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  • abnormal

    A non-technical term that refers to behaviors, phenomena, results, and biological factors that deviate from commonly accepted norms.

  • ADD

    see attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder

  • ADHD

    see attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder

  • adjustment disorder

    A disorder characterized by an unusually strong reaction to an upsetting event.

  • adolescence

    Generally, the period between puberty and legal adulthood. By some standards this includes the teenaged years, from 13 to 19.

  • alogia

    The lack of voluntary, unprompted speech.

  • anhedonia

    The inability to experience pleasure.

  • anorexia nervosa

    An eating disorder characterized by refusal to eat, purging, excessive weight loss and distorted body image.

  • anticonvulsant

    A class of medications designed to treat epileptic seizures; some of these medications have been shown to be useful to treat mood disorders. Also known as an antiepileptic.

  • antidepressant

    A class of medications originally designed to treat depression and other mood disorders. There are many kinds of antidepressants, from the newer SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) and SNRIs (Selective Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors), as well as the older and less frequently prescribed tricyclics and MAOIs. Some antidepressants are also useful for treating anxiety disorders.

  • antipsychotic

    A class of medications designed to treat psychosis, most commonly associated with schizophrenia and bipolar mania; despite the name, antipsychotics are also used to treat a wide variety of conditions not associated with psychosis, including autism spectrum disorders, Tourette’s and OCD. Also known as “neuroleptics.”

  • antisocial personality disorder

    An adult disorder characterized by a pervasive disregard for and violation of the rights of others. APD is usually preceeded by conduct disorder in children and adolescents.

  • anxiety disorders

    A group of psychiatric disorders characterized by feelings of significant and impairing anxiety that is either out of proportion to the threat or with no discernible cause.

  • applied behavior analysis

    The use of systematically tested interventions to reduce problematic behavior by altering things that occur before or after the problematic behavior, rather than focusing on the behavior itself.

  • Asperger’s disorder

    A developmental disorder on the Autism Spectrum characterized by impairing difficulties with reciprocal social function and restricted or repetitive thoughts and behaviors but not the speech impairment associated with autism. The most current thinking is that Asperger’s is not a separate disorder from autism, but a set of behaviors on the less severe end of the spectrum.

  • attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder

    A psychiatric syndrome that includes difficulties with attention and organization of behavior. Symptoms may include: inattention, distractability, impulsivity, hyperactivity, excessive fidgeting and poor organizational skills, as well as frustration and irritability when the child or adult cannot meet expected performance standards. ADHD is sometimes referred to as ADD (attention-deficit disorder) but ADD is an older term.

  • autism spectrum disorder

    A spectrum of developmental deficits that begin in early childhood and may include impaired reciprocal social behavior, communication, and language, as well as restricted and repetitive thoughts and behaviors. Many individuals also have cognitive impairments. These conditions have been thought of as a set of disorders, but are now being considered one disorder that presents along a spectrum.

  • avoidance and numbing

    Symptoms of post-traumatic stress that include reduced emotional responsiveness (numbing) and the tendency to stay away from thoughts, places or individuals that are reminders of the stressful or traumatic event (avoidance).

  • avolition

    The lack of desire or motivation in pursing goals.


  • behavioral activation

    Form of behavioral therapy used to treat depression that encourages kids to participate in activities they’ve lost interest in, with the goal of jumpstarting renergizing and positive thoughts.

  • behavioral therapy

    A form of treatment that focuses directly on reducing or managing problematic behaviors without particular attention to thoughts, events or circumstances that prompted the behaviors.

  • benzodiazepines

    A class of medications that have been shown to be effective in reducing some of the symptoms of anxiety or panic.

  • binge eating

    The impulsive consumption of excessive quantities of food, often accompanied by a feeling of having lost control, or the desire to purge by vomiting or other means.

  • bipolar disorder

    A mood disorder in which an individual’s mood ranges, in varying intervals, from depressed to elevated (mania or hypomania). Also known as manic-depressive disorder.

  • Brave Buddies

    An intensive treatment program designed to help kids with selective mutism.

