Special Education Terminology

The following is a list of terms used in special education.  The definitions of these words are helpful to parents when reading reports, attending meetings, conferences, and/or talking with staff members who work with your child.

Academic – Refers to subjects such as reading, writing, math, social studies, and science.

Accommodations – Changes in format, response, setting, timing, or scheduling that do not alter in any significant way what a test measures or the comparability of scores.

Adapted Physical Education (APE) – A related service for students with disabilities require developmental or corrective instruction in the area of physical education.

Adaptive Behavior – The ability of an individual to meet the standards of personal independence as well as social responsibility appropriate for his or her chronological age and cultural group.

Advocate – A person who represents and provides support to children with disabilities and/or their parents.

Age of Majority – Age 18, the age at which special education parental rights and procedural safeguards transfer from the parent to their child with a disability unless conservatorship is made.  This must be addressed by the IEP team prior to age 18.

Alternate Assessment – A test designed for the small number of students with severe disabilities who cannot participate in the regular state standardized testing and reporting system.  It is a means of including students with the most significant disabilities in the state’s assessment and accountability program (i.e. STAAR-Alt2).

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – This act prohibits discrimination of individuals based on disability.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) – Application of learning principles derived from operant conditioning used to increase or decrease specific behaviors.

Aptitude Test – A test which measures someone’s capacity, capability, or talent for learning something.

 Assessment/Evaluation – Assessment encompasses all those functions in the testing and diagnostic process.  It may include observation, interviews, and testing methods to identify if a child has a disability, the severity of that condition, and the child’s educational needs based on his or her learning profile.

Assistive Technology – The term “assistive technology device” means 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 a child with a disability.  The term “assistive technology service” means any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – A disorder characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Audiologist – A professional who studies the science of hearing and provides education and treatment for persons with hearing loss.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – A developmental disorder characterized by abnormal or impaired development in social interaction and communication; restricted repertoire of activities and interests; and/or repetitive patterns of behavior.

Behavior Intervention Services – A systematic implementation of procedures designed to promote lasting, positive changes in the student’s behavior in the least restrictive environment; may include an individualized plan to address behaviors that impede a student’s learning or the learning of others and describes positive changes to the environment, supports, instructional materials and strategies to be used to promote alternative replacement behaviors that support classroom success.

Blind – An impairment in which an individual may have some light or form perception or be totally without sight when a child relies basically on senses other than vision as a major channel for learning.

Braille – A communication system utilizing raised presentation of written materials for tactual interpretation; frequently used by individuals who are blind.

Child Find – A federal mandate, this is the means to locate and refer all individuals who might require special education.

Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) – Contains administrative regulations for the application of federal laws such as the IDEA.

Cognitive Operations (Skills) – Processes involved in thinking, knowing; analytical or logical:

  1. Cognition – comprehension
  2. Memory – retention and recall of information
  3. Convergent thinking – bringing together of known facts
  4. Divergent thinking – use of knowledge in new ways (creative thinking)
  5. Evaluation – critical thinking

Cognitive Skills – The act or process of knowing; analytical or logical thinking.

 Community Based Instruction (CBI) – A strategy for teaching functional skills in the environment in which they would naturally occur.

Confidentiality – Assurance that no information contained in school records be released without parental permission, except as provided by law.

Consent – Permission from the parent/student or a student eighteen years or older as required by law for assessment, release of records, and implementation of a special education program developed by an IEP team.

Criterion-Referenced Testing (or measurements) – Measures individual performance compared to an acceptable standard (criterion) – such as “can correctly name letters of the alphabet” – not to the performance of others as in norm-referenced testing.

 Curriculum-based Measurement – Evaluation techniques for monitoring student progress in core academic areas such as reading, writing and math.

 Deaf – When a student has a hearing loss so severe that it inhibits language processing and affects educational performance.

 Deaf Blind – When a student has a hearing loss and visual impairment that causes severe communication, developmental, and educational problems.

Disability – An inability or incapacity to perform a task or activity in a normative fashion.

 Disproportionality – Refers to being out of proportion.  Disproportionate representation is the determination that students in special education are over – or under-represented based on race/ethnicity overall or by disability.

 Due Process – Procedural safeguards to ensure the protection of the rights of the parent / guardian and the student with a disability under IDEA and related state and federal laws and regulations.

Emotional Disturbance – Because of serious emotional disturbance a student exhibits one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree, which adversely affects educational placement:

  • An inability to learn which cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
  • An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers
  • Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances exhibits in several situations
  • A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression
  • A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems

Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) – Early identification and special education services provided to children ages 3-5.

Evaluation – Procedures used by qualified personnel to determine whether a child has a disability and the nature and extent of the special education and/or related services that the child needs.

Expressive Language Skills – Skills required to produce language for communicating with other people.  Speaking and writing are expressive language skills.

