Glossary of Terms You Should Know

The Below is a collection of terms that I have gathered from various resources including WebMd and various DHS type sites. The list is by no means complete and probably not totally alphabetized. If you have a term you think I should add, please leave a comment. I will be updating this list continuously.  This list is just meant to help parents "in the system" understand what the heck everyone else is talking about!


Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD)
Children with ADHD generally have problems paying attention or concentrating. They can't seem to follow directions and are easily bored or frustrated with tasks. They also tend to move constantly and are impulsive, not stopping to think before they act. These behaviors are generally common in children. But they occur more often than usual and are more severe in a child with ADHD.

Adjustment disorders
a group of mental and behavioral disorders in which the development of symptoms is related the presence of some environmental stressor or life event and is expected to remit when the stress ceases;

The emotional feeling, tone, and mood attached to a thought, including its external manifestations.

Aging Out:
 When a youth leaves foster care because they have reached age 21 without returning home or being adopted.

A mental disorder characterized by an irrational fear of leaving the familiar setting of home, or venturing into the open, so pervasive that a large number of external life situations are entered into reluctantly or are avoided; often associated with panic attacks.


Anorexia Nervosa

People have an intense fear of gaining weight and can become dangerously thin. Signs of anorexia include less than normal weight, negative body image, and obsession with food.

antisocial personality disorder
An enduring and pervasive pattern characterized by continuous and chronic antisocial behavior with disregard for and violation of the rights and safety of others, beginning before the age of 15; early childhood signs include chronic lying, stealing, fighting, and truancy; in adolescence there may be unusually early or aggressive sexual behavior, excessive drinking, and use of illicit drugs, such behavior continuing in adulthood.

Asperger disorder
A pervasive developmental disorder characterized by severe and enduring impairment in social skills and restrictive and repetitive behaviors and interests, leading to impaired social and occupational functioning but without significant delays in language development; however, constructs of Asperger disorder other than those in DSM include the criteria of less social impairment than in autism and in impaired communications.

Autism is a neurologically based developmental disorder that affects several areas of functioning including: social interactions, communication, abstract thought processing, and executive functioning. As the name implies, these disorders reside on a spectrum with many levels of severity. Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) present with a wide range of strengths and weaknesses. Autism is one of just five Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR). PDDs are characterized by significant impairments in social interaction and communication. Individuals with autism may have difficulty in responding to change or transition. They may exhibit over- or under-sensitivity to pain or other sensory stimulation. Autism often results in deficits in imaginative play and abstract thought. Parents report that the child with autism does not want to be cuddled and that he or she avoids eye contact or demonstrates unusually intense eye contact. Children with autism often become preoccupied with parts of toys (the wheels of a truck), but rarely play with toys in the traditional manner. Left untreated, the communication and sensory problems associated with autism may result in tantruming or aggressive behaviors. In the past, autism was defined as a rare disorder, but current estimates indicate that approximately one in 500 children have an autism spectrum disorder. Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. It is thought that at least some of this increase is due to heightened awareness and improved diagnostics. The cause of autism spectrum disorders is not known; however, there is evidence to suggest that there is a genetic component. Early identification and early intervention can help children with ASD reach their own unique potential.

Behavior therapy

a therapy based on the concept that physical rather than mental events control overt behavior; such behavior is analyzed and selected behavior is then modified using specific techniques focusing on stimuli, conditioning, and learning, so as to improve health and functioning. See: systematic desensitization, conditioning, learning See also: cognitive therapy Cf.: psychotherapy


Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that is characterized by extreme changes in mood, from mania to depression. It can lead to risky behavior, damaged relationships and careers, and even suicidal tendencies if it's not treated.

