Glossary of Special Education Terms

To find the definition of a term pertaining to Special Education please click the following alphabetically organized links or scroll down to see all terms defined:


Accommodations - Techniques and materials that allow individuals with learning disabilities to complete school or work tasks with greater ease and effectiveness. Examples include preferential seating, spellcheckers, tape recorders, and expanded time for completing assignments and tests.

Accommodation Plan - The 504 accommodations specific to a student's needs as determined by the CST/ PPT.

Achievement Test - A test that is designated to measure what a student has already learned.

Activities of Daily Living (ADL) - Activities that make a student independent in his environment, such as dressing, eating, and toileting.

Adaptation - Any adjustment or modifications in the environment, instruction or materials used for learning that enhances the student's performance or allows at least partial participation in an activity.

Adapted Curriculum - Curriculum that includes the same content and to some extent the same sequence as in general education curriculum. It may also focus on access to general education through such methods as signing, Braille tests, or computer?enhanced augmentative devices.

Adaptive Development - Development of the student in comparison to other students of the same age. This might include the student's ability to dress himself, feed himself, toilet training, how he/she plays with others, how he/she plays alone, understanding dangers in crossing the street, how he/she behaves if mother leaves the room, etc.

Adaptive Physical Education (APE) - A related service; an individual program of developmental activities, games, sports and rhythms suited to the interests, capacities, and limitations of students with disabilities who may not safely or successfully engage in unrestricted participation in the vigorous activities of the general physical education program. This is part of the regular PE Program.

Advocacy Groups - Assistance for parents and students to help them gain access to programs promoting student's rights and educational responsibilities and services. These include no-cost or low-cost, as well as fee-based groups.

Advocate - Someone who takes action to help someone else (as in "educational advocate"); also, to take action on someone's behalf.

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) - A civil rights law passed in 1990 that does not allow discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public service, and public accommodations. ADA provides a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

Annual Goals - Yearly goals documented in the Individualized Education Plan.

Annual Review - A yearly review of the students IEP to determine what revisions are appropriate.

Appeal - A written request for a change in a decision; also, to make such a request.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) - A method of teaching designed to change behavior in a precisely measurable and accountable manner; applying the principles of behavior to the student's behavior (events that are socially relevant, observable and measurable) and determining if changes in the behavior are attributable to the intervention.

Apraxia - Difficulty controlling voluntary muscular movements, usually without motor impairment, which impacts speech.

Articulation Disorders - Difficulty with the production of speech sound.

Assessment - A collecting and bringing together of information about a student's needs, which may include social, psychological, and educational evaluations used to determine services; a process using observation, testing, and test analysis to determine an individual's strengths and weaknesses in order to plan his or her educational services.

Assessment Plan - The description of the battery of tests (psychological, achievement, language, etc.) to be used in a particular student's assessment.

Assistive Technology Device - Refers to any item, piece of equipment, product, or system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized; that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of students with disabilities.

Assistive Technology Service - Any service that directly helps a student with a disability use equipment to maintain or increase the student's capabilities. Includes evaluation services.

Asymmetrical - One side of the body is different from the other.

Ataxic - Poor balance.

At Risk - A term used with students who have, or could have, problems with their development that may affect later learning.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) - A neurobiologically based disability that has pervasive, variable, and potentially lifelong effects. Implicated areas of human functioning include self-regulation, organization, neuromotor integration, coordination, judgment, rule-governed and reward-response behavior, self worth, school, work and interpersonal performance. Early identification and treatment increase the likelihood of positive long-term outcomes. When coupled with hyperactivity it is called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Audiogram - The written results in a graph form of a hearing test.

Auditory Discrimination - The ability to detect differences in sounds

Auditory Processing - The ability to understand and use information that is heard, both words as well as other non?verbal sounds.

Audiologist - A special education service provider, who assesses, identifies hearing loss and /or gives assistance to students with hearing disabilities.

Audiological Services - A related service; includes identifying students with hearing loss and providing services that will help students with hearing losses maximize their strengths and abilities.

