Glossary of Neuropsychological Terms


A non-technical term meaning different from what is normal or average.

Acute stress disorder
A disorder characterized by the development of symptoms such as severe anxiety, a decrease in emotional responsiveness, and difficulty concentrating after exposure to an extreme traumatic event (e.g., witnessing a death or serious accident). The behavioral disruption must last for a minimum of 2 days and a maximum of one month, and must occur within a month of the traumatic event.

Adjustment disorder
A disorder characterized by development of strong emotional and behavioral symptoms in response to an upsetting event.

The stage of development from puberty to legal adulthood. Includes ages from 13-19.

Adolescent psychiatrist
A physician specializing in diagnosis and treatment of disorders of thinking, feeling and/or behavior affecting children, young people and their families.

An inability to speak.

An inability to experience pleasure in acts that are normally enjoyable.

Anorexia nervosa
An eating disorder primarily in young women characterized by refusing to eat, purging, excessive weight loss and distorted body image.

A class of medications used to treat convulsions, especially epileptic seizures. Also known as an antiepileptic, this medication has successfully been used to treat mood disorders.

A class of medications originally used to relieve or prevent depression and other mood disorders. They include SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) and SNRI’s (Selective Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors), as well as less frequently prescribed tricyclics and MAOIs. Some antidepressants are also useful for treating anxiety disorders.

A class of medications used to treat psychosis, most commonly with schizophrenia and bipolar mania. Antipsychotics are also used to treat other conditions not associated with psychosis, including autism spectrum disorders, Tourettes and OCD. Also called “neuroleptics.”

Antisocial personality disorder
A personality disorder characterized by a pervasive disregard for and violation of the rights, feelings and safety of others. It is usually preceded by conduct disorder in children and adolescents and is often marked by a lack of remorse.

Anxiety disorders
A group of psychiatric disorders characterized by predominant feelings of anxiety that is either out of proportion or has no discernible cause.

Applied behavior analysis
The application of scientific knowledge to reduce problematic behavior by positively influencing people’s social actions and interactions.

Asperger’s disorder
A developmental disorder on the autism spectrum that typically appears first in childhood and is characterized by a person’s difficulty in everyday social interactions with others. 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 (ADHD)
A psychiatric syndrome that includes difficulties with attention and organization of behavior. Symptoms may include: inattention, distractability, impulsivenss, hyperactivity, excessive fidgeting and poor organizational skills, as well as frustration and irritability when the child or adult cannot meet expected performance standards. For some children and teens, these exasperating behaviors are uncontrollable, persistently plaguing their day-to-day existence and interfering with their ability to form lasting friendships or succeed in school and at home.

A specialist who evaluates for hearing loss as a potential cause or contributor to developmental delay.

Autism spectrum disorder
A developmental disorder that appears by age three and is variable in expression. It’s recognized and diagnosed by the inability to form normal social relationships, by impairment of the ability to communicate, 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 feeling robotic or on “automatic pilot” – disconnected from feelings and vitality – (numbing) and avoiding thoughts, places or individuals associated with a stressful or traumatic event (avoidance).

An inability to initiate and persist in goal-directed activities (such as school or work)




Behavioral activation
A form of behavioral therapy that focuses on changing behaviors to address problems. It’s used to treat depression and encourages kids to participate in activities they’ve lost interest in, with the goal of re-energizing positive thoughts.

Behavioral pediatrician
A behavioral pediatrician is trained to assess and treat medical and psychosocial aspects of child and adolescent developmental and behavioral problems.

Behavioral therapy
A form of therapy that works on reinforcing desirable behaviors to reducing or manage problematic behaviors without particular attention to thoughts or events that prompted the behaviors.

A class of medications used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and a range of other conditions.

Binge eating
Consuming an unusually large amount of food.

Binge eating disorder
A serious eating disorder in which a person consumes excessive quantities of food, often accompanied by a feeling of having lost control. The overeating is often done in secret and the binge eater feels compelled to continue binging, despite feeling ashamed or eating normal-sized meals.

Bipolar disorder
Sometimes called manic-depressive disorder, bipolar disorder is associated with mood swings that range from the lows of depression to the highs of mania.

Body dysmorphic disorder
A chronic mental illness in which a person can’t stop thinking about a flaw in her appearance, minor or imagined. She intensely obsesses over her appearance and body image, often for hours a day and impacts her ability to function in daily life.

Borderline personality disorder

A mental health disorder generating significant emotional instability that can lead to a variety of other stressful mental and behavioral problems. A person may have a severely distorted self-image and feel worthless and fundamentally flawed.