Borderline Personality Disorder
An enduring and pervasive pattern that begins by early adulthood and is characterized by impulsivity and unpredictability, unstable interpersonal relationships, inappropriate or uncontrolled affect, especially anger, identity disturbances, rapid shifts of mood, suicidal acts, self-mutilations, job and marital instability, chronic feelings of emptiness or boredom, and intolerance of being alone.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia (say "boo-LEE-mee-uh") is a type of eating disorder. People with bulimia will eat a large amount of food in a short time (binge). Then they will do something to get rid of the food (purge). They may vomit, exercise too much, or use medicines like laxatives.
People who have bulimia may binge because food gives them a feeling of comfort. But eating too much makes them feel out of control. After they binge, they feel ashamed, guilty, and afraid of gaining weight. This causes them to purge. 

CBCT: Cognitively Based Compassion Training: Appears to improve the mental and physical health of adolescents in foster care. CBCT is a tool that provides strategies for people to develop more compassionate attitudes toward themselves and others.

Cease Reunification:
 The court decides that since the biological parents did not do what was required of them for the child to go home, the Department is no longer required to provide reunification services for the purpose of the child returning to their biological parent’s home.

Cerebral palsy

A non-hereditary condition which results from brain damage before, during, or after birth. Children with cerebral palsy lack muscle control in one or more parts of their bodies or may experience speech and language difficulties, depending on the area of the brain damaged. Individuals with cerebral palsy can possess very normal mental functions.

Court Appointed Special Advocate: (also known as CASA) An adult volunteer, assigned by the court to study and protect the best interests of a youth in a civil or criminal abuse or neglect case. The CASA and the youth should talk on an ongoing basis. The CASA is your voice in the courtroom.

Abbreviation for community mental health center.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 
a broadening of behavior therapy to include consideration of cognitive processes and use specific techniques for teaching cognitive skills that help the patient adaptively perceive, interpret, and respond to the environment. See also: cognitive therapy, psychotherapy

In psychoanalysis, the analyst's transference (often unconscious) to the patient of emotional needs and conflicts from the analyst's past experiences or the analyst's current emotional responses to the manifestation of the patient's transference.

De facto
A term meaning "in actual fact", "in deed" or "actually", regardless of legal or normative standards. In a legal context, the phrase refers to an action or a state of affairs which must be accepted for all practical purposes, but which has no legal basis. A "de facto family" is a "psychological family" in which members have ties to each other even though they are relatives by birth or marriage and do not have a legal document recognizing their relationship.

De facto adoption
A legal agreement to adopt a child according to the laws of a particular State which will result in a legal adoption process once the adoption petition is filed with the appropriate court; an equitable adoption.

A false belief or wrong judgment, sometimes associated with hallucinations, held with conviction despite evidence to the contrary.

A state in which one loses the feeling of one's own identity in relation to others in one's family or peer group, or loses the feeling of one's own reality.

Developmental Disabilities (DD)
A developmental disability is one that is attributed to mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy or a specific learning disability, or any other closely related condition that originates before the age of twenty-two, has continued or can be expected to continue indefinitely, and constitutes a severe handicap to the individual's ability to function normally in society.

 This is the decision about where the youth should live (such as in state custody), as well as what the parents, DHS and the youth must do to change the problems. Please understand that sometimes court hearings are continued and changed to another date for various reasons. For instance, someone may not show up, or everyone at court may feel it’s a good idea.

Separation, or a dissolution of relations. For the following chemical, biochemical, and psychiatric senses, avoid substituting the misspelling/mispronunciation dissociation. Syn: disassociation

Down syndrome
A genetic disorder (caused by the presence of an extra chromosome), which results in physical and mental abnormalities. Physical characteristics include a flattened face, widely spaced and slanted eyes, smaller head size and lax joints. Mental retardation is also typical, though there are wide variations in mental ability, behavior, and developmental progress. Possible related health problems include poor resistance to infection, hearing loss, gastrointestinal problems, and heart defects.

