Parent Partnership Committee’s Glossary of Special Education Terms

As you participate in the special education process, you will encounter an unfamiliar language. The language is often referred to as “acronyms.” It really begins to sound like a foreign language, but it is just a language of initials. These initials are explained and defined in the A-Z glossary.

The glossary has been designed by the Parent Partnership Team to provide acronyms and give definitions of highly used special education terms. It might be helpful for you to read and study the terms prior to attending a meeting for your child. If you have any questions, ask your child’s classroom teacher. 

Acronyms Quick Reference Guide

ADA – American with Disabilities Act
ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder
ADHD – Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder
AIS – Academic Intervention Support
APE – Adapted Physical Education
ASHA – American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
ASL – American Sign Language
AT – Assistive Technology
AU – Autism
AYP – Annual Yearly Progress
BIP – Behavior Intervention Plan
BOE – Board of Education
CP – Cerebral Palsy
CSE – Committee on Special Education
CPSE – Committee on Preschool Special Education
DB – Deaf Blindness
DD – Developmental Delay
DOH – Department of Health
DPH – Due Process Hearing
DPHO – Due Process Hearing Officer
DSM-IV – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV
ED – Emotional Disturbance
EI – Early Intervention
ESY – Extended School Year
FAPE – Free and Appropriate Public Education
FBA – Functional Behavioral Assessment
FERPA – Family Education Rights and Privacy Act
GT – Gifted and Talented
HIPAA – Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act
IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
IEP – Individual Education Program
IQ – Intelligence Quotient
LD – Learning Disability
LEA – Local Education Agency
LEP – Limited English Proficiency
LRE – Least Restrictive Environment
NCLB – No Child Left Behind
ODD – Oppositional Defiant Disorder
OHI – Other Health Impaired
OT – Occupational Therapy
P&A – Protection and Advocacy
PDD – Pervasive Development Disorders
PLP – Present Levels of Educational Performance
PT – Physical Therapist
SAVE – Safe Schools against Violence in Education Act
SI – Speech Impairment
SLP – Speech Language Pathologist
TBI – Traumatic Brain Injury
TDD/TTY – Telecommunications Device for the Deaf
VESID – Vocational & Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities

Common Terms and Definitions

Many terms have different meanings across states. The following to the maximum degree possible, follow federal definitions.

Adapted Physical Education (APE): A component of the educational curriculum in which physical, recreational and other therapists work with children who exhibit delays in motor development and perceptual motor skills. It is a related service some children might need in addition to or in place of physical education.

Adequate Yearly Progress: The degree of progress for children in academic areas established by the State Education Agency.

Advocate: An individual who represents or speaks on behalf of another person’s interests (as in a parent with his/her child).

American Sign Language (ASL): A method of communicating by using hand signs. Each sign represents either one word or a concept that is typically expressed with several spoken words. For words that do not have a sign, finger spelling is used.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA): The national professional association for speech and language therapists and audiologists.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): A law that took effect in 1992 that defines “disability” and prohibits discrimination by employers, by any facility open to the general public, and by state and local public agencies that provide such services as transportation (Public Law 101-336).

Annual Performance Report: The report that is submitted by each state to the U.S. Department of Education that provides data and information on compliance and results of special education for children with disabilities.

Aphasia: A communication disorder characterized by difficulty with producing language and/or with understanding language.

Assessment: The gathering of information by qualified personnel on a child’s development and on the needs and priorities of the family. This information about the child and family is used in planning the Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP).

Assistive Technology Device (AT): Any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Public schools are required to consider the assistive technology needs of students with disabilities.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD): A neurobiological disorder. Typically, children with ADD have developmentally inappropriate behavior, including poor attention skills and impulsivity. These characteristics arise in early childhood, typically before age seven, are chronic, and last at least six months. Children with ADD may also experience difficulty in the areas of social skills and self-esteem.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A neurobiological disorder, typically children with ADHD have developmentally inappropriate behavior, including poor attention skills, impulsivity and hyperactivity. These characteristics arise early in childhood, typically before age seven, are chronic, and last at least six months. Children with ADHD may also experience difficulty in the areas of social skills and self-esteem.

Autism (AU): A developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction.

Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder: Developmental disabilities that share many of the same characteristics. Usually evident at age three, autism and PDD are neurological disorders that affect a child’s ability to communicate, understand language, play and relate to others.

