Glossary - Page 2

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An adjective used in medicine to mean arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause.

Implicit uses of memory:

Availability of information through memory processes without the exertion of any conscious effort to encode or recover information.


Unable to restrain a natural discharge, as in urine, from the body.

Individual Education Plan (IEP):

A written plan for every student receiving special education services within the school system. The plan contains information such as the student's special learning needs and the specific special education services required by the student.

Inner drive:

Self-motivation to participate actively in experiences that promote sensory integration.


Unlearned, biologically determined drive.

Interdisciplinary team:

A group of professionals with varied and specialised training who function together to provide clinical services.


Coming from within; an inherent quality.

IQ (intelligence quotient):

Numerical expression of intelligence derived by dividing mental age by chronological age and multiplying by 100.


Perception of the movement of individual body parts; dependent on proprioception. The conscious awareness of joint position and body movement in space, such as knowing where to place one’s feet when climbing stairs, without visual cues.

Landau-Kleffner syndrome (LKS):

A disorder with seizures starting in childhood in which the patient loses skills, such as speech, and develops behaviour which is characteristic of autism.


The skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Language comprehension:

Also called receptive language. A person's ability to understand and process language at the sound, word, phrase, sentence, multi-sentence and conversational levels.

Language impairment/disorder:

These terms are used interchangeably to refer to a disorder characterised by a problem in the understanding and/or use of oral or written language (listening, speaking, reading and writing).


The tendency for certain processes to be handled more efficiently on one side of the brain than on the other. In most people, the right hemisphere becomes more efficient in processing spatial information, while the left hemisphere specialises in verbal and logical processes. Lateralisation is necessary for establishing hand preference and crossing the body midline.

Learned helplessness:

Condition of apathy or inactivity that results from repeatedly experiencing a lack of control over challenging life experiences.

Learning disability:

A learning disorder that involves problems in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning and mathematical skills. There is typically a significant difference between academic achievement and intellectual ability. Examples include dyslexia (difficulty in reading) and dysgraphia (difficulty in writing).

Life skills:

The practical skills used & applied in daily life. Can include reading menus, schedules, phone skills, everyday money skills, and social concepts.

Linear movement

A motion in which one moves in a line, from front to back, side to side, or up and down.

Low tone:

The lack of supportive muscle tone, usually with increased mobility at the joints; the person with low tone seems loose and floppy.

Lower extremity:

Pertaining to the area of the body from the hips to the feet.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI):

Special technique for neurological diagnosis; a form of imaging that provides images of thin slices of the brain in any plane using non-ionising energy.


Helping people with disabilities to be integrated into typical settings so that they can function at their optimal level of independence.

Maladaptive behaviour:

Activity that is dysfunctional or counterproductive in coping effectively with stress.

Manual dexterity:

The ability that allows for efficient and precise manipulation of objects.


Near the midline of the body.



The mental capacity to encode, store, and retrieve information. The types of memory are:


  1. Short term: the temporary storage of information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning and comprehension.

  2. Long term: the storage, management and retrieval of information for later use. Information may last for a few hours, days or a lifetime.

  3. Working memory: the processes that are used to hold and use a limited amount of information in our heads for a short amount of time to perform a task, such as using a telephone number or following directions. The amount of information that can be held is limited and is quickly lost if we are distracted.



A median line dividing the two halves of the body. Crossing the midline is the ability to use one side or part of the body (hand, foot, or eye) in the space of the other side or part.


Demonstration of a task, skill, or desirable behaviour in order to teach another person.


Voice that is produced without varying the fundamental frequency.


Condition of illness, injury, or disability.


How sounds and words are put together to form meaning.

Motor planning:

The ability to imagine, organise, sequence and carry out unfamiliar and complex body movements in a coordinated manner.

Muscle tone:

The tension in the muscle. Muscle tone should be high enough to hold a position against gravity, yet low enough to move a body joint through its full range of motion. Abnormal muscle tone would be either extreme tension or lack of tension in a muscle.

Muscular dystrophy:

Chronic, inherited disease of the muscles characterised by gradual weakening and degeneration of the voluntary muscles.


Inflammation of the spinal cord.


Abnormal condition of skeletal muscle characterised by muscle weakness and wasting.




Diagnostic study and treatment of organic diseases of the nervous system.

Non-verbal communication:

Messages passing between the sender and receiver that do not use the spoken word.