  • bulimia nervosa

    An eating disorder characterized by binge eating often followed by purging and/or strenuous dieting.


  • CD

    see conduct disorder

  • childhood disintegrative disorder

    A disorder now considered part of the Autism Spectrum, characterized by late onset (after age 3) of the developmental deficits characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

  • chronic

    A continuing or recurring condition that can be characterized by either persistent symptoms or the reappearance of symptoms after periods of otherwise normal function.

  • cognitive

    Relating to conscious intellectual activity such as intellectual capacity, perception, judgment, memory, and reasoning.

  • cognitive behavioral therapy

    A therapeutic approach that teaches individuals how to control their thoughts so they can better manage their unwanted feelings and prevent troublesome behaviors.

  • command hallucinations

    A symptom of psychosis in which an individual hears voices that others cannot hear ordering him to perform a specific act, including dangerous behaviors.

  • comorbid

    Two illnesses which co-exist with one another.

  • compulsion

    An often repetitive and uncontrollable urge to perform an act against one’s conscious wishes. There is often considerable anxiety before the act and temporary relief afterwards.

  • conduct disorder

    A disruptive behavior disorder characterized by calloused disregard for the feelings and rights of other people.

  • confused behavior

    Behavior characterized by a loss of orientation and disordered memory or consciousness. A person with confused behavior may suddenly have trouble performing easy tasks.

  • congenital

    Literally, “present at birth.” This does not mean that congenital problems are necessarily genetic or hereditary, only that they do not develop after a child is born.


  • decatastrophize

    A cognitive therapy technique that teaches a child to realize that his anxiety response is out of proportion to the stimulus.

  • decompensate

    When psychological defenses deteriorate, resulting in an inability to respond appropriately and adapt successfully to the environment.

  • depressive episode

    A distinct period of depressed mood that may also be accompanied by an inability to concentrate, changed sleep patterns, inappropriate guilt, profound sadness, crying, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. There is a high risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors during a depressive episode

  • developmental

    Related to the processes of growth and maturation, starting at conception, including physical, social, emotional and cognitive growth.

  • developmentally-based intervention

    Interventions that use stimuli tailored to an individual child’s specific level of development in order to increase cognitive, behavioral and emotional functioning. While critical for treating all conditions, this is especially important for children with developmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder.

  • diagnosis

    A specific set of signs and symptoms that together define a disorder. For psychiatric disorders, the criteria are based on standards established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).

  • dialectical behavioral therapy

    A form of psychotherapy that combines methods from cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) with techniques for tolerating and accepting distress, as well as what’s called “mindful awareness,” or being aware of one’s reactions, as well as those of others, to avoid problematic behavior.

  • disruptive mood dysregulation disorder

    Also called DMDD, this is a disorder in which a child is chronically irritable and experiences frequent, severe temper outbursts that seem grossly out of proportion to the situation at hand.

  • DMDD

    Short for disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, DMDD is a disorder in which a child is chronically irritable and experiences frequent, severe temper outbursts that seem grossly out of proportion to the situation at hand.

  • DSM

    The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The DSM contains the diagnostic criteria for every psychiatric disorder. It is the accepted standard for the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders in the United States.

  • dual diagnosis

    A term that describes a person with a psychiatric disorder who also has a substance use disorder.

  • dyslexia

    A learning disorder that interferes with an individual’s ability to read.

  • dysthymic disorder

    A mood disorder characterized by mild but persistent depressive symptoms.


  • eating disorders

    A group of disorders characterized by an unhealthy relationship with food, excessive eating or refusal to eat adequate amounts, and a distorted body image. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

  • electroconvulsive therapy

    A form of therapy that electrically induces seizures for therapeutic effect of treating severe depression, mania, catatonia, and psychosis.

  • enuresis

    A disorder characterized by urinary incontinence that occurs day or night; also known as bedwetting.

  • environmental factors

    Extrinsic circumstances or materials that contribute to the onset or persistence of a disorder. These may include such things as toxins or stressful events.