Behavioral Assessment (BA): Gathering (through direct observation and by parent report) and analyzing information about a child’s behavior. The information may be used to plan ways to help the child change unwanted behaviors. Observations include when a behavior occurs as well as the frequency and duration of the behavior.

Behavior Disorders (BD): A term used by some states for children who exhibit difficulties with social interactions and inappropriate behavior that interferes with learning.

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP): A plan that is put in place to teach a child proper behavior and social skills. It should be positive in nature, not punitive.

Cerebral Palsy (CP): A disorder of movement and posture control resulting from non-progressive damage to the brain during fetal life, the newborn period, or early childhood. Both genetic and acquired factors may be involved. It may be caused by a lack of normal fetal brain development or by injury to the brain. The extent and location of the brain damage determine the type of cerebral palsy and the associated symptoms.

Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant (COTA): An individual who has received special training and instruction in the area of occupational therapy.

Cognitive Delay (CD): A disability where a child’s intellectual and adaptive behavior is below average and impacts the child’s education.

Deaf-Blindness (DB): Concomitant hearing and visual impairments that cause severe communication, developmental and educational needs.

Department of Health (DOH): The government agency whose mission is to promote health and sound health policy, prevent disease and disability, improve health services systems and ensure that essential public health functions and safety net services are available.

Developmental Disability (DD): Any physical or mental condition that begins before the age of 18 years, causes the child to acquire skills at a slower rate than his/her peers, is expected to continue indefinitely and impairs the child’s ability to function in society.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV (DSM-IV): The American Psychiatric Association’s classification and description of behavioral and emotional disorders.

Disability: A substantially limiting physical or mental impairment that affects basic life activities such as hearing, seeing, speaking, walking, caring for oneself, learning or working.

Due Process: A process for resolving a dispute between the family and the child and family service agency related to the delivery of early intervention services. In special education, due process refers to a process for resolving a dispute between the family and the public school related to the identification, evaluation or placement of a child with disabilities.

Due Process Hearing: A legal proceeding, similar to a court proceeding, where a hearing officer is presented evidence by disagreeing parties. A verbatim record is taken of the proceedings, and a hearing officer writes a decision that may be appealed to the state education agency, and if desired, to a civil court.

Due Process Hearing Officer: The trained and neutral individual who conducts the due process hearing.

Dyslexia: A learning disability in which the child has difficulty with reading due to difficulty distinguishing written symbols. For example, transposing letters and words such as reading “top” as “pot.”

Dyspraxia: Difficulty with planning and performing coordinated movements although there is no apparent damage to muscles.

Early Intervention (EI): Specialized services provided to infants and toddlers ages birth to three who are at risk for or are showing signs of developmental delay.

Emotional Disturbance (ED): A condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects educational performance. A) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory or health factors; B) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers; C) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances; D)A tendency to develop general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

Extended School Year (ESY): The delivery of special education and related services during the summer vacation or other extended periods when school is not in session. The purpose for ESY is to prevent a child with a disability from losing previously learned skills. The IEP team must consider the need for extended school year at each meeting and must describe those services specifically with goals and objectives. Not all special education students require an extended school year. Extended school year services must be individually crafted.

Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): A federal law that protects the privacy and transfer of student education records.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): An individualized educational program that is designed to meet the child’s unique needs and from which the child receives educational benefit.

Functional Behaviors: Behaviors (basic skills, such as meal-time skills) the child has mastered, or needs to master, in order to get along as independently as possible in society.

Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA): A process that examines why a child behaves the way he or she does given the nature of the child and what is happening in the environment. It is a process for collecting data to determine the possible causes of problem behaviors and to identify strategies to address the behaviors.

Gifted & Talented (GT): Those students with above average intellectual abilities.

Head Start: A federal program started in 1965 aimed at providing a comprehensive preschool program for children ages three to five from low-income families. Planned activities are designed to address individual needs and to help children attain their potential in growth and mental and physical development before starting school. Ten percent of enrollment is required to be for children with disabilities.

Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act (HIPAA): Federal regulation that outlines the confidentiality and protection of medical records.

Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE): An evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the school district responsible for the education of the child.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): The federal law that provides the legal authority for early intervention and special educational services for children birth to age 21. Part B outlines services for children ages three to 21. Part C outlines services for children birth to age three.