Non-verbal learning disorder:



A condition characterised by a significant discrepancy between an individual’s verbal skills, which are relatively well-developed, and their motor, visual, spatial or social skills. The individual can have difficulty interpreting and understanding non-verbal cues in their environment and this may result in social, interpersonal and imaginative difficulties.



Standards based on measurements of a large group of people; used for comparing the scores of an individual with those of others within a well-defined group.

Observational learning:

The process of learning new responses by watching the behaviour of others.

Occupational therapy:

Occupational therapy is a health profession concerned with improving the functioning of a person's nervous system. The occupational therapist evaluates an individual’s performance in relation to what is developmentally expected for that age group. If there is a discrepancy between developmental expectations and functional ability, the occupational therapist looks at a variety of ways to develop skills that will lead to independence in personal, social, academic and vocational pursuits. The skills worked on by occupational therapists include perceptual, sensory, visual motor, fine motor and self-care.


Pertaining to the eye.

Ocular motor apraxia (OMA):

A visual condition where a child or adult has difficulty in controlling their horizontal eye movements.


Abnormal accumulation of fluid in intercellular spaces in the tissues.

Oral motor :

The movement and placement of the oral structures such as the tongue, lips, palate and teeth. Oral motor skills include the ability to lick your lips, stick out your tongue, blow bubbles, make a ‘kissy face’, etc. Feeding skills, oral motor skills, and articulation development are all related to each other in that they develop side by side and one builds upon the other.

Oral motor control:

Muscle control of the lips, tongue, jaw and cheeks for eating, drinking, facial movement, and speaking.


Awareness of oneself in terms of time, place, and person.


Up and down or to and fro linear movement, such as swinging, bouncing, and jumping.


Medical doctor who specialises in the development and care of children and the treatment of children’s diseases.

Parallel play:

The child plays near or beside another child using some or all of the same/similar materials as the other child without trying to modify or influence the other child and being mainly concerned with toy materials, not with relating to the other child.


Branch of medicine that deals with the causes and symptoms of diseases, especially the structural and functional changes caused by a disease.


When children display similar behaviours to but do not meet the criteria for autistic disorder, they may receive a diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). It is a neurological disorder that affects such areas as a child's ability to communicate, understand language, play, and relate to others.


Process of becoming aware of, attending to, or interpreting stimuli, usually by visual, auditory, or kinesthetic senses. Perception is the meaning the brain gives to sensory input.

Phonological disorder:

Difficulty with the development of speech sounds and the rules for the sound system. The disorder is characterised by the failure to use speech sounds that are appropriate for the individual’s age and dialect.


The sound system of language including speech sounds, speech patterns and the rules that apply to those sounds.


The genetic disorder phenylketonuria which results in the build-up of concentrations of chemicals that interfere with brain development, leading to severe disability. It is detectable by a simple test administered shortly after birth and treatable by diet when detected early.


The ability of the brain to change or to be changed as a result of activity, especially as one responds to sensations.

Play therapy:

Type of psychotherapy for children that utilises play activities and toys.

Positron emission tomography (PET scan):

Brain-imaging technique that permits evaluation of regional metabolic differences by looking at radioisotope distribution.

Postural adjustments:

The ability to shift one's body in order to change position for a task.

Postural control:

This is the ability to sustain the necessary background posture to efficiently carry out a skilled task, such as reading or writing. The ability to stablise the trunk and neck underlies the ability to develop efficient eye and hand movements.

Postural insecurity:

A fear of body movement that is related to poor balance, and deficient ‘body-in-space’ awareness.


The rules that govern and describe how language is used in different contexts and environments.


The ability of the brain to conceive of, organise, and carry out a sequence of unfamiliar actions. Also known as motor planning.

Primitive reflexes:


Automatic and involuntary movements present at birth which facilitate the different stages of early motor development and which usually disappear within the first few months of life.

Procedural memory:

Memory for how things get done; the way perceptual, cognitive, and motor skills are acquired, retained, and used.


The horizontal body position with the face and stomach downward.


The unconscious awareness of sensations coming from the muscles and joints. Proprioceptive input tells the brain when and how muscles are contracting or stretching, and when and how the joints are bending, extending or being pulled or compressed. Proprioception makes a strong contribution to praxis or motor planning, the ability to grade movement and to postural control.


Sensors within the muscles and tendons that provide information about the position of the body in space. The sensors provide feedback about joint angle, muscle length, and muscle tension.

Prosody/prosodic features:

Prosody is the melody of speech. Prosodic features include pitch, intonation (the rise and fall of the pitch of the voice), stress (emphasis), rhythm, voice quality, loudness and rate of speech.