Augmentative Communication - Any system that supplements or replaces speech as the primary mode of communication such as sign language, pictures, written language, electronic devices, etc.

Autism - A developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, which adversely affects a child's educational performance.

Back to Top


Baseline - The current level the child is functioning at before instruction.

Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BIOS) - Language used in everyday social interactions.

Behavior Intervention - Implementation of procedures for the elimination of maladaptive behaviors, which are significantly interfering with the implementation of the student's IEP. A systematic implementation of procedures, identified in the IEP, that result in lasting positive changes in the individual's behavior. Acceptable interventions include positive Behavioral Support strategies that do not cause pain or trauma, and which respect the student's individual needs and dignity.

Bilateral - Affects both sides of the body.

Braille - A pattern of raised dots that are felt with fingers to help the blind read.

Back to Top


Cerebral Palsy - A disorder of the central nervous system, which affects muscle movement.

Child Find - The obligation of every school district to identify, locate and evaluate all students between the ages of birth and 21 who may need special education and related services. This includes students with disabilities attending private schools.

Child Study Team (CST) - An interdisciplinary team at the school, which initially brings together information about the student. Preliminary plans are discussed from this committee. The membership of this committee usually consists of at least three persons, including the school principal or a person chosen by the principal, the teacher or teachers, specialists, the parents, and the referring source if appropriate.

Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) - A level of competence required in oral and written language related to literacy and academic achievement.

Cognitive - A term that describes the process people use for remembering, reasoning, understanding, and using judgment; in special education terms, a cognitive disability refers to difficulty in learning.

Communication Journal - A means of written communication between home and school.

Compulsion - A repetitive act that an individual cannot consciously control.

Congenital - A condition that is present at birth.

Consent - Written permission given by one party (usually the parent) to the local school district to act on behalf of the student.

Back to Top


Deaf - An impairment so significant that a student's hearing is not functional for educational purposes, requiring special education to achieve full potential.

Deficit - A level of performance lower than expected for a student.

Developmental - Having to do with the steps or stages in growth and development before the age of 18 years.

Developmentally Delayed (DD) - A term used to describe the development of students aged 3 to 5 who are not able to perform the skills other children of the same age are usually able to perform.

Developmental Disability - A condition that prevents a student from developing normally.

Developmental History - The developmental progress of a student(ages birth to 18 years) in such skills as sitting, walking, talking, or learning.

Developmental Tests - Standardized tests that measure a student's development as it compares to the development of all other students at that age.

Diagnosis - The problem identified after an evaluation.

Diagnostic Placement - An evaluation that is conducted in a specialized setting for no more than 8 weeks, requiring the PPT to meet every two weeks to review it.

Disability - The result of any physical or mental condition that affects or prevents one's ability to develop, achieve, and/or function in an educational setting at a normal rate.

Down's Syndrome - Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal abnormality, resulting when an individual possess three, rather than the usual two, copies of the 21st chromosome. This excess genetic material affects a person's physical and cognitive development. People with Down syndrome will have some degree of mental retardation, usually in the mild onto moderate range. There are many characteristics associated with Down syndrome, including low muscle tone, an enlarged tongue, a flat facial profile and an increased risk of some related medical conditions. However, every person with Down syndrome is a unique individual and may possess these characteristics to different degrees or not at all.

Dyscalculia - A learning disability in which a student is unable to do math problems.

Dysfluency - A break in the smooth flow of speech, stuttering.

Dysgraphia - A severe difficulty in producing handwriting that is legible and written at an age-appropriate speed.

Dyslexia - A severe difficulty in understanding or using one or more areas of language, including listening, speaking, reading, writing, and spelling.

Back to Top


Early Intervention Services or Programs - Programs or services designed to identify and treat a developmental problem as early as possible, before age 3 (services for 3-5 year olds are referred to as preschool services).

Echolalia - A condition whereby the child echoes what ever is spoken.

Eligible - Able to qualify.

Epilepsy - A brain disorder characterized by seizures or convulsions.

