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Therapy Dictionary

[ther-uh-pee dik-shuh-ner-ee]

A resource for parents to get information about the meaning of the terms used by professionals.



Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Traumatic event that occur from 0-17 years old. Can cause toxic stress that impacts brain development, immune system, and stress-response systems affecting attention, decision making, and learning. Examples of ACEs are violence, abuse, neglect, substance use, or a death of a family member.

Adjusted Age

The age of the person adjusted for prematurity.  Typically it is used for for babies born before the 37th week of their gestation and then after the child's adjusted age is 24-months, their chronological age is use..   It is presented as year and months (i.e. 4:3 or 4;3).

Age difference = Full term (280 days) - Gestational age at the time of birth (in days)

Adjusted age = Chronological age - Age difference

Age Equivalent

The individual's raw score expressed as the age in years and months for which the score was the mean for that age group.  **Age equivalents do not reflect a child’s standing within a group of peers and small raw score changes may result in large changes in the age equivalents**


The inability to interpret sensation or recognize things.


All anatomical structures involved in modifying the sounds we produce.  They include the tongue, lips, jaw, and velopharynx.  The vocal tract can be lengthened, shortened, and constricted at many points by the actions of the articulators.


The process of producing speech sounds by using the tongue, lips, jaw, and velopharynx. 

Auditory Processing

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. The abilities of people with ASD can vary significantly. Some can have advanced conversations, while others are nonverbal. Some need help with their daily life while others live and work independently.

Read our article on Autism for more information.

Central Auditory Processing

The perceptual processing of auditory information in the central auditory nervous system and the neurobiological activity that underlies that processing. It includes mechanisms that preserve, refine, analyze, modify, organize, and interpret auditory information.  It involves these skills: auditory discrimination, temporal processing, and binaural processing (sound localization and lateralization).

Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD)

Deficits in the neural processing of auditory information not due to impairment in language or cognition. 

Child-Directed Play

Child-Directed Play is one-on-one play between a child and caregiver in which the child is in control. They are allowed to lead and determine the rules or direction of their play.

Check out our article: What is Child-Directed Play? to learn why it is important.

Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)

A neurological childhood speech sound disorder in which precision and consistency of movements underlying speech are impaired in the absence of neuromuscular deficits (e.g. abnormal reflexes, abnormal tone). CAS may occur as a result of known neurological impairment, in association with complex neurobehavioral disorders of known or unknown origin, or as an idiopathic (stand alone) neurogenic speech sound disorder.  The core impairment in planning and/or programming spatiotemporal parameters of movement sequences results in errors in speech sound production and prosody. 

Chronological Age

The age of the person calculated using the birthdate and testing date, presented as year and months (i.e. 4:3 or 4;3).

Chronological age = (Current date - Birth date)


Occurring or existing together.

Compensatory Strategy

Techniques or modifications to our behavior or environment that are used to compensate for a deficit, weakness, injury or perceived inadequacy in a specific area or skill.


Willingness to follow a request or command.


The development of teeth and their arrangement in the mouth.

Developmental coordination disorder (DCD)

Deficits in motor coordination and gross/fine movement. There is an absence of identifiable medical or neurological condition. May appear clumsy, has difficulty with coordination, have higher levels of depression and anxiety, and may cause dyspraxia.

Developmental Stuttering / Developmental Disfluency

Many children between 3 and 4 years of age go through a period of “nonfluency” where they demonstrate disruptions in the flow of speech, but then grow out of it. 85% of all children who are 2 to 6 years in age show hesitations and repetitions at times when talking. There are some important differences between children who demonstrate Developmental Disfluency versus those who will continue to stutter.

Read our article on Developmental Stuttering for more information, including characteristics of stuttering, how to tell if your child is likely to grow out of stuttering, and what caregivers can do to encourage fluent speech.

Episodic Care

High frequency over a short duration of time.


The cause or origin.

Feeding Disorder

Feeding disorders include problems with sucking, eating from a spoon, chewing, or drinking from a cup.

Read our article about Feeding and Swallowing Disorders for symptoms and more resources.

Fine Motor

Gross motor skills include coordinated movements of large muscles groups for things like rolling, sitting, crawling, standing, walking, running, and keeping balance. Fine motor skills include smaller, more precise muscle movements for things like grasping small objects, writing, using a fork, buttoning clothing, speaking, and eating. Delays in fine motor skills become more noticeable around preschool as they are expected to start using writing utensils.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Fundamental education rights your child is entitled to under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act). The goal of ‘appropriateness’ is used to evaluate all IEP (Individualized Education Program) components, including goals, services, and placement. To be considered ‘appropriate’ all must provide some meaningful educational benefit and kids must progress academically.


