A list of terms and their descriptions used on the Autism@Work website.

Adaptive behaviour is the collection of conceptual, social and practical skills learned by people to enable them to function in their everyday lives. Adaptive behaviour enables people to adjust to different types of situations or environments. Adaptive behaviour skills are mostly social or personal and can be improved to change unconstructive tendencies into more constructive tendencies.  Personal behaviour can change and develop within social constructs when expectations are clear.

Central Coherence refers to the ability to derive overall meaning from a mass of details. It enables individuals to understand context and engage in ‘big picture’ thinking.

  • Getting the point or gist of things
  • Pulling information from different sources to establish a greater understanding
  • Seeing the ‘bigger picture’

A lack of central coherence can result in misinterpretation of situations and communication.


  • Context consists of the different variables that can relate to the situations, tasks or stimuli. The workplace can be volatile, ambiguous and unpredictable. What is appropriate in one context is not in another.    
  • Context is required for adapting learning to different situations or environments.
  • Contextual sensitivity is crucial for social interaction, communication and flexibility in thought and behaviour.
  • Understanding context helps you to predict and make sense of the world. The brain will guess more often without context.

The autistic brain may lack fast implicit guessing.

Executive Functioning is a term used to describe the many tasks our brains perform that are necessary to think, act and solve problems. Executive functioning includes tasks that help us remember and retrieve the information we’ve learned in the past, learn new information, and use information to solve problems of everyday life. Executive functioning also includes the ability to regulate emotions, control and manage thoughts, and initiate, monitor and control actions.

Hidden Curriculum

The hidden curriculum is the social information that most people know without being taught. These workplace social rules are assumed to be known and understood. The hidden curriculum can be confusing to individuals with autism.


Neurotypical or NT, an abbreviation of ‘neurologically typical’, is a newly coined term widely used in the autism community as a means to describe individuals who are not on the autism spectrum.


The term neurodiversity refers to neurological variations in the human brain. These variations include autism, dyslexia, ADD, ADHD and others.

Sensory Differences

Sensory information includes things you see, hear, smell, taste or touch. It is also how we interpret internal body signals, such as hunger and the need to move.  Sensory overload can occur when one or more of the body’s senses experiences overstimulation from the environment.

Signs of sensory processing challenges:

  • Hypersensitivity to sensory input 
  • Oversensitivity to sounds, sights, textures, flavours, smells and other sensory input
  • Difficulty focusing due to competing sensory input
  • Multisensory integration not being adequately processed in order to provide appropriate responses to the demands of the environment.

Social Communication is an inherent area of difference for individuals on the autism spectrum. Some of the areas of difference include, but are not limited to:

  • Delayed or lack of response to verbal communication by other individuals
  • Averting eye contact, often due to finding it uncomfortable
  • Limited use or absence of non-verbal gestures to communicate (for example nodding head or gesturing with hands)
  • Not taking social cues from other people’s actions (for example lining up in a queue, turn taking in conversations)
  • Needing ‘hidden’ social rules to be explicitly explained or taught
  • Echoing words or phrases, sometimes out of context or as a means to ‘fit in’ socially
  • Difficulty communicating their own wants and needs. This may lead to frustration
  • A reduced tendency to share individual interests with others, or sharing interests with others without checking to see if those others are interested.

Nuanced social communication differences vary for each individual on the autism spectrum. What is consistent for all individuals on the spectrum are difficulties predicting and interpreting other people’s behaviour, and receptive (understanding) and expressive communication differences.


Self-stimulatory or stereotypic behaviour is often referred to as ‘stimming’. This refers to the repetition of physical movement, sounds, words, or movement of objects. Largely, engagement in ‘stimming’ behaviours is harmless to the individual and to others. Often, ‘stimming’ behaviours occur as a response to either sensory overload (for example loud, noisy environments) or overpowering thoughts (such as anxieties about work). Feeling overwhelmed by sensory input, new information or own thoughts may result in an individual feeling ‘out of control’. Engaging in ‘stimming’ behaviours may assist an individual to regain a sense of control.

If ‘stimming’ behaviours are observed in the workplace, it is important to demonstrate acceptance, rather than judgement toward the individual engaging in such behaviours. Brief time spent engaging in ‘stimming’ may assist the individual to return to work tasks more quickly than if their ‘stimming’ behaviours are interrupted or discouraged.

Theory of Mind is the ability to recognise and comprehend the thoughts, beliefs, desires and intentions of others. Individuals on the spectrum often experience difficulties with:

  • Understanding emotions
  • Imagining how others think, feel and react
  • Being able to understand another’s perspective
  • Understanding the intentions of others
  • Predicting behaviour
  • Perceiving how their own behaviour may impact on how others think or feel

Inherent difficulties with Theory of Mind should not be considered as an inability to empathise with others. Many individuals on the spectrum may have reduced cognitive empathy (an intellectual understanding of feelings) relative to individuals not on the spectrum, but their own felt emotional response to another’s feelings (affective empathy) may be increased. The inherent difficulty lies in identifying and ‘reading’ the emotions and perspectives of others. Their level of experience of personal distress and concern for another person might be higher than what is experienced in a similar situation by someone not on the spectrum.

Working Memory is the part of short-term memory concerned with immediate, conscious perceptual and linguistic processing. It is the ability to temporarily hold and manipulate information for cognitive tasks performed in daily life.

  • Working Memory holds information for a few seconds – it is temporary.
  • Working Memory can hold only five to seven items at a time – it has a small capacity.
  • Working memory holds and manipulates information.

Working memory depends on control of attention and mental effort.