medical descriptions and terms

Conditions where AAC may help in communication exist at birth or may be acquired in later life.

acquired – a disease or condition/characteristic that is not congenital but develops after birth; common acquired conditions include stroke/CVA, brain injury, brain tumour, dementia, motor neuron(e) disease (MND), multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson's disease and Huntington’s disease. These conditions are more common to adults than children.

congenital/developmental – a disease or condition/characteristic that is present at birth and affects a child’s development throughout his/her life. Examples include cerebral palsy (CP), autism (ASD) or Asperger syndrome, Down's syndrome and other learning disabilities, multiple disabilities and complex communication needs (CCN).


amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

An acquired and degenerative condition, most often affecting people in the 40 to 70 year age group.

amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – the most common degenerative disease of the motor neuron(e) system, with the term reserved for the form of MND that involves upper and lower motor neuron(e)s: see also motor neuron(e) disease (MND).

MND is more commonly used as a generic term in the UK, with ALS a term more commonly used in the US.

The disease affects the motor cells (neurones) in the brain and spinal cord. Without nerves to control the muscles, there is loss of control to move around, speak, swallow and breathe. Symptoms may include muscle weakness/waste and paralysis. In most cases ALS does not affect intellect, memory or the senses.


Useful information available at


December 2012

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adults
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acquired
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ALS
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motor neurone disease (MND)

Asperger syndrome

A developmental condition, which is a form of autism.

Asperger syndrome – Asperger syndrome is a form of autism, where people have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language: see also autism spectrum disorders (ASD).


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Asperger's
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autism (ASD)

autism spectrum disorders (ASD)

A developmental, spectrum condition, which affects children throughout their lives.

autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – often referred to simply as 'autism'; this congenital condition is a spectrum disorder because it affects people in a variety of ways and to varying degrees, characterised by difficulties with social interaction. See also Asperger syndromecomplex communication needs (CCN) and developmental-learning disabilities.

Communication is commonly affected because social interaction is a two-way process. Additionally, many children with an ASD are delayed in their use of language.


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December 2012

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adults
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children
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autism (ASD)

brain injury / head injury (TBI)

An acquired condition, resulting from a trauma to the head. 

brain injury / head injury (traumatic brain injury - TBI) – occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain; possible causes include road traffic accidents, assaults, falls and other accidents.

Communication problems are common after a brain injury and many people experience more than one area of difficulty, depending on the areas of the brain affected and the severity of the injury.

  • language impairment - aphasia/dysphasia
  • disorders of speech affecting speech clarity and control - dysarthria and dyspraxia
  • cognitive communication difficulties also affect communication, including memory impairment and attention difficulties.

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December 2012

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adults
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children
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acquired
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brain injury (TBI)

brain tumour

An acquired condition, which may affect children or adults.

brain tumour – various malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous) tumours can damage brain tissue and interfere with various functions, including muscle weakness and problems with balance, co-ordination, vision, hearing, speech, communication or swallowing.

A brain tumour may cause these symptoms because the space it takes up in the skull puts pressure on the brain, or because it is disturbing the function of the part of the brain it's growing in.


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December 2012

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adults
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children
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acquired
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brain tumour

cerebral palsy (CP)

A developmental condition, with symptoms usually evident during the first three years of life.

cerebral palsy (CP) – a group of chronic neurological conditions affecting body movements and muscle co-ordination, caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain. CP exists at birth and is not progressive. Cerebral means related to the brain or cerebrum and palsy refers to complete or partial muscle paralysis.

There are different types of cerebral palsy and no two people are affected in the same way. Effects may be mild or much more profound and some people with cerebral palsy may, for example, have learning disabilities or be deaf. Speech may be difficult where facial muscles are affected and other problems with vision, hearing, motor skills or cognitive skills will affect communication.

See also complex communication needs (CCN) and developmental-learning disabilities.


Useful information available at


December 2012

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adults
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cerebral palsy (CP)

cerebral palsy jargon buster

Here are some of the terms you might hear from medical and other professionals in the field of cerebral palsy.

These terms have been taken from Scope Disability Charity and you can find further links on their site. This list is by no means exhaustive and they say it is regularly reviewed.

You should also refer to our glossary.