Protective response:


The human body’s automatic response to extreme or sudden stimuli, for example stretching out the arms when falling forwards, or closing the eyes to blinding light.


The branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental and emotional disorders.

Psychological assessment:

The use of specified procedures to evaluate the abilities, behaviours, and personal qualities of people.


A person trained and educated to perform psychological research, testing, diagnosis, counselling and therapy. Not a medical doctor, so not permitted to prescribe medication.


The scientific study of the behaviour of individuals and their mental processes.


Manipulative or motor acts requiring voluntary movement in contrast to involuntary reflex movement.


Pertaining to the interaction of the mind and body. Commonly used to refer to bodily symptoms having at least a partial emotional cause.


Paralysis of all four limbs.

Range of motion (ROM):

Movement of joints through the full extent to which they can be moved.


The process of thinking in which conclusions are drawn from a set of facts; thinking directed toward a given goal or objective.


A method of retrieval in which an individual is required to reproduce information previously presented to them.

Receptive language:

The ability to understand or comprehend language. It usually refers to the ability to understand verbal expression, but also includes the ability to understand sign language, writing, Braille and other forms of language.


Returning to an earlier method of behaving.


To restore or return a person to maximum functioning and optimal adjustment through therapy and education.

Relational play:

See ‘functional play’.

Representational play:

Pretend play which emerges when a child begins to use familiar objects in appropriate ways to represent their world, e.g. pushing a toy lawn mower over the grass.


Exclusion of an anxiety-producing event from the conscious awareness.


The recovery of stored information from memory.

Rotary movement:

Turning or spinning in circles.


Lateral curvature of the spine.

Selective mutism:

Selectively mute children can speak but only do so with certain people or in certain places. For example, a child might speak at home to his/her parents but not to anyone at school (including his/her parents).


The ability to attain, maintain and change one’s level of arousal appropriately for a task or situation. The ability to control one’s activity level and state of alertness, as well as one’s emotional, mental or physical responses to senses.



The capacity for introspection and the ability to understand oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other people.



The way individuals think and feel about themselves and how well they do things that are important to them. It reflects the way individuals perceive themselves and their own worth.

Self-help skills:

Competence in taking care of one's personal needs, such as bathing, dressing, eating, grooming, and studying.

Semantic memories:

Generic, categorical memories, such as the meanings of words and concepts.


The study of the meaning of language, including meaning at the word, sentence, and conversational level.


Detection of a stimulus by sensory receptors. Sensation tests common in occupational therapy assess light touch, heat and cold, sharp and dull, and two point discrimination.


Pertaining to the brain-behaviour of taking in sensory messages and reacting with a physical response.

Sensory defensiveness:

A child's behaviour in response to sensory input, reflecting severe over-reactions or a low threshold to a specific sensory input.

Sensory diet:

A planned and scheduled activity program developed by an occupational therapist to help a person become more self-regulated.

Sensory input:

The streams of neural impulses flowing from the sense receptors in the body to the spinal cord and brain.

Sensory integration:

The normal neurological process taking in information from one’s body and environment through the senses, of organising and unifying this information, and using it to plan and execute adaptive responses to different challenges in order to learn and function smoothly in daily life.

Sensory integration dysfunction:

An irregularity in brain function that makes it difficult to process information from the senses effectively. Sensory integration dysfunction can cause problems with learning, development and behaviour.

Sensory integration treatment:

A technique of occupational therapy which provides playful, meaningful activities that enhance an individual’s sensory intake and lead to more adaptive functioning in daily life.

Sensory modulation:

The ability to regulate our responses in a manner proportional to the sensory stimuli. Some children have an increased level of arousal and seem to be over responsive to sensory input. This is described as sensory defensiveness. Children at the other end of the range have a decreased level of arousal and seem to be under responsive to sensory input. Both extremes may be seen in one child to the same type of sensory stimuli, but generally, one extreme tends to dominate. Both cause the child to have difficulty with attention and interfere with the development of sensory processing skills.

Sensory processing:

The ability to receive and process information from one’s sensory systems including touch (tactile), visual (sight), auditory (hearing), proprioceptive (body position) and vestibular (balance). Behaviour, attention and peer interactions are greatly influenced by the child’s ability to process sensory stimuli.

Sign language:

A gestural language used primarily by the deaf community. It has its own structure, independent of English. There are many sign language systems in use and they vary from country to country.