  • epigenetic

    Factors that alter gene function without actually disrupting the normal structure of the DNA. They are often but not always in response to the environmental factors.

  • episodic

    Disorders and symptoms that come and go over time.

  • ERP

    see exposure and response prevention

  • exposure and response prevention

    A therapy for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that provokes a patient’s obsessive thoughts in a controlled environment to gradually decrease their power without performing compulsions.

  • exposure therapy

    A form of therapy that exposes a patient to a feared stimulus in carefully controlled doses so they can learn to manage the anxiety associated with the stimulus.

  • expressed affect

    The expression of emotions such as fear, joy, anger, and sadness. Expressed anger and emotional volatility in the home can exacerbate children’s psychiatric conditions.


  • family therapy

    A form of psychotherapy that focuses on the family structure, including strengths and weaknesses, to address emotional and behavioral problems.

  • flattened affect

    Also called blunted affect; an absence or a diminishing of emotional expressiveness.

  • fMRI

    A brain scanner that uses magnetism and radiowaves (no radioactivity) to produce images of brain activity showing which parts of the brain are working and interacting with one another.


  • GAD

    see generalized anxiety disorder

  • generalized anxiety disorder

    An anxiety disorder characterized by excessive, persistent and unreasonable worries about everyday things.

  • genetic

    Relating to genes, the discrete units of DNA that determine a person’s basic makeup.

  • genotype

    Inherited instructions an organism carries within its genetic code. Not all organisms with the same genotype look or act the same way because appearance and behavior are modified by environmental and developmental conditions.


  • hereditary

    Transmitted through families; not necessarily genetic.

  • hypochondriasis

    A disorder characterized by an excessive preoccupation with or fear of having an illness.

  • hypothyroidism

    A medical condition in which either the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormone or the hormone activity is reduced for other reasons. Common symptoms may include fatigue, weight gain and, in some cases, depressive symptoms.


  • IED

    see intermittent explosive disorder

  • IEP

    see individualized education program

  • increased arousal

    Behavior characterized by difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, irritability, and an exaggerated startle response.

  • Individualized Education Program

    A federally mandated institutional plan for the education of each child who is determined to have disability that interferes with the child’s education. Amongs other things the law (IDEA) requires that the child have an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment at public expense.The IEP should detail the setting and support services necessary for the child’s education.

  • insomnia

    Difficulty sleeping or inability to sleep for an adequate length of time.

  • intensive obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment

    A daily program of specialized OCD therapy, often involving several hours of exposure and response therapy sessions and practice periods.

  • intermittent explosive disorder

    A condition characterized by excessive and inappropriate displays of anger. It is not clear if this is a unique condition or a subset of symptoms in other disorders.

  • internally distracted

    When a person is unable to attend appropriately to the environment because he is preoccupied with his own thoughts and ideas.

  • interpersonal therapy

    A form of psychotherapy that focuses on a patient’s relationships with peers and family, and how they can positively (and negatively) affect her mood and and behavior.

  • intrusive memories

    Unwanted memories that repeatedly interfere with an individual’s functioning.


  • learning disorder

    A disorder characterized by difficulty in learning primary skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic.

  • learning specialist

    A professional who helps children with learning problems, including both cognitive and emotional issues.


  • major depressive disorder

    A mood disorder characterized by periods or “episodes” of profound sadness, crying and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. There is a high risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors during a depressive episode. While episodes can last months or years, there are usually extended periods of relative normal mood (euthymia). This is also known as “clinical depression.”

  • mania

    A mood characterized by extremely high energy levels, poor judgment, racing thoughts, overconfidence, euphoria or irritability, risk-taking behaviors, aggression, hypersexuality, and disordered thinking.

  • manic depressive disorder

    see bipolar disorder

  • manic episode

    A distinct period of mania.

  • MAOI

    A class of antidepressant medications. Due to a higher risk for adverse reactions, these medications tend to be used for patients who have failed to respond to other treatments.