  • ADL ‘Activity of daily living' usually used in the plural form to refer to self-care activities such as washing and bathing
  • Acalculia Form of aphasia demonstrated by an inability to do the most simple calculations
  • Abduction Movement of a limb outwards and away from the midline of the body
  • Adduction Movement of a limb inwards and towards the midline of the body
  • Aetiology The study of what is known about the cause of a disease
  • Agnosia Inability to recognise objects or sounds due to lack of perceptive capacity, although general intelligence is normal
  • Ambulatory Able to walk
  • Ankle-foot Orthosis (AFO) A brace used to stretch the Achilles tendon worn on the lower leg and foot to support the ankle, hold the foot and ankle in the correct position and correct foot drop. It is a thin, light plastic material. This is individually moulded and needs replacement as the child grows
  • Asphyxia Failure or prevention of respiratory process due to obstruction of air flow, lack of oxygen in the blood or lack of oxygen in atmosphere
  • Ataxic Cerebral Palsy A form of cerebral palsy characterised by Ataxia, problems with balance, co-ordination, shaky hand movements and jerky speech
  • Athetoid Cerebral Palsy A form of cerebral palsy characterised by Athetosis, involuntary movements resulting from the rapid change in muscle tone from floppy to tense
  • Audiologist A professional who works with people who have hearing difficulties
  • Baclofen Drug used as muscle relaxant
  • Basal Ganglia Middle area of the brain
  • Bobath Therapy Physical therapy which aims to improve posture and movement
  • Botulinum Toxin A Drug which can reduce spasticity (tightness) in muscles
  • Central Nervous System Consists of the spinal cord and the brain. The brain receives and processes signals delivered through the spinal cord, and then sends directive signals to the body
  • Cerebral Palsy A disorder of movement and posture due to a non-progressive damage or lesion to the immature brain
  • Cerebellum Area of the brain which controls balance and muscle tone
  • Cerebral Cortex Outer layer of the brain in which thought processes take place
  • Cerebral Thrombosis Formation of blood clot in an artery of the brain
  • Chorea Uncontrollable, small, jerky movements, usually of toes and fingers [particularly affecting the head, face or limbs]
  • Choreoathetosis Involuntary movements showing features of both chorea and athetosis
  • Clonus A muscle spasm in which the muscle relaxes and contracts in rapid succession resulting in a shaking or trembling movement
  • Conductive Education A holistic learning system which can enable some children with cerebral palsy to function more independently
  • Congenital ‘Present at birth' i.e. a condition which originates prenatally
  • Contractures Permanent shortening of muscle and tendon resulting from spastic tightening of muscles over a long period
  • CT/ CAT Scan Diagnostic technique using a combination of computer and X-rays [Computed Axial Tomography]. This provides cross-sectional images of tissue which are clearer and more detailed than X-rays alone with minimal exposure to radiation
  • Diplegia Where both legs are affected but the arms are not [or less so]
  • Dolphin Therapy Therapeutic interaction with dolphins
  • Dorsiflexion Lifting of the foot/toes or hand/fingers towards the body
  • Dyskinesia Abnormality of movement/impairment of the power of voluntary movement resulting in fragmentation or incomplete movements
  • Dyskinetic CP See athetoid cerebral palsy
  • Dystonia Muscle tone fluctuates between stiffness and floppiness/slow twisting repetitive movements of arm, leg, trunk
  • Electromyography A test that measures muscle activity to stimulation of the nerves, often used in clinical diagnosis of muscle disorders
  • Encephalitis Inflammation of the brain, usually resulting from viral or bacterial infection
  • Epilepsy Abnormal electrical activity in the brain which causes seizures of varying degree
  • Equinus Abnormality of foot which prevents normal weight-bearing
  • Etiology See Aetiology
  • Fine motor movements Small muscle movements, often of the hand [e.g. writing]
  • Flexion Bending of parts of the body
  • Function A clinical term usually referring to an ability or skill required to carry out an activity of daily living [see ADL]
  • Fundoplication Surgical treatment involving suturing (stitching of the fundus of the stomach) usually used in cases of hiatus hernia or Gastro-esophageal Reflux
  • GABA (Gamma Chemical produced by the brain to relax Aminobutyric Acid) muscles (lacking in those with spasticity)
  • Gait How an individual walks
  • Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Regurgitation of stomach contents into the oesophagus
  • Gastrostomy Surgical procedure to allow insertion of tube for feeding purposes
  • Gross motor movements Large muscle movements [e.g. walking]
  • Hip dislocation In children with spasticity the thigh bone [femur] can gradually be pulled out of its socket where it connects with the hip - this is treated surgically
  • Haemorrhage Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Hemiplegia Where one side of the body is affected by paralysis
  • Hydrocephalus Water on the brain
  • Hyperkinesis Abnormally increased muscle movement/spasm
  • Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy used in the treatment of a variety of conditions delivered in a pressurised chamber
  • Hypertonia Too much muscle tone leading to stiffness
  • Hypotonia Too little muscle tone leading to floppiness
  • Hypoxia Term used when the brain or other tissue is not receiving adequate oxygen
  • Intrathecal Baclofen Method of administering Baclofen (a muscle relaxant) internally. This is used to treat spasticity
  • Ischaemia When the amount of blood flowing through the brain or other tissue is diminished
  • Intraventricular Haemorrhage Bleeding into the normal fluid spaces (ventricles) within the brain
  • Kinaesthesia Perception and understanding of where one's limbs and body are in space and in relation to other objects
  • Lycra Dynamic Splinting A material suit that supports the body while allowing function
  • Meningitis Inflammation of the lining of the brain and/or spinal cord
  • Monoplegia Impairment of one limb
  • Motor Of movement
  • MRI Diagnostic technique [Magnetic Resonance Imaging] providing cross-sectional/three-dimensional images which are more detailed than CT/CAT Scans - uses electro-magnetic field and radio waves [no X-rays or other radiation involved]
  • Muscle tone The amount of tension or resistance to movement in a muscle
  • Neonatal Newly born [first four weeks of life]
  • Neurologist A doctor who specialises in impairments of the brain and nervous system
  • Neurosurgery Surgery to the nervous system and its supporting structures e.g. brain, spinal cord or nerve
  • Paraplegia Impairment of legs only
  • Perinatal Referring to the period from 28th week of pregnancy to 28th day after birth
  • Quadriplegia All four limbs affected
  • Range of motion Refers to the flexibility of joints such as elbows and ankles
  • Reflex Automatic unconscious movement in response to stimulus
  • Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy A neurosurgical technique used in the treatment of spasticity in the lower limbs
  • Sensory Referring to part of nervous system that receives and interprets signals through senses [sight / touch / smell / hearing / taste]
  • Scoliosis Abnormal curvature of the spine usually in an S shape
  • Spastic cerebral palsy The most common form of cerebral palsy where some muscles become very stiff and weak
  • Spatial Relationship of one thing to another in space, learned through vision and movement
  • Spatial perception Appreciation of size, distance and relationship between objects
  • Tendonotomy Surgical cutting of tendon to relieve spasticity
  • Tetraplegia Impairment of all four limbs and body [as in quadriplegia]
  • Tone Natural sustained tension in muscle
  • Tonic Sustained tension in a limb
  • Tremor Rhythmic, involuntary, trembling or quivering movements of parts of the body
  • Triplegia Impairment of three limbs
  • Uteroplacental Insufficiency (UPI) where blood flow to the placenta is impaired, so that there is a risk that inadequate amounts of nutrients or oxygen are delivered to the foetus
  • Visual Acuity Clarity of vision
  • Visual Memory Ability to retain and reproduce shapes seen briefly