Social impairment:

Verbal and/or non-verbal difficulties in socialising and relating with peers.

Social skills:

The learned behaviour that facilitates interaction and communication with other people.

Solitary play:

The child plays alone without concern for the activities of those around him/her.


Abnormal, involuntary, sudden movement or convulsive muscular contraction.

Spatial awareness:

The perception of one’s proximity to, or distance from, an object, as well as the perception of the relationship of one’s body parts.

Special education:

Resources, services, classes, etc. for students with special educational needs. The school system is involved with the identification of students with special needs, from ages three upwards. They provide assessment and, if appropriate, intervention services for those who qualify. Specific procedures are involved in assessment and intervention. If identified with special needs, an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) is written for the child to address learning needs.


Speech refers to the transmission of language orally. Speech impairment includes articulation and/or phonological disorder, dysfluency, apraxia, dysarthria, voice and resonance.

Speech therapist:

Professional who provides assessment, education, interventions, and services for individuals with communication disorders.

Spina bifida:

Congenital closure defect that generally occurs in the lower lumbar region of the spine.


Excessive repetition of parts of words, involuntary prolongation of sounds in words, and/or struggle to ‘get words out’.


The horizontal body position with the face and stomach upward.

Symbolic play:

Symbolic, or dramatic, play is when children begin to substitute one object for another. For example, using a hairbrush to represent a microphone. The child may pretend to do something (with or without the object present or with an object representing another object) or be someone. They may also pretend through other inanimate objects (e.g. has a doll pretend to feed another doll).


The order of language; especially the way words are put together in phrases or sentences to produce meaning.

table top play:

Organised play that occurs at a table or related location. For example a board game, cards, etc.


Pertaining to the sense of touch on the skin. The sense of touch is a child's first way to learn about the external world. It is a critical sense for developing relationships and for giving comfort. The sense of touch plays a very important role in the child's development of body awareness and is critical in the development of praxis (motor planning).

Tactile defensiveness:

A sensory integration dysfunction in which tactile sensations create negative emotional reactions. It is associated with distractibility, restlessness, and behaviour problems.

Therapeutic listening:

A therapy technique involving the use of modulated and filtered music during sensory integration therapy to promote regulation and praxis.


One who specialises in the provision of a particular therapy.


The perception of sound in the absence of an acoustic stimulus, most commonly described as a ringing in the ears.

Tourette's syndrome:

A severe neurological disorder characterised by multiple facial and other body tics, usually beginning in childhood or adolescence and often accompanied by grunts and compulsive utterances, for example, interjections and obscenities.

Unconditional love/positive regard:

Complete love and acceptance of an individual by another person, such as a parent for a child, with no conditions attached.

Upper extremity:

Pertaining to the area of the body from the shoulder to the hands.

Verbal dyspraxia:

A motor planning problem of speech. Generally, unlike dysarthria, there is nothing wrong with the speech muscles themselves.


The sensation of dizziness.


Referring to the vestibular apparatus, located in the ear, which senses the position of the head in space and sudden changes in the direction of movement of the body; vestibular stimulation may be brought about by using swings, hassocks, therapy balls, or scooter boards.

Vestibular system:

This is the sensory system that responds to changes in head position and body movement through space. Receptors in our ears sense if we are upright, upside down, moving sideways, spinning etc. As a result of this sensory input we make adjustments to posture and to eye movements. Vestibular sensation also has an impact on balance, coordination of the two body sides (bilateral coordination) and emotional control. Accurate vestibular processing is essential for motor planning (praxis).

Visual closure:

The ability to visualise a whole object when only given a partial image of it.

Visual discrimination:

Differentiating among symbols and forms, such as matching or separating colours, shapes, numbers, letters and words.

Visual motor skills:

The development of smooth and efficient eye movement to allow for tracking of objects, focusing on specific targets and shifting the gaze from one object to another. The ability to visually take in information, process it and be able to coordinate physical movement in relation to what has been viewed. It involves the combination of visual perception and motor coordination. Difficulty with visual motor skills can result in inaccurate reaching, pointing and grasping of objects, as well as difficulty with copying, drawing, tracing and cutting.

Visual perception:

The brain's ability to interpret and make sense of what the eyes see.

Visual perceptual skills:

The ability to interpret and use what is seen in the environment. Difficulties in this area can interfere with a child’s ability to learn self-help skills like tying shoelaces and academic tasks like copying from the blackboard or finding items in a busy background.

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