  • MDD

    Short for major depressive disorder, MDD is a mood disorder characterized by periods or “episodes” of profound sadness, crying and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. There is a high risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors during a depressive episode. While episodes can last months or years, there are usually extended periods of relative normal mood (euthymia). This is also known as “clinical depression.”

  • mood disorders

    Mood disorders are characterized by persistent disruptions in a person’s mood, resulting in either depressed mood (depression or dysthymia) or elevated mood (hypomania or mania). Once also known as “affective disorders.”

  • mood stabilizer

    A medication prescribed to treat mood disorders.


  • neuroleptic

    A class of medications designed to treat psychosis, most commonly associated with schizophrenia and bipolar mania; neuroleptics are also used to treat a wide variety of conditions not associated with psychosis, including autism spectrum disorders, Tourettes and OCD; also known as an “antipsychotic.”

  • neuropsychological testing

    A battery of tests designed to assess specific areas of brain function, including memory, attention, motor skills, intelligence, and learning.

  • neurotransmitter

    A chemical that is released from a nerve cell (or neuron) in order to communicate with another neuron, muscle, organ, or other tissue. Most psychiatric medications act by increasing or decreasing the availability of neurotransmitters, thus affecting the messages being sent.


  • obsession

    An intrusive and persistent thought or preoccupation.

  • obsessive hoarding

    A compulsion to acquire and retain an excessive number of objects, often in categories, to the extent that it impairs the ability to live comfortably alone or with others.

  • obsessive-compulsive disorder

    A disorder characterized by intrusive, persistent thoughts or fears (obsessions) that are temporarily relieved by the performance of repetitive behaviors (compulsions) that may bear no particular relationship to the thought or perception.

  • obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders

    Various psychiatric, neurological, or medical disorders related to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many share similar symptoms with OCD as well as similar neurobiology, demographics and prescribed medication.

  • OCD

    see obsessive-compulsive disorder

  • ODD

    see oppositional defiant disorder

  • oppositional

    Disobedient and often hostile behavior directed towards authority figures.

  • oppositional defiant disorder

    A disruptive behavior disorder characterized by ongoing persistent, age-inappropriate disobedience and resistance to authority.


  • panic attack

    Onset of a sudden intense, overwhelming, and incapacitating fear, along with palpitations, dizziness, and a sensation that one is dying.

  • panic disorder

    An anxiety disorder characterized by recurring panic attacks and, in between episodes, the fear that another panic attack is imminent.

  • paranoia

    A psychotic delusion that includes the perception that others, real or imagined, are threatening you or those important to you.

  • parent-child interaction therapy

    A therapeutic technique that restructures the interaction between parent and child to eliminate disruptive behaviors and reduce conflict.

  • pediatric psychopharmacology

    The study of medications that alter brain functioning and are used to treat psychiatric disorders that occur in children and adolescents.

  • pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified

    A disorder on the autism spectrum that includes those individuals who have many but not all of the clinical characteristics of the full syndrome of autism. PDDNOS has been considered a distinct disorder, but the current thinking is that it is included in the autism spectrum.

  • phenotype

    Any observable characteristic or trait of an organism, including biochemical or physiological attributes and behavior. Phenotypes are determined by both genetic makeup and environmental influences.

  • phobia

    An overwhelming and irrational fear of a specific object, idea or situation that leads to disabling anxiety, including intense avoidance of the object of fear.

  • phobic stimulus

    The object, idea or circumstance that induces a phobic reaction.

  • post-traumatic stress disorder

    An anxiety disorder that is initiated by exposure to an overwhelming event that seriously threatens an individual’s safety or life. It is a chronic condition that continues long after what would be a developmentally appropriate response to such an event.

  • prodromal

    An early period of symptoms before the full development of a disorder.

  • prognosis

    A clinical prediction of the course of a disorder over time.

  • psychiatric disorder

    A condition of abnormal impairment to a person’s cognitive, behavioral and emotional functioning.

  • psychiatrist

    A physician who is trained to diagnose, treat and prevent psychiatric disorders.