Early Intervention Services (EI)
Early Intervention services are those that are provided to children less than thirty-six months of age who meet state eligibility criteria. Appropriate Early Intervention services must be tailored to meet the unique needs of the eligible infant or toddler and his or her family. These services must be designed in collaboration with the family to enhance both the development of the child and the family's capacity to meet the needs of the child.

A youth who is legally declared an adult (by a court) prior to age 18. A youth in foster care who emanicipates is no longer a ward of the court (or in foster care).

Emotional disturbance
Severe, pervasive or chronic emotional/affective condition which prevents a child from performing everyday tasks. This condition is characterized by an inability to build or maintain relationships, inappropriate behaviors or feelings under normal circumstances, a pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression, or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears related to personal or school problems. Children may require special classrooms and teachers trained to help children with these special needs. School systems may have varying "levels" and processes for educational planning.

Fetal alcohol effect (FAE)
A disorder associated with cognitive and behavioral difficulties in children whose birth mothers drank alcohol while pregnant. Symptoms are similar to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) but less severe or comprehensive.

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
Birth defects, and serious life-long mental and emotional impairments that may result from heavy maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Symptoms of mental and emotional deficits may include significant learning and behavioral disorders (including attention deficits and hyperactivity), diminished cause-and-effect thinking, poor social judgment, and impulsive behaviors.

Fictive kin
People not related by birth or marriage who have an emotionally-significant relationship with an individual.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder

exaggerated anxiety and worry about everyday life events with no obvious reasons for worry. People with symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder tend to always expect disaster and can't stop worrying about health, money, family, work, or school. In people with GAD, the worry is often unrealistic or out of proportion for the situation. Daily life becomes a constant state of worry, fear, and dread. Eventually, the anxiety so dominates the person's thinking that it interferes with daily functioning, including work, school, social activities, and relationships.

  Guardian ad Litem (GAL):
 An adult volunteer, assigned by the court to study and protect the best interests of a youth in a civil or criminal abuse or neglect case. The GAL and the youth should talk on an ongoing basis. The GAL is your voice in the courtroom.

When an adult is granted parental rights for a youth.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)
The IEP is a written document that is developed by a team that includes the professionals involved in the child's education and the parents. The IEP must contain present levels of educational performance; annual goals including benchmarks or short-term objectives; and a listing of the special education and related services that are required to meet the child's needs including the dates, frequency, location, and duration of services. The IEP must be reviewed at least annually. It can be updated sooner if the child's needs change.

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)
The IFSP is a written document developed by a multidisciplinary team that includes the family as a primary participant. Every child and family is assigned to a service coordinator who is responsible for helping them navigate the EI Services System and who coordinates eligibility determination and service plan development. The IFSP describes the child's developmental levels in all areas; the family's resources, priorities, and concerns relating to enhancing the development of their child; and the services to be received, including the frequency, intensity, and method of delivering services. In addition, the IFSP must contain a statement of the natural environments in which early intervention services will occur. Projected dates for service initiation and duration must be given. The IFSP must be reviewed at least every six months and updated following annual assessments. It can be updated sooner if the child's needs change.

 ILP: Abbreviation for Independent Living Program.

 Independent Living:
An approved type of living arrangement in which a child who is at least 16 years old resides with a relative, friends, in a dorm or in his or her own apartment without the day-to-day supervision of an adult.

 Independent Living Program (ILP):
A federally funded program providing services to foster youth age 14 or16 and over to prepare for adulthood. This program provides classes in life skills, vocational training, and equipment needed for job training. Also provides funds for college scholarships, skills training, and rent assistance.

Independent Living Skills Case-worker:
A Department of Human Services’ Caseworker who provides services to youth in state custody who are 16 and older, and whose treatment plan goal is independent living. Services are to help youth learn to live on their own.

Individual Service Plan (ISP):
A written document describing long range goals and short range objectives for the provision of service for a foster youth

Intermittent explosive disorder (IED).

