Special Education Definitions, Laws, Glossary

Explaining the acronyms, abbreviations, and terms associated with special education.


Recommended Web Sites

CHADD: Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
CHADD offers local support services to parents, teachers, and other professionals. Its Web site features an online community, an ADD directory, and information about your child's legal rights at school.

COPAA: The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates
COPAA helps parents secure high-quality educational services for children with disabilities. Search its Web site for member attorneys and advocates in your area.

LD Online
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Learning Disabilities Association of America
The LDA site offers a four-hour special-education training course of parents, plus advice on a range of topics, from finding tutors to helping a child choose a career.

Schwab Learning
Schwab Learning's Web site has articles about managing AD/HD, getting financial assistance, and improving reading and writing skills. It features a parent-to-parent message board and a weekly newsletter.

This Web site focuses on special-education law and advocacy for children with disabilities. It offers thousands of articles and cases, breaking news, and a newsletter.


If your child has been diagnosed with AD/HD or a learning disability, you've entered a new world of special-ed acronyms, abbreviations, and terms. This glossary will help you penetrate the jargon to get your child the educational help he or she needs.

Accommodations - Techniques and materials that help AD/HD or LD students learn or perform schoolwork more effectively. Accommodations include extra time on tests, a lighter homework load, and permission to tape-record assignments.

Assistive Technology - Equipment or software that helps children compensate for learning impairments. Examples include electronic spell-checkers and audiobooks.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) - A neurobiological disorder that causes problems with attention span, impulse control, and activity level.

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) - A set of strategies developed by school personnel to help a child behave in a way that is appropriate to the classroom and that allows him to learn.

Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician - A physician who specializes in childhood behavioral problems, such as AD/HD and aggressive behavior, as well as difficulties at school.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV) - A publication of the American Psychiatric Association that is used to diagnose psychiatric disorders, including AD/HD.

Educational Advocate - A professional who works with families to secure appropriate educational placement or services for children with AD/HD or LD.

Educational Psychologist - A psychologist who specializes in learning and in the behavioral, social, and emotional problems that interfere with school performance.

Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) - Under IDEA (see below), public schools are required to provide disabled students with appropriate educational services at no cost to the parents.

Formal Assessment - A school-based evaluation of a student's learning difficulties using standardized tests and other tools. A team of school professionals uses the assessment to determine a child's eligibility for special education and related services.

Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) - An evaluation conducted by a qualified professional who is unaffiliated with a public school district. Schools are required to consider the findings or recommendations of an IEE.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) - The federal law that guarantees special education and related services to students with disabilities. AD/HD is not listed among IDEA's disability categories, but children with AD/HD often qualify under a category called "Other Health Impairments."

Individualized Education Program (IEP) - The formal, written plan that guides the delivery of special-education services to a child who qualifies for such assistance under IDEA.

Learning Disability (LD) - A neurobiological disorder that impairs a person's ability to read, write, or do math by affecting the way he receives, processes, or expresses information.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) - Under IDEA, school districts must provide special-ed services in a general education setting, rather than in separate classes or schools, whenever possible. A regular classroom is the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities.

Modification - An adjustment in the curriculum that creates a different standard for students with disabilities, as compared to others in the class.

Multidisciplinary Team - A group of people who work together to develop and review a child's IEP. The team might include the child's classroom and special-education teachers, school administrator, school psychologist, therapist, educational advocate, and parents.

Neuropsychologist - A psychologist who specializes in the relationship between brain function and behavior.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 - The federal law that grants children with disabilities the right to an appropriate public school education. Children with AD/HD or LD who are ineligible for special-education services under IDEA may qualify for accommodations and services under Section 504. The written plan outlining these services is called a 504 Plan.

Special Education (SPED) - Specially designed instruction for children whose educational needs can't be met in a regular instructional program.

This article comes from the August/September 2006 issue of ADDitude.

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TAGS: Learning Disabilities

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