  • psychoeducation

    Teaching patients and family about how a particular psychiatric disorder, its treatment, and outcomes affects them.

  • psychological testing

    Using structured tests to observe a person’s behavior and assess the presence of illness and the level of cognitive, behavioral and emotional functioning.

  • psychologist

    Someone with a PhD or PsyD, trained in the study and/or treatment of psychiatric disorders.

  • psychopharmacology

    The study of how certain drugs change the way the brain works, altering thoughts, mood, feelings, and behaviors.

  • psychosis

    A mental state characterized by a distorted perception of reality.

  • psychostimulants

    A class of medications that improve attention and organization while decreasing impulsivity. Medications include methylphenidate (Ritalin and others) and amphetamine (Adderall and others).

  • PTSD

    see post-traumatic stress disorder

  • purge

    The act of inducing vomiting or emptying of the bowels in order to avoid gaining weight.  This may accompany eating disorders.


  • reading disorder

    see dyslexia

  • reuptake inhibitors

    Medications that increase the supply of neurotransmitters in the brain by blocking their re-absorption and rapid destruction.


  • schizoaffective disorder

    A psychiatric disorder characterized by episodes of severe mood disturbance in conjunction with psychosis.

  • schizophrenia

    A severe, chronic psychiatric disorder characterized by distorted thinking, hallucinations and delusions.

  • schizophreniform disorder

    A disorder characterized by the distorted thinking, hallucinations and delusions symptomatic of schizophrenia but lasting under six months.

  • school phobia

    see separation anxiety disorder

  • school refusal

    When a student is unable to attend school due to intense fear and anxiety of school and/or separation from parents.

  • school-based evaluations

    An assessment of a student’s skills and abilities that a school uses to approve special education services for the child.

  • sedative

    A medication that induces sleep.

  • selective mutism

    An anxiety disorder characterized by the inability to speak in some settings or to some people.

  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor

    A class of medications that work by increasing the availability of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Originally used to treat depression, they are also useful for treating anxiety and some other conditions.

  • separation anxiety disorder

    A disorder characterized by extreme distress when a child is separated from parents or caregivers.

  • signs and symptoms

    Signs are outward indications of a disorder as observed by a skilled clinician; symptoms are the disorder’s effects as experienced and reported by the patient and his family.

  • SM

    see selective mutism

  • social anxiety disorder

    A disorder characterized by such intense self-consciousness and fear of embarrassment in social situations that the individual avoids social events; also known as social phobia.

  • social phobia

    see social anxiety disorder

  • specific phobia

    An anxiety disorder characterized by an excessive and irrational fear of an object, situation or place.

  • SSRI

    see selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor

  • stressor

    A stimulus or event that leads to a stress reaction.

  • substance abuse

    Unhealthy use of substances including alcohol, marijuana and other drugs.

  • substance-use disorder

    Unhealthy use of substances, including alcohol, marijuana and other drugs, that causes dysfunction and disrupts functioning at school, at home and with friends.

  • suicidal ideation

    Having thoughts or ideas about killing yourself.

  • systematic desensitization

    A therapeutic intervention that helps patients decrease fear and anxiety by gradually exposing them to the things that trigger those anxieties in a safe environment.


  • teacher-child interaction therapy

    A therapy that restructures the interaction between teachers and young children to reduce disruptive behavior and improve a child’s functioning in school.

  • tic

    An involuntary movement or sound.

  • Tourette’s disorder

    A neurological condition characterized by persistent, repetitive involuntary movements and sounds called “tics.”

  • trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy

    A treatment for trauma-related impairment, including post traumatic stress disorder, in which children and their families learn skills to help process the traumatic experience in a healthy way and manage distressing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

  • trichotillomania

    Compulsive and repetitive pulling out of hair, usually on the scalp.

  • tricyclic antidepressant

    An older type of antidepressant medication that is effective but has some undesirable side effects. Tricyclics have largely been displaced by newer medications, especially SSRIs, but are sometimes used when those are not effective.