Fine-Motor Coordination – Pertains to usage of small muscle groups (writing, cutting).

Formal Assessment – Using published, standardized tests usually for measuring characteristics, such as “intelligence” or “achievement;” tests which have a standard set of directions for their use and interpretation.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) – A special education program and/or related service(s) as determined on an individual basis which meets the unique needs of each child with a disability at no charge to the parent.  Such an educational program and related service(s) are based on goals and objectives as specified in an IEP and determined through the process of assessment and IEP planning in compliance with state and federal laws and regulations.

Functional Academics – The application of life skills as a means for teaching academic tasks; this is the core of many instructional programs for students with more significant disabilities.

Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) – A functional behavioral assessment may be conducted for any student identified as having a behavior problem serious enough to impact the learning of the child him/herself or others.

Gross-Motor Coordination – Pertains to usage of large muscle groups (jumping, running).

  • Bilateral – Ability to move both sides of the body at the same time (jumping).
  • Unilateral – Ability to move one side of the body without moving the other(hopping).
  • Cross lateral (cross pattern) – Ability to move different parts of the opposite sides of the body together or in different sequences (e.g., skipping, which is a highly integrated movement).

Hard of Hearing – When a student has a hearing impairment, whether permanent or fluctuating, which impairs processing speech and language reception and discrimination through hearing, even with amplification, and which adversely affects educational performance.

Inclusion – Inclusion is a philosophy and/or practice focused on educating each child with a disability to the maximum extent appropriate, in the school and/or classroom he or she would otherwise attend if he or she did not have a disability.  It involves bringing the support services to the child (rather than moving the child to the services).

Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) – An evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner.

Individual Services Plan (ISP) – Plan that describes the special education and/or related services that an LEA will provide to an eligible student who is voluntarily enrolled by his/her parent(s) in a private school setting.

 Individual Transition Plan (ITP) – Plan included in a student’s IEP beginning at age 16 or younger, that addresses transition needs and interagency responsibilities or linkages that are needed for the student to successfully transition from school to adult life.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) – The Federal legislation that created amendments to PL 94-42, including the title of the act.

Individualized Education Program (IEP) – The IEP is a written educational plan for each special education student that includes instructional goals and objectives based upon the educational needs specified and developed by the IEP team.

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) – A written plan for providing early intervention services to an eligible child from birth to three years of age.  The plan must be developed jointly by the family and appropriately qualified personnel involved in the early intervention.  The plan must be based on the multidisciplinary evaluation and assessment of the child and include the services necessary to enhance the development of the child and family’s capacity to meet the child’s special needs.

Informal Assessment – Using procedures such as classroom observations, interviewing, or teacher-made tests which have not usually been tried out with large groups of people, and which do not necessarily have a standard set of instructions for their use and interpretation.

Informed Consent – In accordance with 34 Code of Federal Regulations and Education Code, informed consent occurs when:  (1) The parent has been fully informed of all information relevant to the activity for which consent is sought, in his/her primary language or other mode of communication; (2) The parent understands and agrees in writing to the carrying out of the activity for which his/her part and may be revoked at any time.

Intellectual Disability – A student who has significantly below average general intellectual functioning and deficits in adaptive behavior, which manifested during the developmental period, and adversely affects the student’s educational performance.

Intelligence Test – A standardized series of questions and/or tasks designed to measure mental abilities – how a person thinks, reasons, solves problems, remembers, and learns new information.  Many intelligence tests rely heavily on the understanding of spoken language.  Intelligence tests are given under controlled conditions involving standard instructions and time limits.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) – The score obtained on a test of mental ability; it is usually found by relating a person’s test score to his or her age.

Interpreter – A professional who signs, gestures, and/or fingerspells a speaker’s message as it is spoken to enable individuals who are hearing impaired to understand spoken language, and who speaks for a person using sign language to be heard.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) – The concept that each child with a disability is to be provided opportunities to be educated with nondisabled peers and in a setting which promotes interaction with the general school population and classmates who are typically developing to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of both.  LRE is determined by the IEP team on an individual student basis.

Low Incidence Disability – A severe disability with an expected incidence rate of less than 1 percent of the total K-12 statewide enrollment; includes hearing impairments, visual impairments, and severe orthopedic impairments (EC 56026.5).

 Mainstreaming – Refers to the selective placement of students with disabilities in one or more general education classes and or extra-curricular activities.

 Manifestation Determination – The determination made any time a disciplinary action is taken that involves a removal of student with a disability that constitutes a change in placement.  A review must be conducted of the relationship between the child’s disability and the behavior subject to the action.

 Mediation – A conflict resolution process that can be used to resolve special education issues.  Mediation is entered into prior to holding a due process hearing as an intervening, informal process conducted in a non-adversarial atmosphere that allows the parties to create their own solutions rather than having one imposed upon them through the judicial process.