Individualized Education Program (IEP): A written statement of a child’s current level of educational performance and an individualized plan of instruction, including the goals, specific services to be received, the staff who will carry out the services, the standards and timelines for evaluating progress and the amount and degree to which the child will participate with typically developing peers (Inclusion/Least Restrictive Environment). The IEP is developed by the child’s parents and the professionals who evaluated the child and/or are providing the services. It is required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for all children eligible for special education.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ): The score of an intelligence test that is a form of psychological testing of an individual’s capacity to learn and deal effectively with his/her environment.

Learning Disability (LD): A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using spoken or written language, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write or spell or to do mathematical calculations.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): The placement that is as close as possible to the general education environment. This is the educational setting that permits a child to receive the most educational benefit while participating in a regular educational environment to the maximum extent appropriate. LRE is a requirement under the IDEA.

Limited English Proficiency (LEP): Children whose primary language is other than English.

Local Education Agency (LEA): The public schools operating in accordance with statutes, regulations, and policies of the State Department of Education. 

Limited English Proficiency (LEP): Children whose primary language is other than English.  

Natural Environment: The natural or everyday settings for your child. These are places where the child would be if they didn’t have a special developmental concern. It is where all children would be (for example, home, childcare, parks, etc.).

No Child Left Behind (NCLB): Reauthorized in 2001, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the principal federal law affecting education from kindergarten through high school for children “at risk.” The NCLB provides opportunities for children to learn and progress.

Occupational Therapist (OT): A professional who provides therapy services based on engagement in meaningful activities of daily life such as self-care skills, education, recreation, work or social interaction.

Other Health Impaired (OHI): An educational classification that describes students who have chronic or acute health problems that cause limited strength, vitality, or alertness that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD): Refers to the overall category of Pervasive Developmental Disorders that includes autism, Rett Syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome, PDD-NOS, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. Part B: The section of the federal special education regulations that address school-aged children. Part C: The section of the federal special education regulations that address children birth through two years.

Physical Therapist (PT): A professional who is devoted to improving a person’s physical abilities through activities that strengthen muscular control and motor coordination.

Preschool Special Education: An educational program that is designed to meet the unique developmental needs of an individual child with a disability who is three, four, or five years of age. It is a child-focused educational effort. Sometimes referred to Section 619 of the law.

Present Levels of Educational Performance (PLEP): Statements written in the IEP that accurately describe the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles.

Screening: The process of looking at a child’s development to find out if there are any areas of concern. It is used to recommend children for more in-depth evaluation.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act: A federal law that protects the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. This law is closely intertwined with IDEA. Children with disabilities who are not eligible for special education may qualify for accommodations under Section 504.

Special Education: Specialized instruction tailor-made to fit the unique learning strengths and needs of students with disabilities. A major goal of special education is to teach the skills and knowledge the child needs to be as independent as possible. Special education programs focus on academics and also include therapy and other related services to help the child overcome difficulties in all areas of development. These services may be provided in a variety of educational settings but are required by IDEA to be delivered in the least restrictive environment.

Speech and/or Language Impairment (SI): Problems in communication and related areas such as oral motor function. These delays and disorders range from simple sound substitutions to the inability to understand or use language or use the oral-motor mechanism for functional speech and feeding. Some causes of speech and language disorders include hearing loss, neurological disorders, brain injury, mental retardation, drug abuse, physical impairments such as cleft lip or palate, and vocal abuse or misuse. Frequently, however, the cause is unknown.

Speech Language Pathologist (SLP): A trained therapist who provides treatment to help a person develop or improve articulation, communication skills, and oral-motor skills, Also helps children with speech errors and/or those with difficulties in language patterns.

Therapy: A treatment for certain physical or psychological conditions. The most common forms of therapy provided through early intervention and special education include occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech/ language therapy, and social work.

Transition: The movement from one service, location, or program to another. Young children with disabilities transition at age three from early intervention to preschool special education services or to other community settings and services (early intervention and special education). Adolescents transition from school to adult services.
Transportation: A related service. If it is determined that the child needs this service to benefit from their education, the school district must provide the transportation, contract with another agency, or contract with the parents to bring their child to school. Transportation could mean round trip, home to school and school to home, services.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Physical damage to the brain that could result in physical, behavioral, or mental changes depending on which area of the brain is injured. TBI could impact a student’s education; special education services might be needed.

Visual Impairment (VI): Impairment in visual that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance

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