Evaluation - An evaluation is the determination of the child's abilities and disabilities. This includes observations of the child, medical information, information provided by the parents, and testing by specialists. Testing may include health, vision, intelligence, hearing, communication and motor assessments.

Exceptional Child - A child who deviates either intellectually, physically, socially, or emotionally so significantly from the expected norm, that appropriate developmental progress is unlikely within the regular classroom, without a special class, special instruction or special services.

Extended School Year (ESY) - Services that occur beyond the regular school year. The duration of the ESY program is determined at the PPT.

Back to Top


Facilitator - Specific to Stamford, a person designated to coordinate special education at the building level.

Fair Hearing - The same as a due process hearing; a formal hearing that is called by parents or school district personnel when they cannot agree on a student's educational program; the decision about the student's program is made by an outside, impartial individual.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) - A condition by which a child may be born with low birth weight, severe retardation and physical problems due to mother drinking alcohol while pregnant.

Fine Motor Skills - Hand and finger small muscle movement.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) - Free appropriate public education means the following is provided, at no cost to the parents:

  • Instruction that is specially designed to meet the child's unique needs, based upon a complete evaluation of the child.
  • All related services that are necessary, to help the child derive educational benefit from special education.
  • Instruction with students without disabilities as much as possible, in the child's home school, unless the child's IEP requires otherwise.

Functional Behavioral Assessment - An assessment that is designed to assess the communicative intent of a student's challenging behavior/s, the setting and events that predict the behavior (antecedents), and the situation (consequences) that maintain the behavior/s. The assessment must address the student's degree of independence and choice, and include an analysis of the environments where the behavior is occurring. See Appendix 1.

Functional Living Skills - A curriculum or program for teaching students to function as independently as possible in their daily life.

Back to Top


Gait Pattern - Walking pattern.

Gross Motor - Coordinated movements of all large muscles; le: running, jumping, climbing.

Back to Top


Hemiplegia - Paralysis on one side of the body.

Homebound Instruction - A teacher provided to students unable to attend school. It may be provided at the child's home or at other sites within the district.

Hyperopia/Farsightedness - Difficulty seeing objects that are near.

Back to Top


Identification - The process of locating and determining the eligibility of children requiring special education.

Inclusion - When disabled children receive integrated services within the mainstream environment and are placed in the same classroom with their peers.

Individualized Instruction - Instruction that is provided on a one-to-one basis to a student by a teacher, paraprofessional or another student acting as a peer tutor, support buddy or the like.

Interdisciplinary Team - Various individuals from different disciplines that assess children's needs.

Individualized Educational Program (IEP) - An Individual Educational Program is a plan developed by a team, which includes as its members representatives of the school district, the child's teachers, and the child's parents. All participants have equal status in the decision-making process. Other persons who have a direct interest in the child's educational welfare may participate at the request of school district personnel or parents. The school district personnel and parents write the IEP, together. Each child's IEP must be completed before determining placement and must be reviewed annually. IEPs may be reviewed more often if parents or school district personnel request.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) - This federal special education law, re-authorized in 1997, provides funding to states and sets substantive and procedural requirements for educational agencies. This law re-authorized and expanded discretionary programs, educational benefit, mandated transition services and assistive technology services to be included in the IEP, added autism and traumatic brain injury to the list of eligibility categories, emphasized the need for parental participation in the process, highlighted the student's participation in the general curriculum, among other items. It was originally titled the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and enacted as P.L. 94-142.

Interim Alternative Educational Placement - A temporary setting where your child can be placed by the school district for up to 45 days for violations related to drugs and weapons at school. A hearing officer may place a child in this setting for behavior, which poses a serious risk of harm.

Back to Top


Language Impairment - Difficulty understanding and/or using language.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) - An educational setting or program that provides a student with disabilities with the chance to work and learn to the best of his or her ability; it also provides the student as much contact as possible with children without disabilities, while meeting all of the child's learning needs and physical requirements.

