Terms and definitions

…..because meanings are important to narratives!

Context: internal and external environment that can change day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment. This can greatly influence how your brain and body perceive things (stimuli). Examples: feelings, school, noises, thoughts, history, physical health, people around, time of day. If I have a headache or am having premenstrual symptoms, it will influence my context in how I perceive sounds (overwhelming), my children’s persistent questions (grating) or certain smells (painful).

Masking/camouflaging: this term is typically used when autistic (or other neurodivergent people) must suppress their selves, way of being, thinking and socializing in order to be accepted by the majority culture. It can look like suppressing stimming, suffering through overwhelming sensory situations, hiding special interests and more. This often comes at enormous mental and physical health costs and has been associated with suicidality. ABA is often associated with teaching masking behaviors to autistic children, teens and adults.

Narratives: what we know and understand about everything and people in the world and universe comes from narratives we learn from others, other’s experiences and from our own experience. We incorporate these into our self identity and values with language and various frames to help us quickly process and categorize the information. We know other people from the narratives we’ve told ourselves from their stories and experiences about them and with them.

Neurodiversity: the understanding that just like diversity found in pretty much everything, there is diversity to human brains in how they think, process information, learn. There is no right way to be and we need a diversity of thinking in our world.

Neurotypical: our westernized culture is built for neurotypical brains. If you find learning, socializing and working pretty easy to come by, your brain might be neurotypical.

Neurodivergent: brains which differ from the typical in how they learn. Often these brains get diagnostic labels like autism, ADHD, anxiety, schizophrenia, cPTSD. They may also get informal labels like: sensory difficulties, sensitive, dramatic, socially awkward, weird, lazy. They tend to have amazing strengths that may or may not be undervalued in our culture: hyper focus for learning specialized interests, very empathetic, connection to nature, pattern recognition, creativity and more. Often neurodivergent people have to mask, at great mental and physical health costs, to fit into neurotypical standards.

Trauma: this has become a sort of buzzword, which sadly seems to have diminished its importance. Trauma can have a range of impacts but the basics are that when the brain experiences something stressful, it triggers some of the oldest parts of our brains that send us into a survival state. There is the better known post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which typically occurs from a major event with an adult, but there is an increasingly studied area of complex PTSD (cPTSD). cPTSD occurs during brain development (childhood) and comes with many signals and symptoms. The survival part of the brain gets stuck in an easily or always activated state which is beyond the logical control of the person.

When someone is in this stressed out state they have difficulty with emotional regulation, logical reasoning, language and memory processing. ABA has a history of not recognizing these states of stress in the people they work with and expecting children to emotionally regulate, verbally communicate, reason and learn while these brain systems are literally offline. This also comes into play in schools where a child is constantly stressed and triggered, they are unable to process memories well, so they are unable to learn or retain things being taught.

Finally, triggers are contextually unique to each person and can send the person into a trauma/stress state when the environment seems otherwise safe. Read more about it in some of our favorite resources.

Values: a combination of feelings and actions which give meaning to our lives. We give labels to these concepts which can have very personal and diverse meanings. For example if someone cares about the environment, they might have values of conservation, stewardship, connection, preservation, personal responsibility, etc. all of which can mean different things to a person depending on their personal narratives and feelings.