There are so many acronyms in special education. Can you provide me with some definitions and explanations for these acronyms?

Like any field, those who spend much of their professional lives working in the field of special education develop acronyms to help them communicate more quickly with others. Sometimes using acronyms as a shorthand can result in confusion and misunderstanding for those not familiar with the terms.

Factual Information

Definitions for many common acronyms in special education are listed below. Click on the definition for more information.

  • ADA - Americans with Disabilities Act - Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which took effect July 26, 1992, prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals who have disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment.
  • ADD - Attention Deficit Disorder - Attention Deficit Disorder is a biologically based condition causing a persistent pattern of difficulties resulting in one or more of the following behaviors: a) inattention; b) hyperactivity; and c) impulsivity.
  • ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder - The principal characteristics of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These symptoms appear early in a child's life. Because many normal children may have these symptoms, but at a low level, or the symptoms may be caused by another disorder, it is important that the child receive a thorough examination and appropriate diagnosis by a well-qualified professional.
  • APE - Adapted Physical Education - Adapted physical education (APE) is physical education that may be adapted or modified to address the individualized needs of children and youth who have gross motor developmental delays.
  • ASL - American Sign Language - American Sign Language (ASL) is a complete, complex language that employs signs made with the hands and other movements, including facial expressions and postures of the body. It is the first language of many deaf North Americans, and one of several communication options available to deaf people. ASL is said to be the fourth most commonly used language in the United States.
  • AT - Assistive Technology - Assistive technology devices are mechanical aids that substitute for or enhance the function of some physical or mental ability that is impaired. Assistive technology can be anything homemade, purchased off the shelf, modified, or commercially available that is used to help an individual perform some task of daily living. The term assistive technology encompasses a broad range of devices from "low tech" (e.g., pencil grips, splints, paper stabilizers) to "high tech" (e.g., computers, voice synthesizers, Braille readers). These devices include the entire range of supportive tools and equipment from adapted spoons to wheelchairs and computer systems for environmental control.
  • CAPD - Central Auditory Processing Disorder - Also known as auditory processing disorder, auditory perception problem, auditory comprehension deficit, central auditory dysfunction, central deafness, and "word deafness." Auditory processing is a term used to describe what happens when your brain recognizes and interprets the sounds around you. Humans hear when energy that we recognize as sound travels through the ear and is changed into electrical information that can be interpreted by the brain. The "disorder" part of auditory processing disorder means that something is adversely affecting the processing or interpretation of the information.
  • CST - Child Study Team - Also known as the Student Study Team, Child Study Team, Teacher Support Team, and the Student Success Team. A team whose purpose is to identify a child's learning strengths and learning needs, decide and implement strategies that will benefit the child, and evaluate the effectiveness of these strategies.
  • DD - Developmental Delay - Development delay is when a child develops more slowly than normal.
  • ECE - Early Childhood Education - Pedagogical approaches for educating children birth to six years.
  • EI - Early Intervention - Early intervention is the process through which school age or younger children are found to have or be at risk of developing a handicapping condition or other special need that may affect their development. Early intervention can provide the child and their family with services to lessen the effects of the condition. These services can be remedial or preventative. Under IDEA, each state has a program for early intervention.
  • ESD - Extended School Day - An extended school day is when a student who has disabilities receiving special education services receives instruction for a period longer than the standard school day. An extended school day can include staying after the standard school day, arriving before the start of the standard school day or attending two sessions of kindergarten.
  • ESY or EYS - Extended School Year or Extended Year Services - An extended school year or extended year services is when a student who has disabilities receiving special education services is instructed during school vacation periods.
  • FAPE - Free Appropriate Public Education - Under the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students are entitled to a "free and appropriate public education."
  • FAS - Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - FAS is one of the leading known preventable causes of mental retardation and birth defects. If a woman drinks alcohol during her pregnancy, her baby can be born with FAS, a lifelong condition that causes physical and mental disabilities. FAS is characterized by abnormal facial features, growth deficiencies, and central nervous system problems. People with FAS might have problems with learning, memory, attention span, communication, vision, hearing, or a combination of these. These problems often lead to difficulties in school and problems getting along with others. FAS is a permanent condition. It affects every aspect of an individual's life and the lives of his or her family.
  • FBA - Functional Behavioral Assessment - Functional behavioral assessment is generally considered to be a problem-solving process for addressing student problem behavior. It relies on a variety of techniques and strategies to identify the purposes of specific behavior and to help IEP teams select interventions to directly address the problem behavior.
  • HI - Hearing Impaired - Persons who are hearing impaired have a diminished or defective sense of hearing or may be completely incapable of hearing.
  • IA - Instructional Assistant - A paraprofessional working under the direction of a certified teacher to provide services to students.
  • IDEA - Individuals with Disabilities Education Act - IDEA is our nation's special education law. IDEA stands for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. IDEA guides how states and school districts provide special education and related services to more than six million eligible children who have disabilities.
  • IEP - Individualized Education Plan - A detailed description of the educational goals, assessment methods, behavioral management plan, and educational performance of a student requiring special education services.
  • IFSP - Individualized Family Service Plan - An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) documents and guides the early intervention process for children with disabilities and their families.
  • IHE - Institution of Higher Education - A post-secondary educational institution.
  • ITP - Individualized Transition Plan - A transition plan is the section of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that outlines transition goals and services for the student. The transition plan is based on a high school student's individual needs, strengths, skills, and interests. Transition planning is used to identify and develop goals that need to be accomplished during the current school year to assist the student in meeting his post-high school goals. For an article on developing individualized transition plans, visit the IRIS Center Website at Vanderbilt University.
