Hesperian Health Guides

List of Special or Difficult Words Used In This Book

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HealthWiki > Disabled Village Children > List of Special or Difficult Words Used In This Book



This is a list in alphabetical order of words used in this book that you may not understand. The first time one of these words is used in the book, or in a chapter, it is written in italics so that you know you can look it up here, where we explain each word.


Action nerves (motor nerves) Nerves that carry messages from the brain to parts of the body, telling muscles to move.

Acute Sudden and short-lived. An acute illness is one that starts suddenly and lasts a short time. It is the opposite of ‘chronic’.

Adaptation Change or changes to better fit a specific child or local area. A seat may be adapted by the addition of straps and pads to better support the body.

Antibiotic A medicine that fights infections caused by bacteria. Penicillin and tetracycline are antibiotics. For discussion of antibiotics and their use, see Where There Is No Doctor, p. 55-58.

Arthritis Pain and inflammation in one or several joints of the body such as the knees, elbows, or hips.

Ataxia Difficulty with balance and with coordination. (See Poor Balance or Ataxia.)

Atrophy A progressive wasting or weakening of the muscles that comes from a problem in the nerves. (Compare with ‘dystrophy’.)


Behavior A person’s way of doing things; pattern of actions. The way a child acts, or relates to others. (See Chapter 40.)

Bladder A muscular bag in the belly in which urine collects before it leaves the body.

Bowel The part of the gut or intestine where solid waste (stool, shit) collects before it leaves the body.

Bowel movement Emptying of the bowel; shitting.

Butt Buttocks; backside; rear end; the part of the body on which a person sits.


Caliper British word for “brace.” An aid which gives support to a weak or injured leg. (See Chapter 58.)

Caster A wheel that is mounted so that it turns from side to side to go around corners. The small wheels of a wheelchair are usually made with casters.

Chronic Long-term or frequently returning. A chronic disease is one that lasts a long time. Compare with ‘acute’.

Circulation The flow of blood through the blood vessels (veins and arteries). Good circulation is necessary for healthy body parts.

Clog A wooden sandal or shoe, often used with a brace.

Contracture Reduced range of motion in a joint, often due to muscle shortening. (See Chapter 8.)

Cord A simple name for ‘tendon’, a part of the body that connects muscle to bone. For example, the ‘heel cord’ or ‘Achilles Tendon’ joins the calf muscle to the heel.

Note: The ‘spinal cord’ is not a tendon. It is made of nerves. See Examining The Nervous System.



Diaper (nappy) A cloth to soak up urine, usually worn by a child.

Diplegia Paraplegia in which the upper part of the body is also slightly affected. (See Parts of the body affected.)


Evaluation Observations and study to find out how well something is working and where the problems are.


Functional Useful: seving some purpose for day-to-day life. Excercise or therapy is functional when it is done as part of some useful activity.

Flaccid Lacking firmness; soft.


Gene A hereditary unit; something that controls or acts in the passing down of features from parent to child.


Hemiplegia Paralysis or loss of movement in the muscles of the arm and leg on one side of the body only.

Hereditary Familial; a feature that passes from parent to child when the baby is first made (conceived). If a disease is hereditary, there is a factor or characteristic in the father and/or mother which is passed on to their children, and then to their children’s children. Inherited.

Hygiene Actions or practices of personal cleanliness that protect health.


Infantile Of infants (babies) or young children.

Infection A sickness caused by germs (bacteria, virus, worms, or other small living things). Some infections affect part of the body only, others affect all of it.

Inherited (See Hereditary.)


Joint capsule The tough covering around a joint.

Juvenile Of children.


Ligament Tough strips or bands inside the body that hold joints and bones together. Ligaments join bones with other bones, while tendons or cords join bones with muscles.

Limb An arm or leg.


Mental Having to do with the mind or intelligence. A child who is mentally handicapped or mentally slow may not learn as quickly or remember as well as other children.

Multiple disability Several disabilities, often both physical and mental, in the same child. (See The Child with Several Severe Disabilities.)

Muscles Meaty parts of the body that pull or ‘contract’ to make the body and limbs move.