Nonverbal communication can be carried out through gestures and other aspects of body language, which are consciously or unconsciously executed. Both body language and gestures can communicate thoughts, feelings, suggestions, and a range of other information.  Gestures are overt and observable movements or actions using various parts of the body. They may involve the use of a single body part like the wagging of a finger or a nod, or multiple body parts at the same time, like gesticulating with both hands or using the hand and the head together. Body language is a mix of gestures, postures, and mannerisms to communicate nonverbally.

Gross Motor

Gross motor skills include coordinated movements of large muscles groups for things like rolling, sitting, crawling, standing, walking, running, and keeping balance. Fine motor skills include smaller, more precise muscle movements for things like grasping small objects, writing, using a fork, buttoning clothing, speaking, and eating. Delays in fine motor skills become more noticeable around preschool as they are expected to start using writing utensils.


Increased tone causing restricted movement as body parts are difficult to move.


Decreased tone, floppy, unsteady

Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)

Enacted in 1975 and revamped in 2004.- A federal law that established a formal process for evaluating children with disabilities and providing specialized programs and services to help them succeed in school.  One of the most important parts of this law is the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process.

Individualized Education Program (IEP) MEETING

Initial eligibility meeting or annual meeting where the parent and school representatives develop the child’s educational program for the following school year. 

504 Plan: A 504 plan is developed by the school for disabled children who do not need or qualify for special education but could benefit from accommodations and/or specialized help in school. (ie.e children with ADHD)

Visit our blog article: Advocating for Your Child Throughout the IEP Process

Individualized Education Program (IEP)  WRITTEN DOCUMENT

Document developed by  an entire team, including parents and school representatives on an annual basis. It includes the placement- the specific program or class for the child; related services-  the specific services the child will receive; and other educational components, curricula, and teaching methods. It must include measurable goals to determine progress.


An estimation of the percentage of speech that is understood.  Reported for familiar and/or unfamiliar listeners. Children are expected to reach certain levels of intelligibility at certain ages.

Joint Attention

An important prelinguistic skill; engaging with an object/activity while also attending to another person.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Placement for children that takes into consideration their abilities and disabilities to meet their individual needs.  This may be a regular classroom (“mainstreaming”, or”inclusion”), separate classes, separate schools, or residential placements.  There is typically a strong preference for mainstreaming children as much as possible, even when aids or other services are required.


The average score for a group of children of a particular age.  This score becomes the standard score of 100.

Mouth Breathing

Babies, children, and adults are all meant to breathe with their mouths closed, and breathe through their nose, called nasal breathing. Nasal breathing is important to develop, especially during infancy!

Read our blog article: What is the Deal with Mouth Breathing? for more information.


Speaking two or more languages.  Exposing children to multiple languages will not confuse them or cause them to have a language delay. Even for children who have a language delay, or a disorder such as autism, learning multiple languages is beneficial. Providing equal exposure to each language will result in the greatest learning of the languages. Children should always be assessed in their primary language.

Muscle Tone

Refers to the resting tension in a skeletal muscle occurring because there are always a few motor units contracting in a resting muscle. It is important for maintaining normal posture and providing support for the joints to stabilize their position and help prevent sudden changes in the positions.  Muscle tone is increased in upper motor neuron lesions, for example cerebral cortical damage that occurs in cerebrovascular accident (stroke).  Muscle tone is decreased (hypotonia) in lower motor neuron disorders, for example spinal or peripheral nerve damage. 

The shape created when a large number of people are given an assessment and their standard scores are plotted. 

Norm-Referenced Test

An assessment that compares an individual to a sample populations of their same age peers (the norming sample). The norming sample should be similar to the child participating in the test.  IF the child differs in a significant way, for example the child is of a different culture or has a disability like Autism, emotional or mental health disorders, ADHD, selective mutism fluency disorders, or a hearing impairment, this is important to note in the report and it may render the results inaccurate. 

Oral Motor Evaluation/ Oral Mechanism Evaluation

An assessment requiring the client to imitate or perform oral movements to assess the structure and function of their face, jaw, teeth, lips, tongue, and pharynx.  Each structure is observed and movement is rated for its range, strength, symmetry, etc.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

Occupational Therapy helps clients regain, develop, and build skills that are essential for independent functioning, health, and well-being. Occupational Therapists focus on helping children thrive in the “occupation” of childhood-learning, playing, and growing. They help students develop the skills and confidence needed to succeed and be independent despite learning or developmental disabilities, or behavioral problems. The core of occupational therapy is to promote participation. This can mean helping a child who has concentration challenges to succeed in school, supporting a child with autism to socialize, helping a child who uses a wheelchair to play with his or her peers, helping a child with a developmental disability get dressed independently, helping all children to play with toys or use tools such as crayons—addressing whatever may be a particular child’s skills and needs.