Modality – A way of acquiring sensation; visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, olfactory, and gustatory are the commonsense modalities.

Occupational Therapy (OT) – Treatment provided by a therapist trained in helping a student develop daily living skills (e.g., handwriting, self-care, prevocational skills, etc.)

 Office of Civil Rights (OCR) – Agency that ensure equip opportunity and accessibility for users of programs and services that receive federal funding.

 Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) – A component of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) in the U.S. Department of Education.  OSEP focuses on the free appropriate public education of children and youth with disabilities from birth through age 21.

 Orientation and Mobility – Services provided by qualified personnel to teach students with a visual impairment systematic techniques for planning routes and movements from place to place in the school, home, and/or community.

Orthopedically Impaired – A severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by a congenital anomaly, impairments caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis), and impairments from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures).

Other Health Impaired – A pupil has limited strength, vitality or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome; and which adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

Parent – Means a biological or adoptive parent unless the biological or adoptive parent does not have legal authority to make educational decisions for the child, a guardian generally authorized to act as the child’s parent or authorized to make educational decisions for the child, an individual acting in the place of a biological or adoptive parent, including a grandparent, stepparent, or other relative with whom the child lives, or an individual who is legally responsible for the child’s welfare, a surrogate parent, a foster parent if the authority of the biological or adoptive parent to make educational decisions on the child’s behalf has been specifically limited by court order.

Prior Written Notice (PWN) – A written notice that must be given to the parents of a child with a disability a reasonable time before a LEA (a) Proposes to initiate or change the identification, evaluation or educational placement of the child or the provision of FAPE to the child; or (b) Refuses to initiate or change the identification, evaluation or educational placement of a child or the provision of FAPE to the child.

Procedural Safeguards – Also known as Parent Rights; Procedural safeguards must be given to the parents of a child with a disability at a minimum (a) Upon initial referral for evaluation; (b) Upon each notification of an IEP meeting; (c) Upon reevaluation of a child; and (d) Upon receipt of a request for due process.

Psychological Services – Services provided by a credentialed or licensed psychologist pursuant to an IEP.  Services include obtaining and interpreting information about child behaviors and conditions related to learning, planning programs of individual and group counseling and guidance services for children and parents.

 Reading Comprehension – The ability to understand what one has read.

 Receptive Language – Receiving and understanding spoken or written communication. The receptive language skills are listening and reading.

Referral – The process of requesting an evaluation for a student who is suspected of having a disability.  A referral is official and must be in written form.  Once it is made, timelines and procedural safeguards ensue.

Related Services – Related services means transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education; can include speech pathology and audiology, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, early identification, and medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes.  The term also includes school health services, social work services in schools, and parent counseling and training.

Reliability – The extent to which a test provides precise or accurate measures.

School Psychologist (LSSP) – A person trained to give psychological tests, interpret results, and suggest appropriate educational approaches to learning or behavioral problems.

Significant Disproportionality – Is the determination that a LEA has significant over-representation based on race and ethnicity overall, by disability, by placement in particular educational settings, or by disciplinary actions.

 Social Skills Training – Using direct instruction to teach students appropriate social behaviors that increase the individual’s social competency and acceptance.

Specific Learning Disability – Means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may have manifested itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. The basic psychological processes include attention, visual processing, auditory processing, sensory-motor skills, cognitive abilities including association, conceptualization, and expression.

Speech Language Impairment – When a student has a language or speech disorder that meets one or more of the following: articulation disorder, abnormal voice, fluency disorder, language disorder (receptive or expressive).

Supplementary Aids and Services – Aids, services and other supports that are provided in general education classes or other education-related settings to enable children with disabilities to be educated with typically developing peers to the maximum extent appropriate.  These aids and services must be noted on the IEP.

Surrogate Parent – A person appointed by the SELPA who acts as a child’s parent for the purpose of the IEP process to ensure the rights of an individual with exceptional needs when no parent can be identified or located, or the child is a ward of the state and the parents do not retain educational rights for the child.

 Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – An acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Traumatic brain injury applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem-solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech.  Traumatic brain injury does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.

 Transition – Transition services are a coordinated set of activities for a student, designed within an outcome-oriented process, which promotes movement from school to post-school activities.  The coordinated set of activities is based upon the individual student’s needs, preference, and interests.  The process begins at 16 years or younger and includes the student, family, education personnel, and vocational and adult service providers.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) – UDL focuses on planning instruction in such a way to meet the varied needs of students at the point of first best instruction, thereby reducing the amount of follow-up and alternative instruction necessary.

Validity – The extent to which a test really measures what it is intended to measure.

Visually Impaired (VI) – Students who are blind or who have partial sight and who, as a result, experience lowered educational performance.

Visual-Motor – The ability to relate vision with movements of the body or parts of the body.

Visual Perception – The identification, organization, and interpretation of data received through the eye.