  • LD - Learning Disability - Any of various cognitive, neurological, or psychological disorders that impede the ability to learn, especially one that interferes with the ability to learn mathematics or develop language skills. For more information on learning disabilities, visit the following sites: ldonline; The Center for Learning Differences; Learning Disabilities Association of America; and the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities.
  • LRE - Least Restrictive Environment - The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is defined as the educational setting where a child who has disabilities can receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) designed to meet his or her education needs while being educated with peers without disabilities in the regular educational environment to the maximum extent appropriate.
  • MR - Mental Retardation - Mental retardation is defined as below normal intellectual development usually resulting from congenital causes, brain injury, or disease and characterized by any of various cognitive deficiencies, including impaired learning, social, and vocational ability. For more information on mental retardation, visit the following websites: National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
  • NDT - Neurodevelopmental Treatment - Neuro-Developmental Treatment is a hands-on treatment approach used by physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists.
  • OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. For more information about obsessive compulsive disorder, visit the National Institute of Mental Health.
  • ODD - Oppositional Defiant Disorder - In children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), there is an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that seriously interferes with the youngster's day-to-day functioning. For more information on oppositional defiant disorder, visit the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
  • OHI - Other Health Impaired - Having limited strength, vitality, or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems such as a heart condition, rheumatic fever, asthma, hemophilia, and leukemia, which adversely affect educational performance.
  • OT - Occupational Therapy - Occupational therapy is a treatment that focuses on helping people achieve independence in all areas of their lives. It can provide children who have various needs with positive, fun activities to improve their cognitive, physical, and motor skills and enhance their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment.
  • PD - Physical Disability - Physical disabilities are physical limitations or health problems that interfere with school attendance or learning to such an extent that special services, training, equipment, materials, or facilities are required.
  • PLEP - Present Level of Education Performance - This is a statement of the child's present level of educational performance, including how the child's disability affects the child's involvement and progress in the general curriculum or, for a preschool child, as appropriate, how the disability affects the child's participation in appropriate activities.
  • PT - Physical Therapy - Physical therapy is the treatment of physical dysfunction or injury by the use of therapeutic exercise and the application of modalities, intended to restore or facilitate normal function or development.
  • RS - Related Services - Related services are those services a child who has a disability needs in order to benefit from special education.
  • RSP - Resource Specialist Program - resource specialist programs provide instructional services to students who require special education services for less than half of their school day.
  • SAS - Supplementary Aids and Services - Supplementary aids and services are aids, services and other supports that enable the student to be educated together with children who do not have disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate.
  • SE - Special Education - Special education is instruction that is modified or particularized for those students who have special needs, such as learning differences, mental health problems, specific disabilities (physical or developmental) and giftedness.
  • SECTION 504 - Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a national law that protects qualified individuals from discrimination based upon their disability.
  • SED - Serious Emotional Disturbance - Serious emotional disturbance is a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child's educational performance: a) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors; b) an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers; c) inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances; d) a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; and, e) a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.
  • SLD - Specific Learning Disability - A specific learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written. The disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.
  • S/L I - Speech/Language Impairment - Speech and language disorders refer to problems in communication and related areas such as oral motor function. These delays and disorders range from simple sound substitutions to the inability to understand or use language or use the oral-motor mechanism for functional speech and feeding. Some causes of speech and language disorders include hearing loss, neurological disorders, brain injury, mental retardation, drug abuse, physical impairments such as cleft lip or palate, and vocal abuse or misuse.
  • S/P D or S/P H - Severe/Profound Disability or Handicap - A cognitive, emotional, or physical impairment, especially one related to abnormal sensory or motor development, that appears in infancy or childhood and involves a failure or delay in progressing through the normal developmental stages of childhood.
  • SST - Student Study Team - A team whose purpose is to identify a child's learning strengths and learning needs, decide and implement strategies that will benefit the child, and evaluate the effectiveness of these strategies.
  • TBI - Traumatic Brain Injury - Traumatic brain injury (TBI), also called acquired brain injury or simply head injury, occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. TBI can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue. Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain. For information on traumatic brain injury, visit the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
  • TDD - Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf - A telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) is an electronic device for text communication via a telephone line, used when one or more of the parties has hearing or speech difficulties.
  • TS - Tourette Syndrome - A severe neurological disorder characterized by multiple facial and other body tics, usually beginning in childhood or adolescence and often accompanied by grunts and compulsive utterances, as of interjections and obscenities.
  • VI - Visual Impairment - The terms partially sighted, low vision, legally blind, and totally blind are used in the educational context to describe students with visual impairments.
  • Voc Ed - Vocational Education - Vocational education prepares learners for careers that are based in manual or practical activities, traditionally non-academic and totally related to a specific trade, occupation or vocation.
  • VR - Vocational Rehabilitation - Vocational Rehabilitation is an employment program for people who have disabilities.

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