Glossary of Neurodiversity

Here is an A-Z glossary of common terms used in neurodiversity. This is pitched at busy line managers and HR professionals, hence definitions have been kept brief and relevant to the workplace. Links to external articles are provided for more in-depth reading.

The glossary has been developed by Adam O’Loughlin and Kaj Bartlett with assistance from John Nelson, as part of the College of Policing Neurodiversity Working Group.


ADOS stands for Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. ADOS is a standardised diagnostic test for ASD, and the most commonly used diagnostic test in the UK.

Asperger syndrome
Asperger syndrome is a form of autism with mild or no impairment in the individual’s capacity to use language. Asperger syndrome was removed from DSM-5 in 2013 and replaced with ASD – however many people were historically given this diagnosis and so it is still in common use as a self-referential label.

Attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder
AD(H)D is characterized by a persistent pattern (at least six months) of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity, with onset typically in early to mid-childhood. The degree of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity significantly interferes with academic, occupational, or social functioning. Inattention refers to significant difficulty in sustaining attention to tasks that do not provide a high level of stimulation or frequent rewards, distractibility and problems with organisation. Hyperactivity refers to excessive motor activity and difficulties with remaining still, most evident in structured situations that require behavioural self-control. Impulsivity is a tendency to act in response to immediate stimuli, without deliberation or consideration of the risks and consequences.

Unlike most neurodivergent conditions, AD(H)D can be directly treated with medication.

Autism spectrum disorder/condition (ASD/ASC)
Autism spectrum disorder or autism spectrum condition (including Asperger syndrome) is a neurodevelopmental condition, characterized by persistent deficits in the ability to initiate and to sustain reciprocal social interaction and social communication, and by a range of restricted, repetitive, and inflexible patterns of behaviour and interests.

(Note that the term ‘disorder’ disliked by some people – the NPAA uses the term ‘condition’ where possible.)

Comorbidity refers to the presence of more than one disorder in the same person. For example, if a person is diagnosed with autism and dyslexia, they are said to be comorbid.

One of the nine protected characteristics, as laid down by the Equality Act. Disability is defined in the Act as: a physical or mental condition which has a substantial and long-term impact on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Autism and other neurodivergent conditions may fit the definition of a disability, but this must be considered on a case-by-case basis as they affect everyone differently. Employers are obliged to provide certain accommodations for disabled employees, such as providing reasonable adjustments.

Dyscalculia refers to acquired difficulty with performing simple mathematical calculations that is inconsistent with general level of intellectual functioning.

Dysgraphia is a developmental learning disorder with impairment in written expression. It is characterised by significant and persistent difficulties in learning academic skills related to writing, such as: grammar, accuracy of spelling and and punctuation, and organisation and coherence of ideas in writing.

Dyslexia is a developmental learning disorder with impairment in reading, and is characterised by significant and persistent difficulties in learning academic skills related to reading, such as word reading accuracy, reading fluency, and comprehension.

Dyspraxia is a developmental motor coordination disorder that is characterized by a significant delay in the acquisition of gross and fine motor skills and impairment in the execution of coordinated motor skills that manifest in clumsiness, slowness, or inaccuracy of motor performance.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version 5. One of two internationally-recognised manuals defining neurological conditions, along with ICD-11. DSM-5 is published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Executive function
Executive functioning is a set of cognitive skills that help you to get things done. Executive functions help with things like planning and organising, flexible thinking, problem solving, multi-tasking, predicting future scenarios and controlling our impulses. Some people can often be quite rigid in their thinking and this can often impact on their way of problem-solving, but when faced with situations that are changing quickly or involve lots of variables like social situations, this can be much harder. This can also affect things like prioritising and switching tasks in the middle of trying to get something completed.

Differences in executive functioning are one of the key criteria for an ASD diagnosis. (See also: theory of mind & weak central coherence)

‘High-functioning’ is an informal way of describing some autistic people who can speak, read, write, and handle basic life skills like eating and getting dressed at least superficially as well as neurotypical people. It is not an official medical term or diagnosis.

The terms ‘high-functioning’ and ‘low-functioning’, and the concept of a linear autism spectrum are disliked by some people as they do not reflect those who have advanced abilities in some areas but may struggle with others, such as living independently. A 360 degree spectrum has been proposed as a way of better expressing the unique range of abilities in each individual that is part of autism.

The International Classification of Diseases, version 11. One of two internationally-recognised manuals defining neurological conditions, along with DSM-5. ICD-11 is published by the World Health Organization.

Intersectionality is a theoretical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities (e.g. gender, sex, race, class, sexuality, religion, disability, physical appearance, height, etc.) combines to create unique modes of discrimination and privilege. It is similar to, but distinct from, comorbidity.

Mind-blindness describes difficulty or inability to attribute mental states to others. (See also: theory of mind)