December 2012

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cerebral palsy (CP)

complex communication needs (CCN)

A term used in relation to complex developmental conditions, that affect children throughout their lives.

complex communication needs (CCN) – CCN refers to people with severe speech, language and communication impairments; including autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, certain learning disabilities and multiple disabilities.


See also :


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CCN

dementia

An acquired condition, generally affecting people over the age of 40.

dementia - a set of progressive symptoms including loss of memory, mood changes, and problems with communication and reasoning; affecting language skills used in understanding and ability to communicate when talking, reading and writing.

The most common types are Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. 


Useful information available at


December 2012

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adults
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dementia

developmental-learning disability

A birth condition, affecting children and continuing throughout their adult life.

developmental-learning disability – difficulty understanding new or complex information, learning new skills and living independently.

Severe learning disability is commonly due to specific genetic or physical abnormalities, with Down’s syndrome the most common specific cause. Fragile X syndrome is also a genetic cause, where all boys but only a third of girls have mild, moderate or severe learning disabilities. The Down's Syndrome Association advise that

Down's syndrome is not a disease. People with Down's syndrome are not ill and do not "suffer" from the condition.

Some people with a learning disability also have other physical and emotional conditions; for example, some people with cerebral palsy can have a learning disability and, although autism is not a learning disability, around 50% of people with autism may also have a learning disability.