Nappy (diaper) A cloth to soak up urine, worn by a child who does not have bladder control.

Nerve A thin line along which messages travel in the body. Nerves are the ‘messengers’ of the body Some nerves let us feel things, and tell us when something hurts. Other nerves let us move parts of the body when we want to. (See Examining The Nervous System.)


Occupational Having to do with work or function. An occupational therapist is a person who helps figure out how a disabled person can do things better.

Orthopedic Aids, procedures, or surgery to help correct a physical deformity or disability.

Orthotist A brace maker.


Paralysis Muscle weakness; decrease or loss of ability to move part or all of the body.

Paraplegia Paralysis or loss of movement in the muscles of both legs (sometimes with slight involvement elsewhere) caused by disease or injury to the spinal cord.

Physical Having to do with the body and how it works, as distinct from ‘mental’, which has to do with the mind.

Physical therapist, physiotherapist A person who designs and teaches exercises and activities for physically disabled persons.

Positioning Helping a person’s body stay in healthy or helpful positions—through special seating, padding, supports, or in other ways.

Procedure Some kind of medical, surgical, or technical action. For example, casting, strapping, and surgery are 3 procedures for correcting a club foot.

Progressive A progressive illness or disability is one that steadily gets worse and worse. For example, muscular dystrophy.

Prosthesis An artificial limb or other part of the body—for example, a wooden leg. ‘Prosthetics’ is the art of making prostheses.


Quadriplegia (tetraplegia) Paralysis or loss of movement in the muscles of both arms and legs caused by disease or injury to the spinal cord, in the neck.


Rehabilitation The art of helping a person learn to live as best she can and do as much as possible for herself, given her limitations or disability.


Sensory nerves Nerves that bring messages from parts of the body to the brain about what the body sees, hears, smells, and feels.

Social Having to do with the actions, values, decisions, and relationships within groups of people.

Spasticity Uncontrolled tightening or pulling of muscles that make it difficult for a person to control her movements. A muscle or a child with spasticity is said to be ‘spastic’. Spasticity often occurs with brain damage, cerebral palsy, and spinal cord injury.

Spinal Having to do with the spine or backbone.

Spinal cord The main ‘trunk line’ of nerves running down the backbone. It provides communication (for movement and feeling) between the brain and all parts of the body. (See Spinal Cord Injury.)

Spine Backbone; spinal column; the chain of bones, called vertebrae, that runs down the back.

Stimulation Sounds, sights, activities, toys, smells, touch, and anything else that makes a child take interest in things and develop the use of his body and senses. ‘Early stimulation’ refers to activities that help a baby develop his first responses and skills. (See Early Stimulation and Development Activities.)

Stool Shit; body waste that is usually solid; also known as bowel movement or feces.


Tendon A strong rope-like structure in the body that connects muscles to bones. In this book we mostly call tendons ‘cords’.

Tetraplegia (see quadriplegia).

Therapy Treatment; planned exercise and activity for a person’s rehabilitation. See ‘physical therapy’ and ‘occupational therapy’.

Toxic Poisonous.

Transfer Moving from (or to) a wheelchair to a bed, chair, cot, car seat, toilet, or floor.

Trunk The body, not including the head, neck, arms, and legs.


Urine Liquid body waste, also known as ‘pee,’ or ‘piss.’


Vaccination Immunization; to give certain medicines (vaccines) by injection or mouth to protect against infectious diseases such as polio and measles.

Velcro A strong, fuzzy plastic tape that sticks to itself. (The surface of one piece of the tape has little plastic hooks that catch onto the curly hairs on the other piece of the tape.) Useful to use instead of buttons, buckles, or laces on clothes, braces and shoes—especially for children with poor hand control. (See Suggestions for Dressing.)

Virus Germs smaller than bacteria, that cause some infectious (easily spread) diseases. Most viruses are not killed by antibiotics.


Weight-bearing Supporting the weight of the body on a particular joint or limb. For example, weight-bearing on the knee is possible if the strength of the thigh muscle is good, but not if it is poor.



Here is a Here is a list of other organizations and publications not by Hesperian on disability that you may find useful.

This page was updated:19 Jan 2018