Those affected usually have mild to moderate learning difficulties.


Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV, the current diagnostic and statistical manual of the American Psychiatric Association.


A motor speech disorder that is due to paralysis, weakness, altered muscle tone or un-coordination of the speech muscles.


A specific learning disability involving innate difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic.


Dysfluency, also known as stuttering, is an interruption in the smooth, easy flow of speech.


A neurological disorder characterised by writing disabilities. A severe difficulty in producing handwriting that is legible and written at an age appropriate speed.


Impairment in the ability to read.


Difficulty in swallowing.


Difficulty with thinking out, planning and carrying out sensory/motor tasks.

Early intervention:

Early intervention applies to children prior to school age who are discovered to have or be at risk of developing a condition or other special need that may affect their development. Early intervention consists of the provision of services for such children and their families for the purpose of lessening the effects of the condition.


Automatic repetition of words or phrases.

Electrocardiogram (ECG):

Tracing showing changes in electric potential produced by contractions of the heart and used to diagnose heart disease.

Electroencephalogram (EEG):

Graphic record of the electrical activity of the brain.

Emotional intelligence:

Type of intelligence defined as the abilities to perceive, appraise, and express emotions accurately and appropriately.


The ability to perceive the world from another’s frame of reference or to put oneself in another’s place and understand his or her feelings and behaviours.


Inflammation of the brain.


Involuntary emptying of the bowel, usually during sleep at night.


Involuntary passage of urine; bed wetting.


Disorder characterised by recurrent seizures caused by disturbances of the electrical activity of the brain.


The emotional intelligence counterpart of IQ.


A term used to mean balance.


To aggravate or increase the severity of a condition.

Expressive language:

The ability to express oneself in words. This usually refers to language expression through speech, but also includes gestures, sign language, use of a communication board, and other forms of expression.


Straightening a joint; the opposite of flexion.


A muscle that extends a joint.

Fight-or-flight response:

The instinctive reaction to defend oneself from real or perceived danger by becoming aggressive or by withdrawing.

Fine motor skills:

Skills that require coordination of the small muscles in the fingers, toes, eyes and hands. Usually used to describe the ability to move the hands and fingers in a smooth, precise and controlled manner.


Fixation has two distinct definitions:

  1. Aiming one's eye at an object or shifting the gaze from one object to another;

  2. A state in which a person remains attached to objects or activities more appropriate for an earlier stage of psychosexual development.


Flat affect:

Absence or near absence of any signs of affective expression.


Ability to use a muscle through its entire range of motion.


The act of bending or pulling in a part of the body; the opposite of extension.

Floor play:

Therapy where skills such as speech, language and play are developed through floor-based play involving toys, games and activities.


The smooth, uninterrupted, effortless flow of speech.


Accommodating one's vision smoothly between near and distant objects.

Fragile X syndrome:

A genetic condition caused by a spontaneous partial break in the long arm of the X chromosome. There are often very few outward signs of Fragile X syndrome. The spectrum of the syndrome ranges from normal development to developmental delay.

Functional ability:

The level of skill required to perform activities in a normal or accepted manner.

Functional play:

May also be a term used for ‘relational play’ (seen between 9-24 months) denoting use of objects in play for the purposes for which they were intended, for example using simple objects correctly, combining related objects (man in car), and making objects do what they were designed to do.


Manner or style of walking.

Generalised anxiety disorder:

An anxiety disorder in which an individual feels anxious and worried most of the time for at least six months when not threatened by any specific danger or object.


The biological units of heredity.


The study of the inheritance of physical and psychological traits from ancestors.


Disease of the eye caused by increased internal fluid pressure, leading to progressive visual impairment.


Systems, rules or underlying principles that describe the structure of language, for example word order in sentences and grammatical markers such as plurals, verb tenses, pronouns etc.

Gravitational insecurity:

An unusual degree of anxiety or fear in response to movement or change in head position, related to poor processing of vestibular and proprioceptive information.

Gross motor:

This refers to movement of the large muscles in the arms, legs and trunk in activities such as walking, running, jumping, throwing, and maintaining balance.


The neurological process of tuning out familiar sensations.



Hand preference:

Establishing right or left-handedness as lateralisation of the cerebral hemispheres develops.

Hand/eye coordination:

The coordination of hands and eyes necessary to do tasks like dressing skills, writing and playing with toys.

Hearing impairment:

A full or partial loss of the ability to detect sounds. The inability to hear sounds, or distinguish among different sounds, will result in problems with speech and language development.

Heavy work:

Activity that provides proprioceptive input through stretch receptors in active muscles and joints that are bearing a load. Ideally it is movements with large muscle groups against resistance and is symmetrical and sustained.


Paralysis of one side of the body.


Transmission of genetic characteristics from parent to child.


Homophony is the term used to describe a child's pronunciation of different words the same way (for example the words 'coat', 'coach' and 'Coke' all pronounced as 'tote').


Use of water in the treatment of a condition.


Extreme or abnormal straightening of a joint beyond a position of extension.


A syndrome in which precocious reading abilities develop spontaneously and untaught before the age of five.


Overreacts to sensory input.


Over-sensitivity to sensory input; can manifest as a tendency to be anxious and over cautious, or negative and defiant.

Hypersensitivity to movement:

Excessive sensations of disorientation, loss of balance, nausea, or headache in response to linear and/or rotary movement.


Abnormally high tension or tone, especially of the muscles.


Increase in the size of a tissue or organ independent of the general growth of the body.


Unresponsive to sensory input. Appears to be unaware and difficult to engage.


Undersensitivity to sensory input characterised by a tendency to crave intense sensation. Can be withdrawn and difficult to engage.


Abnormally low blood pressure.


The brain structure that regulates motivated behaviour, such as eating and drinking.


Abnormally low muscle tension or tone.

A-H | I-Z

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