See also  autism spectrum disorders (ASD),  cerebral palsy (CP),  complex communication needs (CCN) and  profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD)


Useful information available at


December 2012

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adults
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congenital
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learning disability

Huntington’s disease

An acquired condition, usually affecting people between the ages of 30-50.

Huntington's disease – previously called Huntington's chorea; a brain disorder with progressive neurodegeneration leading to motor, cognitive, and psychiatric symptoms. All areas of communicative functioning are affected.


Useful information available at


December 2012

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adults
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acquired
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Huntington's disease (HD)

laryngectomy

Larynx cancer is an acquired condition, usually affecting adults.

laryngectomy – the partial or complete surgical removal of the larynx (voice box), usually as a treatment for laryngeal cancer. There are several methods to help you to produce sound and learn to speak again.


Useful information available at


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adults
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acquired
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laryngectomy

locked-in syndrome

A rare, acquired neurological condition, resulting in complete inability to speak or move.

locked-in syndrome – this rare neurological disorder is characterised by complete paralysis of voluntary muscles in all parts of the body except for those that control eye movement. This syndrome may result from traumatic brain injury or diseases affecting circulation or nerve cells. Thinking and reasoning function normally, but there is inability to speak or move.


See also brain injury and motor neuron(e) disease (MND).


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adults
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locked-in syndrome

motor neuron(e) disease (MND)

An acquired and progressive condition, most often affecting people in the 40 to 70 year age group.

motor neuron(e) disease (MND) – a degenerative disease of the motor neuron(e) system: see also amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). MND is more commonly used as a generic term in the UK for all variants of the disease, with ALS a term more commonly used in the US.

The disease affects the motor cells (neurones) in the brain and spinal cord. Without nerves to control the muscles, there is loss of control to move around, speak, swallow and breathe. Symptoms may include muscle weakness/waste and paralysis.

In most cases MND does not affect intellect, memory or the senses, but people experience varying degrees of vocal or physical impairment that may cause problems with communication.


Useful information available at


December 2012

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adults
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acquired
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motor neurone disease (MND)

multiple sclerosis (MS)

An acquired condition, usually affecting adults.

multiple sclerosis (MS) – a neurological condition, normally diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 40, with a set of physical symptoms including vision, fatigue, spasms, tremor, speech and swallowing.

The usual communication difficulty is dysarthria, if parts of the brain are damaged; for example, connections between the brain and the spinal cord – the area known as the brainstem.

Speech may be affected in various ways; for example, slurred speech, weak voice, pitch control, pauses between syllables.


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December 2012

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adults
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acquired
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multiple sclerosis (MS)

Parkinson's disease (PD)

An acquired condition, usually affecting adults over the age of 50.

Parkinson's disease (PD) – a progressive neurological condition, mainly affecting people aged 50+, where a lack of the chemical 'dopamine' causes movements to become slower and a tremor develops.


Useful information available at


December 2012

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adults
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acquired
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Parkinson's

Prion disease

A rare acquired condition, mainly affecting adults but a small percentage of cases run in families.

Prion disease – a group of transmissible, progressive neurodegenerative conditions, including Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), which can cause dysarthria and often a reduction in the content of language, word finding difficulties and repetition of words or sentences.


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adults
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acquired
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Prion disease

profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD)

A congenital condition affecting children and adults.

PMLD – PMLD is a commonly used term for profound and multiple learning difficulties, incorporating intellectual or developmental disabilities and physical disabilities. Most people will need to use a wheelchair and will have hearing and sight problems as well as non-verbal communication. See also complex communication needs (CCN) and developmental-learning disabilities.

Most people with PMLD don't use formal communication like words and symbols, although some people may use or understand some gestures. This makes communication very difficult.


Useful information available at


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congenital
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PMLD

spinal injury

An acquired condition affecting children and adults.

spinal injury – injuries to the cervical spinal cord may result in dysarthria.


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adults
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children
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acquired
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spinal injury

stroke / cerebrovascular accident (CVA)

An acquired condition, mainly affecting older adults.

stroke-CVA – medical term for sudden loss of sensation and control caused by rupture or obstruction of a blood vessel of the brain e.g. a blood clot. A stroke may be referred to as CVA - cerebrovascular accident. In a child, an interruption to the brain’s blood supply for a very brief time may cause a stroke.

Common communication difficulties after a stroke are  aphasia and  dyspraxia.


Useful information available at


December 2012

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adults
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acquired
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stroke-CVA