Learning Strategy Approaches - Instructional approaches that focus on efficient ways to learn, rather than on curriculum. Includes specific techniques for organizing, actively interacting with material, memorizing, and monitoring any content or subject"

Learning Styles - Approaches to assessment or instruction emphasizing the variations in temperament, attitude, and preferred manner of tackling a task. Typically considered are styles along the active/passive, reflective/impulsive, or verbal/spatial dimensions.

Local Education Association (LEA) - The local school district.

Locus of Control - The tendency to attribute success and difficulties either to internal factors such as effort or to external factors such as chance. Individuals with learning disabilities tend to blame failure on themselves and achievement on luck, leading to frustration and passivity.

Long Range Goals - Broad or general statements which describe what needs to be learned by the student.

Back to Top


Mainstreaming - Time spent in a regular classroom.

Mental Age - The level of intellectual functioning based on the average for children of the same chronological age.

Motor Development - The ability to move effectively within the environment.

Multidisciplinary - A team approach involving specialists in more than one discipline, such as a team made up of a physical therapist, a speech and language pathologist, a child development specialist, an occupational therapist, the regular classroom teacher, parents, advocates and others.

Multisensory Learning - An instructional approach that combines auditory, visual, and tactile elements into a learning task. Tracing sandpaper numbers while saying a number fact aloud would be a multisensory learning activity.

Back to Top


Neologisms - A condition when a child makes up words that only have meaning to them.

Neuropsychological Assessment - Typically includes a comprehensive interview with the patient and one or more family members, as well as a close review of available medical records and studies. A series of tests is administered to assess various aspects of cognitive function, including attention, memory, language, visual-spatial ability, and executive function (the ability to reason, plan, and modulate behavior). Depending on the specific issues confronting the patient and clinical team, a neuropsychologist might also administer tests that assess personality or emotional factors. The ultimate goal of the assessment is to clarify how changes in brain structure and function are impacting the patient's behavior.

Norm Referenced Tests - A test when a child's performance is compared to others the same age.

Nystagmus - Jerking of the eyes that can't be controlled.

Back to Top


Object Permanence - The child is aware that an object still exists even when it is taken away.

Obsessions - A thought or action that a person does over and over again.

Occupational Therapy (OT) - A therapy or treatment provided by an occupational therapist that helps individual developmental or physical skills that will aid in daily living; it focuses on sensory integration, on coordination of movement, and on fine motor and self-help skills, such as dressing, eating with a fork and spoon, etc.

Oral Motor - Co-ordination of what is spoken and an action.

Back to Top


Paranoia - A condition when a person is extremely suspicious of others.

Paraplegia - The lower half of the body is paralyzed.

Perseveration - Repeating an activity to an extreme that it interferes with other activities.

Placement - A child's placement is the setting where the child's educational services, contained in the IEP, are provided. Placement is determined annually upon completion of the IEP. Placement is also determined whenever the IEP is revised and whenever parents or school district personnel propose a change in placement.

Planning and Placement Team (PPT) - A team consisting of at least, the parents, the student (when appropriate), a special education teacher, an administrator, or LEA representative, and a mental health staff member. The parents may bring any other individuals to the meeting, including those who have knowledge or special expertise regarding their child. Collectively, the team determines the services and supports for IDEA eligible students.

Policy/Policies - Rules and regulations; as related to early intervention and special education programs, the rules that a state or local school system has for providing services for and educating its students with special needs.

Program(s) - In special education, a service, placement, and/or therapy designed to help a child with special needs

Public Law (P.L.) 94-142 - A law passed in 1975 requiring that public schools provide a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) to school-aged children ages 3-21, regardless of disabling condition; also called the Education For All Handicapped Children Act, with recent amendments now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Public Law (P.L.) 102-119 - Passed in 1991, this is an amendment to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires states and territories to provide a "free appropriate public education" to all children ages 3-21; and provides funds for states and territories to plan a comprehensive service system for infants and toddlers (ages birth through 2 years) with disabilities.

Back to Top


Receptive Language - The understanding of spoken and written communication as well as gestures.