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




Childhood disintegrative disorder
Also known as Heller’s syndrome, this is a very rare condition in which children develop normally until at least two years of age, but then demonstrate a severe loss of social, communication and other skills. It’s now considered part of the Autism spectrum.

Clinical child psychologist
A psychologist with a PhD or a PsyD, as well as supervised clinical experience evaluating and treating children with a range of disorders. Can also coordinate necessary evaluations.

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

Chronic vocal or motor tic disorder
A condition that involves quick, uncontrollable movements or vocal outbursts (but not both).

Relating to conscious intellectual activity such as thinking, reasoning, remembering, or imagining.

Cognitive behavioral therapy
A therapeutic approach that teaches individuals how to become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking and better manage unwanted feelings and prevent troublesome behaviors.

Command hallucinations
A type of psychosis in which a person hears voices that others cannot ordering him to perform a specific act, including dangerous behaviors.

Illnesses that exist simultaneously with and independent of each other.

Comprehensive evaluation
A tool used to evaluate a person’s developmental or behavioral state.

An irresistible impulse to perform an act. There is often considerable anxiety before the act and temporary relief afterward.

Conduct disorder
A disruptive behavior disorder characterized by disregard for other people’s rights and feelings.

Confused behavior
Behavior characterized by disordered memory and confusion. A person with confused behavior may suddenly have trouble performing easy tasks.

Existing at birth.




Teaching a child to recognize that his anxiety response is out of proportion to its stimulus.

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

A disorder marked by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.

Depressive episode
A depressive episode is not a disorder in itself, but is a description of part of a disorder, most often major depressive disorder or bi-polar disorder. A person who suffers from a major depressive episode must either have a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities consistently for at least 2 weeks.

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 a child’s level of development to increase cognitive, behavioral and emotional functioning. It’s especially important for children with developmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder.

Developmental pediatrician
Also known as a behavioral pediatrician, a developmental pediatrician has training and experience to assess and treat a wide range of medical and psychosocial aspects of a child’s developmental and behavioral difficulties. Their expertise may make them a good choice for children with complicated medical or developmental problems.

A statement or conclusion that describes the reason for a disease, illness, or problem.

Dialectical behavioral therapy
A cognitive-behavioral therapy approach that emphasizes 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 (DMDD)
A mood disorder characterized by recurrent temper outbursts that are grossly out of proportion in intensity or duration to the situation. Children with DMDD have severe, frequent temper tantrums that interfere with their ability to function at home, in school or with their friends. Some of these children were previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fourth edition. 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 person with dual diagnosis has both a mental disorder and an alcohol or drug problem.

A learning disorder that interferes with an individual’s ability to read, spell or write.

Dysthymic disorder
A mood disorder characterized by long-lasting moodiness.




Eating disorders
A group of serious conditions in which a person is so preoccupied with food and weight that they can often focus on little else. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.

Electroconvulsive therapy
A brain stimulation techniques used to treat major depression or psychosis that hasn’t responded to standard treatments.

The voluntary or involuntary passage of stools by a child who has been toilet trained (typically over age 4) and soils their clothes.

An inability to control urination that occurs day or night; also known as bedwetting.

Environmental factors
Circumstances or materials that contribute to the onset or persistence of a disorder, including toxins or stressful events.

The study of heritable changes in gene activity which are not caused by changes in DNA. They are often, but not always, in response to the environmental factors.

Disorders and symptoms that come and go over time.

Excoriation (skin-picking) disorder
A disorder where a person picks their skin over and over again, often causing tissue damage and distress and/or problems with work, social and other daily activities.

Executive Control Functioning
A group of skills that helps people focus on multiple streams of information at the same time, and revise plans as necessary. Acquiring these skills is one of the most important tasks of the early childhood years.

Exposure and response prevention
A therapy for OCD that exposes a patient to the thoughts, objects and situations that make them anxious but in a controlled environment so that they decrease their response and reduce compulsions.

Exposure therapy
A form of therapy that exposes an OCD patient to the thoughts, objects and situations that make them anxious.

Expressed affect
An expression of joy, fear, anger or sadness. Expressed anger at home can aggravate a child’s psychiatric conditions.




Family therapy
A form of psychotherapy that works with families to nurture change and development.

Flattened affect
Also called blunted affect; a symptom in which a person expresses limited emotions.

fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging)
A technique for measuring brain activity and how its parts interact using magnetism and radio waves (no radioactivity) to produce images of brain activity.




Gender dysphoria
A condition in which a person feels that there is a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.

Generalized anxiety disorder
An anxiety disorder characterized by feeling unreasonably and persistently worried about everyday things.

