26 special education terms you need to know

Last week we spoke about how to become a better legal advocate for yourself.  Part of that process is gaining an understanding of all of the terminology that surrounds special education.  Here’s a list of the most commonly used terms and their meanings.

504 Plan

A plan setting forth services and/or Special Accommodations for a child with a disability, pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of Counterpart of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

A Federal anti-discrimination Statute that can be used to protect students with disabilities from discrimination in pursuit of a major life activity (ie Education). The Act prohibits disability based discrimination by agencies receiving Federal funding.

Assistive Technology

An external device or functionality that seeks to remediate a learning disability, or other disorder, or to provide equal access to educational services to children with disabilities.

Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD, ADHD and ADD)

This general term encompasses Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), hyperactive, inattentive or combined types.

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)

A plan of positive behavioral interventions, made a part of the IEP of a child whose behaviors interfere with that child’s learning or their peers.

Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)

Set of administrative regulations established by the United States Department of Education to interpret IDEA.

Committee for Special Education (CSE)

Sometimes referred to as the special education team, that is required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to provide an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to address the needs of children from Kindergarten through High School Graduation, or the age of 21, who qualify for Special Education Services pursuant to the statute.

Committee for Preschool Special Education CPSE

Similar in operation to the Committee for Special Education, but deals with children from two years of age up to Kindergarten.

Co-Morbid Disorder

A disorder, or Specific Learning Disability (SLA) that is present along with another functional disability.


Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Addition) published by the American Psychiatric Association. It is the main diagnostic reference for mental health professionals in the United States.

Due Process Hearing (Impartial Due Process Hearing)

An impartial hearing which commences upon a formal request by either parents or LEA. The hearing is conducted before an Independent Hearing Officer (IHO) or Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who takes testimony under oath and presides. The hearing is stenographically recorded and a written decision is required to resolve the dispute between the parties. Either party can appeal the decision of an IHO to a State Review Officer (SRO).

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Federal Statute that ensures both the right to privacy and access of a student’s educational records. It is important to note that the protection of this law for children under 18 belongs to the parent and/or legal guardian, while that protection switches to the child at age 18, subject to a few limited exceptions schools and parents must obtain written consent of the student to share educational information.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)


Independent Hearing Officer (IHO)

An officer appointed by a State Department of Education to hear disputes between parents and school districts at a Due Process Hearing. Depending upon the testimonial record, an IHO has the authority to subpoena documents, and/or order either side to comply with his or her directive.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

An Educational Statute enacted by the Federal Government and codified under 20 USC 1400. IDEA governs children up to the age of 21 or up to achieving their high school diploma. The statute, now referred to as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, ensures that children with qualifying disabilities receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

Individual Education Program (IEP)

An education program required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, to be designed to meet the specific needs of a disabled child who qualifies for Special Education. The IEP must contain annual goals and be reviewed on an annual basis.

Learning Disability (LD) or Specific Learning Disability (SLD)

A disability category under IDEA which includes disorder s that affect the ability to understand and/or use spoken or written language, or which may be manifested by difficulties with listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling and/or performing mathematical calculations. LD or SLD also includes minimal brain Dysfunction (AD/HD), dyslexia, dysgraphia developmental aphasia and other disorders.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRO)

A requirement under IDEA, that special education and/or related services be provided in, or as close to a main stream environment as is possible or practicable under the circumstances.

Local Educational Agency (LEA)

The local school district responsible for providing services to a student or group of students.


A procedural safeguard under IDEA to resolve disputes between parents and LEA’s. Mediation is a voluntary alternative to a to a due process hearing and may not be used to deny or delay a due process hearing. The medication must be conducted by a qualified and impartial mediator who is trained in effective mediation techniques. The decision of the mediator is non-binding and a disagreement between the parties can still be the basis for a due process hearing.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

is classified, in DSM IV as an anxiety disorder characterized by distressing intrusive thoughts and/or repetitive actions that interfere with the individual’s daily functioning.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

is a related service used to remediate deficits or developmental problems with sensory integration and fine motor skills.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

refers to a recurrent pattern of negative, defiant, disobedient and hostile behavior toward authority figures lasting aat least six months.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (504)

A Civil rights statute prohibiting recipients of Federal funding from discrimination on the basis of a disability.
Special Education PTA (SEPTA) – Branch of the local Parent Teacher Association specializing in issues concerning children with special needs.

State Review Officer (SRO)

An officer appointed by the State to review the decision, on appeal, of an Independent Hearing Officer (IHO) after a Due Process Hearing.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

is a disability category under IDEA which includes acquired injury caused by external physical force and open or closed head injuries that result in impairments. It does not include congenital or degenerative brain injuries or injuries caused by birth trauma.

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