Intermittent explosive disorder is characterized by repeated episodes of aggressive, violent behavior in which you react grossly out of proportion to the situation. Road rage, domestic abuse, and angry outbursts or temper tantrums that involve throwing or breaking objects may be signs of intermittent explosive disorder .
People with intermittent explosive disorder may attack others and their possessions, causing bodily injury and property damage. Later, people with intermittent explosive disorder may feel remorse, regret or embarrassment.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
LRE is the setting that least restricts opportunities for a child with disabilities to be with their peers without disabilities. The law mandates that every child with a disability be educated in a Least Restrictive Environment.

Physical abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Federal CAPTA legislation (P.L. 104-235) provides definitions that identify a minimum set of acts or behaviors that characterize maltreatment. Each State is responsible for providing its own definitions of child abuse and neglect within the State's civil and criminal context. Child Abuse and Neglect, according to the Federal legislation, is at a minimum: Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm Child abuse and neglect typically includes physical as well as emotional abuse (which causes psychological or mental injury), in addition to various types of neglect. Sexual Abuse is defined in the Federal definition as: The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation on such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct The rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.

Munchausen syndrome is a mental disorder that is characterized by the sufferer causing or pretending to have physical or psychological symptoms in his or herself. It is thought to be motivated only by a desire to be seen as ill rather than by avoiding responsibility, financial gain, improving his or her physical condition, or some other benefit, as is true in malingering. Research outcomes differ in terms of identifying groups that are susceptible to developing the disorder. Some statistics indicate that women with health training may be more vulnerable to developing Munchausen syndrome, particularly when it presents with physical symptoms. However, it is thought by other investigators that men and women experience Munchausen syndrome in equal frequency.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of mental illness that causes repeated unwanted thoughts. To get rid of the thoughts, a person does the same tasks over and over. For example, you may fear that everything you touch has germs on it. So to ease that fear, you wash your hands over and over again.

Occupational Therapy (OT)
OT is a therapy or treatment provided by an occupational therapist that helps individual development of physical skills that will aid in daily living. It focuses on sensory integration; balance and coordination of movement; and fine motor and self-help skills such as dressing, eating with a fork and spoon, etc.


Oppositional Defiant Disorder

ODD is a condition in which a child displays an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, hostile, and annoying behavior toward people in authority. The child's behavior often disrupts the child's normal daily activities, including activities within the family and at school.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is different from the normal fear and anxiety reactions to stressful events in our lives. Panic disorder is a serious condition that strikes without reason or warning. Symptoms of panic disorder include sudden attacks of fear and nervousness, as well as physical symptoms such as sweating and a racing heart. During a panic attack, the fear response is out of proportion for the situation, which often is not threatening. Over time, a person with panic disorder develops a constant fear of having another panic attack, which can affect daily functioning and general quality of life.

Physical Therapy (PT)
A treatment of physical disabilities given by a trained physical therapist (under doctor's orders) that includes the use of massage, exercise, etc., to remediate mobility and gait and to modify strength, balance, tone, and posture and help the person improve the use of bones, muscles, joints, and nerves.


Permanency Planning:

The case-worker coordinates services for the youth and family to fix the problems that led to the youth’s placement in state custody. The goal is to assure a long-term placement for the youth. This may be going home, staying in long-term foster care until age 18 or 21, or being placed for adoption.


Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), once called shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome, is a serious condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event in which serious physical harm occurred or was threatened. PTSD is a lasting consequence of traumatic ordeals that cause intense fear, helplessness, or horror, such as a sexual or physical assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, an accident, war, or natural disaster. Families of victims can also develop PTSD, as can emergency personnel and rescue workers.