Read our article: What is Occupational Therapy

Otitis Media

 Ear infection.  A history of ear infections may result in speech and language delay.

Percentile Rank

Indicates that a certain percentage of scores fall below that percentile. For example, if you score in the 25th percentile, then 25% of test takers are below your score.

Phonological Process

Patterns of sound errors that developing children use to simplify speech and they are learning to speak.  They do this because they do not yet have the ability to coordinate their lips, tongue, teeth, palate, and jaw for accurate articulation.  As a result, they simplify complex sounds in predictable ways until they develop the coordination required for the complex sounds.


Pragmatic language skills refer to the way an individual uses verbal and non-verbal language in various social situations. Pragmatics involve three major communication skills: using language for different purposes (e.g. greeting, informing, demanding, promising requesting); changing language according to the needs of a listener or situation (e.g. talking differently to a baby than to an adult); and following rules for conversations and storytelling (e.g. staying on topic, taking turns in conversation, rephrasing when misunderstood, using nonverbal signals).  


A phoneme is the smallest, individual speech sound in a language, such as the /b/ sound in "boy," or the /g/ sound in "go." Speech sounds are indicated with slashes.

These sounds are organized and represented by symbols using a notation system called the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

Although many IPA representations correspond to the alphabetical symbols, some phonemes have a different symbol, especially vowel sounds!

Speech therapists use this notation system to describe how a child is incorrectly producing sounds or words! It is a way to see how they are straying from the normal production.

Take a look at our article: What is a Phoneme? for more information.

Physical Therapy (PT)

Physical therapists help people overcome barriers to physical activity. Physical therapists identify, diagnose, and treat movement problems. Physical therapists design treatment plans specific to each person's needs, challenges, and goals. They work together with you to develop strategies and help you achieve your goals. Physical therapists and PTAs care for people of all ages and abilities.  They help people maintain or restore as much function as possible. Physical function and movement are very important to 

  • Maintain health, wellness, and fitness.

  • Manage pain.

  • Maintain independence.

Take a look at our article about Physical Therapists for more information

Raw Score

The number of correct answers on a test. This score is then converted to a standard score, which takes into account the person’s age.


Routines provide predictable and accessible environments and relationships in early childhood. They support healthy social-emotional development and self-regulation skills, resulting in better mental health and being better able to adapt to everyday challenges, stressors, and new expectations. Find a good schedule that works for your family to help children know what to expect each day at home. Work in time for positive interactions and time where your child knows they will have your attention free from distractions. Even doing just a couple things each day in the same way can provide anchors for your child.

Screen Time

More and more research is demonstrating that screen time is associated with attention issues, language delay, overall delayed development, poor academic performance, sleep disturbances, being overweight, and depression. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends zero screen time under two and less than one hour per day for kids 2-5. Visit for more information.

Sensory Integration/
Sensory Processing

Perceiving, modulating, organizing, and interpreting sensations to optimize performance and participation.  This includes external sensations from the environment around you, internal sensations from within the body, and interactive experiences with the people and objects encountered.  Well-regulated and appropriately functioning sensory systems contribute to important outcomes in social-emotional, physical and motor, communication, self-care, cognitive, and adaptive skills development and maintenance.

Read our article on Sensory Integration for more information.

Sensory Over-Responsiveness

Is also sometimes referred to as sensory sensitivity or being highly sensitive to sensations. An over-responsive reaction to sensations may cause you to easily startle or become overwhelmed by sensations. Sensory over-responsiveness can affect individual sensory systems or the nervous system as a whole.

Read our article on Sensory Red-Flags for more information.

Sensory Seeking

Seeking out increased amounts of input to arouse the nervous system.  This can include:

  • Tactile Seeking: touching, being touched, crave textures, balancing touch sensations on both sides of the body

  • Gustatory/Oral Seeking: craving eating certain texture or flavors, overstuffing the mouth, putting nonfood items in the mouth, overeating, chewing or sucking on things excessively

  • Olfactory Seeking: craving certain smells, needing to smell everything

  • Auditory Seeking: enjoying loud noises, speaking loudly, needing to listen to music to concentrate

  • Visual Seeking: enjoying bright lights or moving objects

  • Vestibular Seeking: craving movement, spinning, being upside down or sideways, jumping from high positions, repeating certain movements

  • Proprioceptive Seeking: enjoying crashing or bumping into things, cracking knuckles or stretching limbs, and contact sports

  • Interoceptive Seeking: crave the sensations of hunger, thirst, full bladder, heart rate, or fast breathing

Read our article on Sensory Red-Flags​ for more information.

