My sister is a professor of nuclear science.

When she speaks to me about her work I nod my head and listen but I must confess I often have no idea what she is talking about.

It is like a foreign language, but to her it is everyday speak.

It is the same in the world of special needs. You find yourself scrolling through posts on any disability forum or social media page and you could easily feel like you are in another world.

Seasoned special needs parents use acronyms as everyday vocabulary, forgetting that many may not understand what we are talking about.

So here is a list of the most commonly used acronyms in the UK among special needs families that I have found.

Feel free to share or use or even print out to refer to when you need. 


AAC - lternative or augmentative communication (a means of communication without using speech) 

ABA - applied behavioural analysis (a strategy used by some therapists to support children with autism) 

ADHD - attention deficit hyperactivity disorder 

ADOS - autism diagnostic observation schedule (a means of assessment for autism) 

ASD (or ASC) - autism spectrum disorder or autism spectrum condition 

BSL - British sign language 

CA - carer’s allowance 

CAMHS - child and adolescent mental health service 

CBT - cognitive behaviour therapy (a type of therapy used to help reduce anxiety or depression)

CSP - co-ordinated support plan (a Scottish only legal support plan for children in education) 

DLA - disability living allowance (a non means tested benefit for children who require extra care) 

EBD - emotional and behavioural difficulties 

ED. P - educational psychologist 

EHCP - education and health care plan (English education plan for children with additional needs) 

EP - enhanced provision (smaller classes for children with higher support needs) 

GDD - global developmental delay (developmental delay in three or more areas) 

GFCF - gluten free casein free (a diet that means no gluten or casein) 

HFA - high functioning autism 

HI - hearing impaired 

IEP - individual educational plan (school support plan for children with additional needs)

LD - learning disability 

MA - multi-agency (professionals from different fields)

MDT - multidisciplinary team (group of professionals from different fields)

NAS - national autistic society 

NT - neurologically typical (not having autism) 

OT - occupational therapist 

PDD - pervasive developmental disorder 

PDA - pathological demand avoidance (a particular type of autism) 

PECS - picture exchange communication system (a means of communication using visuals) 

PIP - personal independence payment (adult equivalent to DLA) 

SDS - self-directed support (a means of financial support to pay for respite and support) 

SEN - special educational needs

SENCO - special educational needs co-ordinator (England only)  

SEND - special educational needs and disabilities 

SLT (or SALT) - speech and language therapist 

SM - selective mutism 

SPD - sensory processing difficulties 

SS - social services

SW - social worker 

TAC - team around the child

TAF - team around the family 

VI - vision impaired 


If you come across others don't be stuck: just ask. At one point I had no idea what any of these meant and some I secretly googled in the hope of understanding more.

It's hard enough finding out your child has extra needs without also struggling to understand abbreviations.

With love from one special needs parent to others! 

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