Re-evaluation - An assessment conducted every three years, or sooner if a parent or teacher requests, for each student receiving special education.

Referral for Assessment - Any written request for assessment, made by a parent, teacher or other service provider, to identify a student with disabilities. Referrals for assessment should be in writing to avoid delay. Where an oral referral for assessment is made, school staff must offer assistance to the individual making the referral to put it in writing.

Related Services - Specialized services that are necessary for the child to benefit from the educational program. Related services include, but are not limited to: transportation, speech therapy, audiology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, hearing and vision services, psychological services, vocational services, social work services, therapeutic reevaluation, rehabilitation counseling, medical diagnostic and evaluation services.

Back to Top


Section 504: Of Rehabilitation Act of 1973 - The first civil rights law that specifically protected the rights of individuals with disabilities. It was amended in 1974 under P.L. 93-516, to cover a broader array of services. The law established rights to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities for nondiscrimination in employment, admission into institutions of higher learning and access to public facilities and programs receiving federal financial assistance, including public education.

Self-Advocacy - The development of specific skills and understandings that enable children and adults to explain their specific learning disabilities to others and cope positively with the attitudes of peers, parents, teachers, and employers.

Self-Contained Class - A classroom specifically for special education students.

Sensory Integration - The organization of sensory input for use. The "use" may be a perception of the body or the world, or an adaptive response, or a learning process, or the development of some neural function. Through sensory integration, the many parts of the nervous system work together so that a person can interact with the environment effectively and experience appropriate satisfaction.

Severe Disorders of Language (SDL) - A condition by which a student has a severe impairment in the ability to use or understand language.

Services/Service Delivery - The services (therapies, instruction, treatment) given to a child with special needs.

Short Term Review - Meeting at the school to review a student's program any time during the school year.

Special Education - Education designed to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. Special education may include classroom instruction, instruction in the home, hospitals, institutions and other settings, physical education, vocational education, transition services, and other specially designed instruction the child needs.

Special Education Programs/Services - Programs, services, or specially designed instruction (offered at no cost to families) for children over 3 years old with special needs who are found eligible for such services; these include special learning methods or materials in the regular classroom, and instruction in special classes.

Special Needs (as in "special needs" child) - A term to describe a child who has disabilities or who is at risk of developing disabilities and who, therefore, requires special services or treatment in order to progress.

Speech/Language Pathologist - A person qualified to diagnose and treat speech and language disorders.

Stimming - Self-stimulatory behavior, which manifests as repetitive body movements or repetitive movements of objects. This behavior is common in individuals with developmental disabilities; however, it appears to be most common in autism.

Supplementary Aids and Services - Supplementary aids and services are supports that are necessary to carry out the IEP. Supplementary aids and services may include computers, large print books, classroom or individual instructional assistants, assistive technology services, etc.

Back to Top


Tactile Defensiveness - A condition when a child overreacts or avoids any kind of touch.

Transition Planning - For students beginning at age 14 and updated annually, transition planning involves a statement of the transition service needs of the student, related to the IEP, that focus on the student's course of study (such as participation in advanced placement courses or vocational programs). Planning must begin at age 15 (or younger, if appropriate), and provides a statement of needed transition services for the child, including a statement of the interagency responsibilities or any needed linkages, as appropriate.

Transition Services - Coordinated activities designed to help a student, beginning at age 15, move from high school to post-secondary education, vocational training, supported employment, independent living and other adult services. These activities must be based on the student's needs, preferences and interests. Activities include vocational evaluation, community experiences, job development and daily living skills instruction.

Triennial Review - Under IDEA, every 3 years, a new comprehensive assessment is required which will determine continued eligibility for special education.

Back to Top


Visual Discrimination - Ability to detect differences in objects, forms, letters or words.

Visual Memory - Ability to remember visual stimuli by significant features on a short and long term basis.

Visual-Motor - Coordination of what is seen, with an action. For example, one uses visual-motor coordination when catching a ball and/or copying notes from the blackboard to a notebook.

Back to Top