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Developmental Disabilities > Autism Information Center > Glossary



Cerebral Palsy: Cerebral palsy refers to a group of disorders that affect a person's ability to move and to maintain balance and posture. It is due to a nonprogressive brain abnormality, which means that it does not get worse over time, though the exact symptoms can change over a person's lifetime. 

People with cerebral palsy have damage to the part of the brain that controls muscle tone. Muscle tone is the amount of resistance to movement in a muscle. It is what lets you keep your body in a certain posture or position.  For more information about cerebral palsy, go to and/or

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Congenital Rubella Syndrome:  According to the National Institutes of Health, congenital rubella is a group of physical problems that occur in an infant when its mother is infected with the virus that causes German measles.  Symptoms can include: Skin rash at birth, low birth weight, small head size, lethargy, irritability, deafness, seizures, cloudy corneas or white appearance to pupil, developmental delay, and mental retardation. (Medline Plus: 

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Developmental Disabilities:  Developmental disabilities are a diverse group of severe chronic conditions that are due to mental and/or physical impairments. People with developmental disabilities have problems with major life activities such as language, mobility, learning, self-help, and independent living. Developmental disabilities begin anytime during development up to 22 years of age and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime. For more information on developmental disabilities, go to:

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Developmental screening: a brief assessment designed to identify children who should receive a more intensive evaluation.  Developmental screening is part of developmental surveillance. For more information on developmental screening, go to:

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Developmental surveillance:  Developmental surveillance is an ongoing process where health care professionals identify children who may have developmental problems. Surveillance can be useful for determining appropriate referrals, providing patient education and family-centered care in support of healthy development, and monitoring the effects of developmental health promotion through early intervention and therapy. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are 5 components of developmental surveillance: eliciting and attending to the parents' concerns about their child's development; documenting and maintaining a developmental history; making accurate observations of the child; identifying risk and protective factors; and maintaining an accurate record of documenting the process and findings.   For more information about developmental surveillance and screening, go to;118/1/405

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders  (DSM),

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States.  DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition), published in 1994, was the last major revision of the DSM.

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Epilepsy: According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), epilepsy is a disorder of the brain where brain cells create abnormal electricity that cause seizures.  A seizure may cause “jerking” movements.  In some cases, seizures cause only a loss of consciousness, a period of confusion, a staring spell or muscle spasms.  A single seizure is not considered epilepsy.  People with epilepsy have repeated episodes of seizures.  (AAFP.

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Fragile X: According to the National Fragile X Foundation, Fragile X is a family of genetic conditions, which can impact individuals and families in various ways. These genetic conditions are related in that they are all caused by gene changes in the same gene, called the FMR1 gene.

  • fragile X syndrome (FXS), the most common cause of inherited mental impairment. This impairment can range from learning disabilities to more severe cognitive or intellectual disabilities. (Sometimes referred to as mental retardation.) FXS is the most common known cause of autism or "autistic-like" behaviors. Symptoms also can include characteristic physical and behavioral features and delays in speech and language development.  (National Fragile X Foundation:

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Hearing Loss: Hearing loss can vary greatly among children and can be caused by many things. In the United States, 1 to 3 children per 1,000 are born with hearing loss each year. Most children also experience mild, temporary hearing loss when fluid gets in the middle ear from allergies or colds. Sometimes as a result of an ear infection, fluid stays in the middle ears, which can sometimes cause a temporary decrease in hearing and delays in your child’s speech. Some people have permanent hearing loss. This can be from mild (they don’t hear as well as you do) to complete (where they can’t hear anything at all).  To find out more about hearing loss, go to and/or

IDEA: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is our nation’s special education law.  To find out more about IDEA, go to or

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Individualized Education Plan (IEP): According to the Autism Society of America, the IEP is the written plan that outlines a child’s education.  It is a legal document, and it should include the following:

  • The child's special education plan by defining goals for the school year
  • Services needed to help the child meet those goals
  • A method of evaluating the student's progress

To read more about the IEP, go to

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Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP):  The IFSP is a “roadmap” through the early intervention program.  It documents where a child is starting from and where he or she is headed.   According to the Council for Exceptional Children, the IFSP “documents and guides the early intervention process for children with disabilities and their families.  Through the IFSP process, family members and service providers work as a team to plan, implement, and evaluate services tailored to the family's unique concerns, priorities, and resources.” For more information on the IFSP, go to or

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The International Classification of Diseases (ICD)
The International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM) is based on the World Health Organization’s Ninth Revision, International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9). ICD-9-CM is the official system of assigning codes to diagnoses and procedures in the United States.  International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD-10) is used internationally.  

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Mental Retardation/Intellectual Impairment: Mental retardation is characterized both by a significantly below-average score on a test of mental ability or intelligence and by limitations in the ability to function in areas of daily life, such as communication, self-care, and getting along in social situations and school activities. Mental retardation is sometimes referred to as a cognitive or intellectual disability.

Children with mental retardation can and do learn new skills, but they develop more slowly than children with average intelligence and adaptive skills. There are different degrees of mental retardation, ranging from mild to profound. A person's level of mental retardation can be defined by their intelligence quotient (IQ), or by the types and amount of support they need.  For more information on mental retardation, go to: and/or

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Phenylketonuria (PKU): According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), phenylketonuria (pronounced fee-nill-key-toe-NURR-ee-uh) or PKU is an inherited disorder of metabolism that can cause mental retardation if not treated.  In PKU, the body can’t process a portion of the protein called phenylalanine (Phe), which is in many foods.  If the Phe level gets too high, the brain can become damaged. All babies born in U.S. hospitals are now routinely tested for PKU soon after birth, making it easier to diagnose and treat them early. (NICHD:  Accessed November 2006).

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Thalidomide:  According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), thalidomide is a drug that was marketed outside of the United States in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. It was used as a sleeping pill, and to treat morning sickness during pregnancy. However, its use by pregnant women resulted in the birth of thousands of babies with severe malformations.  Thalomid (thalidomide) is approved in the U.S. to treat the painful, disfiguring skin sores associated with leprosy, and to prevent and control the return of these skin sores. 

Distribution of and access to thalidomide is strictly controlled to prevent its use during pregnancy. A pregnant woman or any woman thinking about becoming pregnant must not take Thalomid (thalidomide), because it is known to cause severe birth defects or death to an unborn baby, even after taking just one dose. When a woman of child-bearing age has no other appropriate treatment choice and must take Thalomid (thalidomide), there are many precautions that must be taken to avoid pregnancy. To view these steps and to find out additional information, go to

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Tuberous Sclerosis: According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), Tuberous sclerosis (TSC) is a rare genetic disease that causes benign tumors to grow in the brain and on other vital organs such as the kidneys, heart, eyes, lungs, and skin.  It commonly affects the central nervous system.  In addition to the benign tumors that frequently occur in TSC, other common symptoms include seizures, mental retardation, behavior problems, and skin abnormalities.  TSC may be present at birth, but signs of the disorder can be subtle and full symptoms may take some time to develop. 

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Vision Impairment: Vision impairment means that a person's eyesight cannot be corrected to a "normal" level.  Vision impairment may be caused by a loss of visual acuity, where the eye does not see objects as clearly as usual.  It may also be caused by a loss of visual field, where the eye cannot see as wide an area as usual without moving the eyes or turning the head.  For more information on vision impairment, go to or

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Disclaimer: We have provided a link to these sites because they have information that may be of interest to you. CDC does not necessarily endorse the views or information presented on these sites. Furthermore, CDC does not endorse any commercial products or information that may be presented or advertised on these sites.

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Date: June 20, 2008
Content source: National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities


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