Related to or caused by genes, discrete units of DNA that determine a person’s basic makeup.

Genetic counselor
A professional who can help identify and interpret risks of an inherited disorder, explain family history patterns, suggest testing and recommend a course of action.

The genetic makeup of an organism or a group of organisms. Not all organisms with the same genotype look or act the same way because appearance and behavior are modified by environmental and developmental conditions.




Transmitted from parent to child; not necessarily genetic.

An anxiety disorder in which a person has symptoms of a medical illness, but symptoms cannot be fully explained by an actual physical disorder.

A disorder that occurs when the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone to meet the body’s needs. Without enough thyroid hormone, many of the body’s functions slow down, causing fatigue, weight gain, and, occasionally, depression.




Increased arousal
Feeling constantly alert after a traumatic event, as well as having difficulty sleeping, outbursts of anger or irritability, and difficulty concentrating.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)
A federally mandated, individualized plan for the education of a child who is determined to have a disability that interferes with his education. Legally, a public school must provide an appropriate education for a child in the least restrictive environment possible. The IEP details the setting and support services necessary for the child’s education.

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

Intellectual Development Disorder
Intellectual Developmental Disorder is a disorder in which a child fails’ to develop intellectually as well as physically in the manner he or she is supposed to.

Intensive obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment
A daily program of specialized OCD therapy including exposure and response therapy sessions and practice periods.

Intermittent explosive disorder
Individuals with this disorder often seriously damage property or assault others, usually in stark contrast to the provocation involved in a situation.

Internally distracted
An individual cannot focus on the task at hand because he is busy with his own thoughts and actions.

Interpersonal therapy
Focuses on the interpersonal relationships of a depressed person. Treatment involves improving communication and how people relate to others.

Intrusive memories
A flashback or unpleasant memory that interferes with everyday life.



Language disorder
In children, this could mean trouble getting their meaning or message across to others (expressive language disorder), or understanding messages coming from others (receptive language disorder)

Learning disorder
A disorder that affects how a person learns and understands primary skills such as reading, writing and math.

Learning specialist
A professional who identifies and addresses concerns about learning and behavior among children.




Major depressive disorder
Also known as clinical depression, this is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger or frustration interfere with everyday life for weeks or more.

A mood characterized by extreme mental and physical hyperactivity, disordered thinking and behavior, irritability and euphoria.

Manic episode
A distinct period during a person has an abnormally elevated, expansive, or irritable mood.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors are medications prescribed for the treatment of depression. These medications tend to be used for patients who have failed to respond to other treatments.

Mood disorders
Characterized by continued disruptions in a person’s mood, resulting in either depressed mood (depression or dysthymia) or elevated mood (hypomania or mania). Formerly known as “affective disorders.”

Mood stabilizer
A psychiatric medication prescribed to treat mood disorders, typically bipolar disorder.




A physician who specializes in neurology, study of the nervous system. A referral for neurological assessment aims to determine whether symptoms are the result of nervous system disorders, such as seizures.

Antipsychotics that are a class of psychiatric medication used to manage psychosis, most commonly schizophrenia and bipolar mania; they are also used to treat conditions like autism spectrum disorders, TourettesTourettes and OCD.

A specialist in the functioning of the brain and how it relates to behavior and cognitive ability. Pediatric neuropsychologists do postgraduate training in testing and evaluation. Your child might be referred to a neuropsychologist for an assessment if your concerns include issues of focus, attention, problem-solving, or learning. Neuropsychologists can determine the cause of these problems – psychiatric symptoms, or symptoms of a learning or developmental disorder.

Neuropsychological testing
A series of tests designed to assess areas of brain function, including memory, attention, motor skills, intelligence, and learning.

A chemical in the body that carries a signal from one nerve cell to another. Most psychiatric medications act by increasing or decreasing the availability of neurotransmitters, thus affecting the messages being sent.

Nonverbal learning disorder
Children with nonverbal learning disorder appear to have good language skills, but have difficulties solving problems that do not involve written or spoken language. It includes struggles to stay organized in terms of time and space.




Thinking about someone or something constantly or frequently.

Obsessive hoarding
Excessive acquisition of objects and an inability to discard large quantities of objects that cover living areas of the home.

Obsessive-compulsive 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 conditions similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder. They have similar neurobiology, demographics and prescribed medication.

Occupational therapist
Occupational therapists treat patients with injuries, illnesses, or disabilities through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working.

Opposing or resisting

Oppositional defiant disorder
A pattern of disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior toward authority figures.




Panic attack
A sudden intense, overwhelming, fear, along with physical symptoms like palpitations, dizziness, and a feeling that one is dying.

