Guide to social care jargon (Glossary) - Avenues Group
30 - 1993-2023

Guide to social care jargon (Glossary)

In social care we sometimes use specific words, or jargon, to describe things. It supposed to make things simpler but it can be confusing until you’re familiar with it all!
The list below explains some of the most common terms, and things we often get asked about.

Acquired Brain Injury

This refers to a brain injury that is suffered after birth, so not one the person was born with. Causes range from car accidents, to brain haemorrhages, to drug abuse. How this affects the person will vary greatly, but might involve issues with memory, decision making, physical mobility or coordination.

Active Support

This method is the cornerstone of how we work with people, and central to our vision. It’s about doing things with people, not for them, or to them. By supporting them to make their own choices about life, they are more likely to engage and participate in the community and enjoy life.   


This is a term that describes a range of conditions that affect a person’s relationship with the world around them. Commonly this involves their communication, relationships, and sensitivity to things like sound or touch.

You might also hear the term Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which refers to autism broadly, or Asperger’s syndrome – a form of autism which is milder and has less impact on people’s lives. People with autism may have very high level of skill in one area, but low ability in another. People are born with autism and cannot develop it later. It is different to learning disability.

Challenging behaviour

Challenging behaviour, which can involve verbal or physical lashing out, is not part of a person or their disability – it’s behaviour that arises when a high level of need and a challenging environment meet.  So, it’s usually when people have not been understood, or been able to express themselves due to the particular circumstances they were in at the time. We will all have displayed challenging behaviour at some point in our lives.

The behaviours can become established as the tools a person uses to get what they want on a day-to-day basis. Someone with a learning disability may need extra help to understand the wider consequences, or more effective alternative ways of doing things.

By supporting people to develop the skills they need to ensure their needs are met, we reduce their need to use behaviours that challenge.

Care Quality Commission (CQC)

This is the independent body that regulates social care providers. All our services are inspected by the CQC and they tell us what we are doing well and what we need to improve.

Complex needs

This commonly refers to be people who have a significant learning disability and/or autism, plus behaviour that challenges.

Flexible working

While in some circumstances we can offer flexible working, all our services are designed for the people we’re supporting, so our working hours and rotas are shaped around them.

Learning disability

This is a broad term for any condition that affects the brain’s ability to process new information and is usually present from birth or can be an outcome of illness in early childhood (eg meningitis or Rett syndrome).

It is not the same as autism, which has distinctive characteristics and in some cases has no impact on the person’s general learning capability. The condition is lifelong and cannot be treated.

Mental health

The people we support may have mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression, which can also be reflected in behaviour that challenges. Our methods for supporting people are designed to improve mental health and reduce suffering, by encouraging them to communicate, participate and enjoy life. Acquired brain Injury, autism, dementia and learning disability are medical conditions, not mental health conditions.

Multiple needs

This commonly refers to people who have significant physical disability in addition to their learning disability or autism.

Personal care

This is the term used to describe the activities we all need to carry out to maintain our personal health and hygiene. It refers to things like having a shower, going to the toilet or brushing teeth. Some of the people we work with need support to carry out these activities effectively.

Positive Behaviour Support

This is the approach we use to support people who display challenging behaviour, and is led by our own team of specialists. It is based in developing insights into the behaviour, when it started and why. Through that understanding the support team, the person and their family can identify wide ranging measures that can be taken to improve the person’s quality of life.

Service Manager

Through our training and development programme, many of our Support Workers go on to be Service Managers. The role is really about making sure our services are safe, that the support we give people is of high quality, and that staff are supported too. Typically, a Service Manager has up to 20 people working for them on different shifts, in order to support three or four people.

Sleep in

Some of the people we support need to someone to be around during the night because of their medical conditions. This shift is referred to as a ‘sleep in’. You will sleep in a separate room at the service where you will receive an alert if they need support.

Support Worker

This is the frontline role giving people the day-to-day support they need. All our support workers are fully trained and have a Service Manager to make sure they get the professional support they need. The role’s really about making sure the person we’re supporting is well, getting the opportunity to make choices and experience life.

Transforming Care

The Government’s initiative to help people with learning disability and autism to leave secure accommodation and live within the community. Avenues is part of a national taskforce put in place to ensure this happens.


This term is usually used to describe someone’s move between homes where they live, or schooling. It often refers to the time when they are ready to make the move from living with their parents and getting their own home. Getting this key transition right has a huge impact on people’s lives.

Waking night

Some of the people we support have specific health needs that mean that someone needs to be available to help them 24 hours a day, for example they might need medication during the night. This term describes a ‘night shift’, which while sometimes less demanding is extremely important.