Pre-Admission Screening/Independent Service Coordination Agencies (PAS/ISC Agencies)
PAS/ISC agencies are contracted community agencies located throughout Illinois. They provide Pre-Admission Screenings to verify that individuals with developmental disabilities meet criteria for Medicaid-reimbursed services. Additionally, they provide Individual Service Coordination to assist families and individuals with developmental disabilities with information, introduction, coordination, and linkage to services and supports delivered by direct services providers.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)
Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is a condition found in children who have received grossly negligent care and do not form a healthy emotional attachment with their primary caregivers -- usually their mothers -- before age 5.

Respite Care
Respite is temporary, short-term care provided to individuals with disabilities. Services can be delivered in the individual's home for a few hours or in an alternate licensed setting for an extended period of time. Respite care allows caregivers to take a break in order to relieve and prevent stress and fatigue.

Residential Service Plan (RSP):
A plan describing past behavior problems, with goals and reinforcement information to eliminate the unwanted behavior.

 Services that can bring a family back together by working on the problems that caused the separation of the youth from the family.

A commonly prescribed drug that can help to control some of the symptoms of attention deficit disorder. It may have a calming effect and help to improve concentration.


Schizophrenia symptoms include distorted thoughts and hallucinations. Usually starting in young adulthood, schizophrenia can also cause the sufferer to feel frightened and paranoid. To make a schizophrenia diagnosis, a psychiatrist evaluates symptoms, tests, and medical history, and prescribes medications and possibly psychotherapy (or other types of talk therapy) for proper schizophrenia treatment. New research is helping us understand this disorder better.


Schizoid Personality Disorder

Schizoid personality disorder is one of a group of conditions called "Cluster 'A' " or eccentric personality disorders. People with these disorders often appear odd or peculiar. People with schizoid personality disorder also tend to be distant, detached, and indifferent to social relationships. They generally are loners who prefer solitary activities and rarely express strong emotion. Although their names sound alike and they might have some similar symptoms, schizoid personality disorder is not the same thing as schizophrenia. Many people with schizoid personality disorder are able to function fairly well, although they tend to choose jobs that allow them to work alone, such as night security officers, library, or lab workers.

Sensory Integration Therapy (SI)
SI is a therapy designed for individuals with sensory integration deficits; this can include one or more of the senses. The goal is to improve an individual's ability to use incoming sensory information appropriately and encourage tolerance of a variety of sensory inputs.

Special needs children
Children whose emotional or physical disorders, age, race, membership in a sibling group, a history of abuse, or other factors contribute to a lengthy stay in foster care. Guidelines for classifying a child as special needs vary by State. Common special needs conditions and diagnoses include: serious medical conditions; emotional and behavioral disorders; history of abuse or neglect; medical or genetic risk due to familial mental illness or parental substance abuse.

Speech/Language Therapy
Speech/language therapy is provided by a speech therapist or speech and language pathologist with the goal of improving an individual's ability to communicate. This includes verbal and nonverbal communication. The treatment is specific to the individual's need.

Termination of Parental Rights (TPR): If family reunification has been ruled out and adoption is a possibility for the child, the Department may petition (request) for termination of parents’ rights to the child. If the court terminates parental rights it means the child is free for adoption. It also means that your biological parents have no legal rights pertaining to you anymore. (They don’t have access to information about you, don’t work with your caseworker anymore, etc.)


THC:  Tetrahydrocannabinol :
           is the principal psychoactive constituent of the cannabis plant. (Marijuana)


Tourette Syndrome

Tourette Syndrome is a hereditary neurological movement disorder that is characterized by repetitive motor and vocal tics. Symptoms may include involuntary movements of the extremities, shoulders, and face accompanied by uncontrollable sounds and, in some cases, inappropriate words. Tourette Syndrome is neither a progressive nor degenerative disorder; rather, symptoms tend to be variable and follow a chronic waxing and waning course throughout an otherwise normal life span. The specific symptoms associated with Tourette Syndrome often vary greatly from case to case. The exact cause of Tourette Syndrome is unknown.


  1. That's a great list! And a few I'd never heard of!

  2. Thanks Penelope! Hope it is helpful to people!
    John and Diane