The Cryptic Language Of Special Education

Every profession has its own language, doctors for example.

Well, the world of education is no different. There are acronyms, terms, and information that may seem like a foreign language to you.

Luckily for some professions (ahem, doctors), we have shows like Grey’s Anatomy to make us all familiar with doctor-speak (We need a CT and MRI to check the abnormal hematoma on the right hemisphere, stat!)

But education has nothing like that to help us feel like experts and understand the lingo.

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As a teacher, I am guilty of forgetting that not everyone speaks “educationese.” (Yes, I just made that word up.) I sat down and put a list together of those different acronyms, terms, and information to help you understand what the heck we mean!

As I typed them out and tried to give each a very concise and precise definition, I found it difficult to truly articulate the definitions. The website; Wrights Law provides a huge array of acronyms, terms, and information as eloquent as I would hope I could sound.

See below for some of, in my opinion, the most used phrases when working in Special Education.

As a parent, advocate, student or teacher, these are important words and acronyms that will impact programming. I did add one of my own (Functional Analysis, or FA.)

Important Special Education Definitions;


Applied Behavior Analysis. ABA is the science of human behavior. It employs systematic strategies and intervention to improve behavior.


Changes in how a test is administered that do not substantially alter what the test measures; includes changes in presentation format, response format, test setting or test timing. Appropriate accommodations are made to level the playing field, i.e., to provide equal opportunity to demonstrate knowledge.


A plan of positive behavioral interventions in the IEP of a child whose behaviors interfere with his/her learning or that of others.

Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM).

A method to measure student progress in academic areas including math, reading, writing, and spelling. The child is tested briefly (1 to 5 minutes) each week. Scores are recorded on a graph and compared to the expected performance on the content for that year. The graph allows the teacher and parents to see quickly how the child’s performance compares to expectations.

Early intervention (EI).

Special education and related services provided to children under age of 5.


Extended school year services. ESY eligibility is determined by the district.

Functional Analysis.

This is considered “gold standard” as it gives analytical proof, versus a data-driven hypothesis. However, FA’s must manipulate the environment and that could be unethical.


Free appropriate public education; special education and related services provided in conformity with an IEP; are without charge; and meets standards of the SEA.


Functional behavior assessment. This is an observation based assessment to hypothesis the function of behavior. This is most often used by professionals. FBA’s should be completed if your child has a Behavior plan, or “BIP”


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  This is a piece of legislation that ensures students with a disability are provided with Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).


Independent educational evaluation. This is an educational evaluation conducted by a third party.


Individualized Educational Plan. A plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending school receives specialized instruction and related services. (Can be 5/6 years old- 22years, depending on what year a student attends to)


Individualized Family Service Plan. A plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is not yet of school age receives specialized instruction and related services. (Birth-5/6 years old – or when a child is in first grade.)


The practice of educating children with special needs in regular education classrooms in neighborhood schools. See also mainstreaming and least restrictive environment.


Least restrictive environment; requirement to educate special needs children with children who are not disabled to the maximum extent possible.


Local education agency or school district


The practice of placing children with special needs in regular classrooms for at least a part of the children’s educational program. See also least restrictive environment and inclusion.

Manifestation determination review.

If a child with a disability engages in behavior or breaks a rule or code of conduct that applies to nondisabled children and the school proposes to remove the child, the school must hold a hearing to determine if the child’s behavior was caused by the disability.


Substantial changes in what the student is expected to demonstrate; includes changes in instructional level, content, and performance criteria, may include changes in test form or format; includes alternate assessments.

Occupational therapy.

Related service; includes therapy to remediate fine motor skills.

Other health impairment (OHI).

Disability category under IDEA; refers to limited strength, vitality or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems that adversely affects educational performance.

Physical therapy.

Related service; includes therapy to remediate gross motor skills.

Procedural safeguards notice.

The requirement that schools provide full easily understood explanation of procedural safeguards that describe parent’s right to an independent educational evaluation, to examine records, to request mediation and due process.

Progress monitoring.

A scientifically based practice used to assess students’ academic performance and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction; can be implemented with individual students or an entire class.

Response to Intervention (RTI).

Use of research-based instruction and interventions with students who are at risk and students who are suspected of having specific learning disabilities.

Section 504.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination due to disability by recipients of federal financial assistance.

Special education.

Specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.

Specific learning disability (SLD).

Disability category under IDEA; includes disorders that affect the ability to understand or use spoken or written language; may manifest in difficulties with listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, and doing mathematical calculations; includes minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

Speech-language pathology services.

Related service; includes identification and diagnosis of speech or language impairments, speech or language therapy, counseling, and guidance.

Speech or language impairment.

Disability category under IDEA; includes communication disorders, language impairments, voice impairments that adversely educational performance.

Standardized test.

Norm-referenced test that compares child’s performance with the performance of a large group of similar children (usually children who are the same age).

Supplementary aids and services.

Means aids, services, and supports that are provided in regular education classes that enable children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate.

Transition services.

IEP requirement; designed to facilitate movement from school to the workplace or to higher education.


Related service about travel; includes specialized equipment (i.e., special or adapted buses, lifts, and ramps) if required to provide special transportation for a child with a disability.” (, 2018)

Being “in the know” is one of the best things we can do to help our loved ones, whether family, friend or student.

I hope this list provides you with some resources to help you better understand what you are reading when you are working with the IEP team! Any additional acronyms, terms or definitions you come across, I’d love to add to our list!

Comment here or on our Special Education Parents Facebook Page.






Above information provided by Wrights Law;


Nicole Adamski, MA

Nicole Adamski, MA

Nicole Adamski, MA

Nicole Adamski, MA

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