Panic disorder
Recurring panic attacks and, while between episodes, a fear that another panic attack is imminent.

A psychotic delusion that others are threatening you or those important to you.

Parent-child interaction therapy
Treatment for young children with emotional and behavioral disorders that places emphasis on improving the quality of the parent-child relationship and changing parent-child interactions.

Pediatric psychopharmacology
The study of medications used to treat psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents.

Persistent depressive disorder (Dysthymia)
A chronic mood disorder that has less severe, but longer-lasting symptoms, than depression.

Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
A disorder on the autism spectrum in which an individual has some, but not all, the clinical features of autism.

The observable properties of an organism produced by the interaction of a genotype and the environment.

An extremely strong dislike or fear of someone or something

Phobic stimulus
An object or situation that causes a phobic response.

Post-traumatic stress disorder
A chronic anxiety disorder that can occur after an individual has gone through an extreme emotional trauma that threatened injury or death.

Relating to the period between when symptoms appear and before the full development of a disorder.

Likely course of a disorder over time.

Psychiatric disorder
Mental or behavioral pattern that impairs a person’s cognitive, behavioral, and emotional functioning.

A physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of medical disorders.

Teaching patients about how a mental health condition, its treatment, and outcomes, affects them.

Psychological testing
Structured tests to better understand a person and their behavior.

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

The scientific study of the effects drugs have on mood, sensation, thinking, and behavior.

A loss of contact with reality that usually includes: false beliefs about events or who one is (delusions); seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations).

A class of medications that improve mental or physical functions and decrease impulsivity.

Vomiting or emptying of the bowels to avoid gaining weight. This may accompany eating disorders.




Reactive attachment disorder
A rare but serious condition in which infants and young children don’t establish healthy bonds with parents or caregivers.

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




Schizoaffective disorder
A mental condition that causes both a loss of contact with reality (psychosis) and mood problems.

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

Schizophreniform disorder
A short-term type of schizophreniaa that distorts the way a person thinks, acts, expresses emotions, perceives reality, and relates to others. It lasts under six months.

School psychologist
A professional highly trained in psychology and education that collaborates with children, educators, parents and other professionals to create healthy and supportive learning environments for students.

School refusal
Refusal to attend school due to emotional distress or separation from parents.

School-based evaluations
An assessment of student skills and abilities that a school uses to approve special education services.

A medication that induces sleep.

Selective mutism
An anxiety disorder in which a child who can speak stops speaking, usually in school or social settings.

Separation anxiety disorder
A disorder in children over age 6 characterized by extreme distress when separated from parents or caregivers.

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

Sleep-wake disorders
Disorders related to the timing of sleep within the 24-hour day. Some of these disorders are influenced by the timing of the sleep period that is under the individual’s control or are disorders of neurological mechanisms.

Social anxiety disorder
Also called social phobia, this disorder is characterized by an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations.

Social communication disorder
A new diagnostic category in the autism spectrum that applies to children who have deficits in the social use of language, but do not have the restricted interests or repetitive behavior commonly found in autism spectrum disorders.

Somatic symptom disorder
A disorder characterized by a child’s intense worry about having an illness. Physical symptoms are real but mild and have been misinterpreted by the child.

Specific learning disorder
A disorder that manifests itself with a deficit in areas such as attention, reasoning, processing, memory, communication, reading, writing, spelling, calculation, coordination, social competence and emotional maturity.

Specific phobia
An anxiety disorder that amounts to an unreasonable or irrational fear of an object or situation.

Speech-language pathologist
A clinician who assesses, diagnoses, treats, and helps prevent speech, language, cognitive, communication, voice, swallowing, fluency, and other related disorders.

Speech sound disorder
Speech disorders in which some speech sounds in a child’s native language are not produced, not produced correctly, or are not used correctly.

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.

An event or experience that causes stress.

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

Substance-use disorder
Dependence on and abuse of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs that causes dysfunction and disrupts functioning at school, at home and with friends.

Suicidal ideation
Thoughts or ideas about suicide.

Systematic desensitization
A type of behavioral therapy that removes the fear response of a phobia by gradually exposing them to the things that trigger those anxieties in a safe environment.




Targeted evaluation
Gathering and analyzing data and other objective information on processes and outcomes.

Teacher-child interaction therapy
Therapy that restructures teacher-student interaction to reduce disruptive behavior and improve a child’s functioning in school.

An involuntary movement or sound.

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

Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy
A treatment for trauma-related impairment in which children and their families learn skills to help process a traumatic experience in a healthy way and manage distressing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Compulsive and repetitive pulling out of hair.

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