Sensory Under-Responsiveness

Is also referred to as low registration of sensory input. When you are under-responsive to sensations, you easily miss sensory information unless it is substantial enough to be noticed. Sensory under-responsiveness can affect individual sensory systems or the nervous system as a whole.

Read our article on Sensory Red-Flags​ for more information.

Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)

Speech-Language Pathologist. Identifies, assesses, and treats speech, language, social, cognitive, and swallowing delays and disorders.

Speech-Language Pathology Assistant (SLPA)

Speech-Language Pathology Assistant.  Treats speech, language, social, cognitive, and swallowing delays and disorders under the supervision of a Speech-Language Pathologist.

Speech Sound Disorders- Articulation and Phonology

An umbrella term referring to any difficulty or combination of difficulties with perception, motor production, or phonological representation of speech sounds and speech segments.  Speech sound disorders can be organic or functional in nature. Organic speech sound disorders result from an underlying motor/neurological, structural, or sensory/perceptual cause. Functional speech sound disorders are idiopathic—they have no known cause.

Social Referencing

An important prelinguistic skill; gaining attention before communicating, or to share an object/activity

Social Determinants of Health

Conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect health. The 5 areas include

  • Healhcare access and quality

  • Education access and quality

  • Society and community context- discrimination, conditions in the workplave

  • Economic stability

  • Neighborhood and build environment- access to transportation and quality of housing

Speech Therapy (ST)

(Speech and language therapy).  Speech and language therapy helps clients with speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders. Speech-Language Pathologists treat:

  • Speech sound disorders: difficulty producing speech sounds correctly, speaking fluently, or problems with voice or resonance.

  • Language disorders: trouble understanding others (receptive language), or sharing thoughts, ideas, and feelings (expressive language). 

  • Social communication disorders: trouble with the social use of verbal and nonverbal communication. 

  • Cognitive-communication disorders: problems organizing thoughts, paying attention, remembering, planning, and/or problem-solving. 

  • Swallowing disorders (dysphagia): are feeding and swallowing difficulties.

  • People who are deaf or hard of hearing.

  • People who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems.

Standard Deviation

A predetermined quantity for each assessment (typical 15 for speech and language assessment) that helps to show how far a child’s standard score is from the mean score for children of the same age.  

Standard Score

A conversion of the raw score that takes into account the average score for that child’s age.

Standardized Test/ Assessment

An assessment that compares an individual to a sample populations of their same age peers (the norming sample).  These tests are often how children are determined to qualify for treatment, especially in the school district.  They have strict ways for how the assessments are administered, how instructions are given, and how much prompting is allowed.  

Swallowing Disorder

Swallowing disorders are difficulties with moving food/liquid from the mouth, throat, or esophagus into the stomach. They can lead to aspiration (food/liquid entering the airway or lungs) and can result in serious health issues, such as pneumonia.

Read our article on Feeding and Swallowing Disorders for symptoms and resources.

Toe Walking

Toe walking is when a child walks on the ball of the foot. It is fairly common to see in children just learning to walk, but should typically resolve by the age of three. Identification of the reason for toe walking is not always easy. Toe walking can be related to poor tactile, vestibular, or proprioceptive processing, or, in more rare cases, can be indicative of disorders such as autism, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy.


See Muscle Tone.

Tummy Time

Tummy time is crucial for healthy motor, sensory, and visual development. It helps to develop the muscles of the neck, back, and shoulders and can possibly help prevent conditions such as flattening of the head and torticollis. Visit for information about tummy time, including how to do it, why it's important, and what tummy time will look like at different ages.


W-Sitting is when a child sits on their bottom with their knees bent and feet outside of their hips, forming a W. It becomes a concern when it is a child's regular sitting position because it puts strain on their hips and joints, it impedes the proper development of their core muscles, it limits cross body movements, and others. Encourage children to sit with their legs crossed, legs in front, or both legs to one side instead.

Within Functional Limits

A person's ability is outside the 'normal' range, but is sufficient for activities of daily living.

Within Normal Limits

Or 'Normal Range".  It refers to a person’s ability to do something compared to same age peers’ ability is the same or in a range of the normal ability of that skill. Typically this is within one standard deviation of the mean, or between one standard deviation above and one standard deviation below the mean.  This can change depending on the assessment.

ChildhoodApraxia of Speech
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