If your child qualifies for Special Education or is in the process of being evaluated for Special Education, you may be confused about all the different terms and acronyms used within the system.
Today I want to highlight some common Special Education terminology you may hear in the United States, in order to help you better understand and navigate the system. This list won’t include EVERY single term or acronym (there are A LOT!), but it should at least jumpstart your orientation to the world of Special Education!
This is a law that ensures services to children who have disabilities, from birth through age 21. “Part B” of the IDEA law applies to individuals ages 3-21, and this is where special education enters the picture. If you’re interested in seeing what the law actually says, word-for-word, you can read it here: “Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004.”
This is “individualized instruction designed to meet the unique needs of certain students” who have been identified as having a disability (Causton & Tracy-Bronson, 2014, p. 16). This individualized instruction may include specialized services, teaching strategies, materials, equipment, accommodations, and/or modifications. You can learn more about the U.S. Special Education system by visiting the Office of Special Education Programs.
There are over a dozen “categories of disability” within Special Education as outlined by IDEA, and each one of them has their own definition. The key here is that, in order to become eligible for Special Education, a child must meet the criteria for at least one category of disability AND their disability must be adversely affecting their educational performance. Find out what each and every category of disability is (and how they are defined educationally) here: Child with Disability.
4. IEP: Individualized Education Program
If it has been determined that a school-age child (age 3-21) meets eligibility criteria for Special Education under one of the categories of disability, an IEP document is then developed, reviewed, and revised at least once a year by the child’s educational team (which includes the parents). In short, the IEP is a legal document that outlines the learning priorities for the next year and the specific way in which the school district will meet the individual educational needs of the specific student with a disability.
These are services that will help a student with a disability benefit from their special education program. School therapy services are considered “related services” under IDEA. This is important because it means a child must be eligible for special education (i.e., they qualify for an IEP) in order to receive related services (such as school OT and PT), so those services are not “stand-alone” services. HOWEVER, it’s important to know that each state in the U.S. has its own Educational Code that outlines how students can access these types of services such as school OT so, in some states, a student CAN qualify for, say, school Occupational Therapy while not qualifying for special education as a whole. This is where it can get a little tricky depending on what state you live in.
These are aids, services, or other supports provided to the student or staff. Examples could include collaboration/consultation with service providers (such as the school Occupational Therapist), adapted equipment or materials (such as a special seat, cup, pencil grip, writing paper, scissors), assistive technology, one-on-one aide, accommodations, or modifications. Specific strategies that allow a student to pay better attention, calm down, transition between tasks or activities, and generally be more “available” for learning and school participation are usually listed under Supplementary Aids and Services on the IEP document.
These are “adaptations to the curriculum that do not fundamentally alter or lower standards” (Causton & Tracy-Bronson, 2014, p. 16) and may include being allowed to take a test in a quiet room (if a student with a disability is easily distracted), being able to provide test answers orally (if a student’s handwriting difficulties are a barrier to test-taking), etc.
These are “changes to the curriculum that do alter the expectations”(Causton & Tracy-Bronson, 2014, p. 16) and may include changes to course content, timing, or test presentation.
9. LRE: Least Restrictive Environment
This means that, “to the maximum extent appropriate, a school district must educate any student with a disability in the regular classroom with appropriate aids and supports, referred to as supplementary aids and services, along with the student’s peers without disabilities, in the school he or she would attend if the student did not have a disability” (Causton & Tracy-Bronson, 2014, p. 36). You can think of educational environments on a spectrum, with “least restrictive” on one end (the general education classroom) and “most restrictive” on the other other end (a separate classroom without any opportunities to access general education curriculum or peers). When an IEP team meets to discuss the plan for the coming year, they are charged with asking themselves this question: “What is the Least Restrictive Environment this student could participate in while still receiving educational benefit?”
10. FAPE: Free Appropriate Public Education
Public school districts are required to provide a “free appropriate public education” to school-age students with disabilities who are in their jurisdiction (ages 3-21), regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. Districts develop an IEP for students with disabilities, while considering the Least Restrictive Environment, in order to ensure they are providing a free appropriate public education. For example, at the end of an IEP meeting, there is always an “offer of FAPE” – this is where the district offers a specific type and amount of services (e.g., Specialized Academic Instruction, Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, etc.) and supports (e.g., OT consultation, specific sensory or instructional strategies, visual schedule, etc.) in order to allow a student with a disability to make educational progress and, therefore, have a free appropriate public education.
Are there other Special Education terms or acronyms you’re confused about or you’d like clarification on? Please let us know in the comments below!
Please keep in mind that the information in this post and in the comments section does NOT serve as legal advisement or as a replacement for legal counsel if you are looking to clarify some things related to your child’s special education program.
For a more comprehensive overview of Special Education terminology and acronyms, take a look at Key Terms to Know in Special Education.
For more Special Education information and resources, visit the Center for Parent Information and Resources website, where you can scroll through easy-to-navigate topics related to education and disability.
And for some great Special Education resources for school therapists and professionals, check out these affiliate links below (full disclosure about affiliate links here):
Causton, J. and Tracy-Bronson, C.P. (2014). The Occupational Therapist’s Handbook for Inclusive School Practices. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.: Baltimore, MD.
Center for Parent Information and Resources (2012, March). Categories of Disability Under IDEA. Retrieved from http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/categories/
Center for Parent Information and Resources (2014, February). Key Terms to Know in Special Education. Retrieved from http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/keyterms-specialed/
Center for Parent Information and Resources (2010, September). Supports, Modifications, and Accommodations for Students. Retrieved from http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/accommodations/
Center for Parent Information and Resources (2013, March). The Short-and-Sweet IEP Overview. Retrieved from http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/iep-overview/
U.S. Department of Education (2010, August). Free Appropriate Public Education for Students with Disabilities: Requirements Under Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/edlite-FAPE504.html
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