Understand Special Education

Acronyms and Jargon

Understanding special education acronyms and jargon can be quite a challenge even for parents who have attended many IEP meetings over the years. These lists of commonly used acronyms and jargon should help. Please understand that the information here pertains to students in California and may not pertain to students in other states.

Commonly used Acronyms

AAC: Augmentative and alternative communication includes all form of communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants and ideas.          


ABA: Applied behavior analysis is the use of techniques and principles to bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior. Behavior analysis helps us understand how behavior works, how it is affected by the environment, and how learning takes place. ABA therapy applies what we know about how behavior works in real life situations. ABA therapy can help increase language and communication skills; improve attention and academics and focus memory, and decrease problem behavior.  

ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities.

ADL: Activities of daily living are routine self-care activities. These include such activities as bathing or showering, dressing, getting in and out of bed or a chair, walking and eating.  

ADR: Alternative dispute resolution is a method of resolving disagreements that arise between a child's parents and a local education agency, such as a school district, regarding a student's IEP.               


ADHD: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing patterns of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. Children with ADHD/ADD may be eligible for special education services under the IDEA if the child's ADHD/ADD is determined to be a "chronic or acute health problem which adversely affects educational performance."

ALJ: Administrative law judge is a judge who adjudicates administrative law claims.


APE: Adapted physical education is physical education which has been adapted or modified, so that it is as appropriate for the person with a disability as it is for a person without a disability.

ASD: Autism spectrum disorder refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. 


ASL: American sign language is a complete, complex language that employs signs made by moving the hands combined with facial expressions and postures of the body. 


AT: Assistive technology is any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.


BIP: Behavior Intervention Plan is a plan to address a student's behaviors that impede the student's learning or that of others. If the BIP is developed for a student with a 504 plan or an IEP, the BIP becomes part of these documents. The goal of BIPs is to help replace problem behaviors with more positive ones. BIPs should focus on understanding why the behavior occurred and then focus on teaching an alternative behavior that meets the student’s need in a more acceptable way. This may necessitate instructional and environmental changes, providing reinforcement, reactive strategies and effective communication. 


BSP: A behavior support plan can help to replace problem behaviors with more positive ones. BSPs differ from BIPs in that BIPs are referred to in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and BSPs are not.

CAASPP: California Assessment of Student Performance & Progress (formerly STAR) is a system intended to provide information that can be used to monitor student progress and ensure that all students leave high school ready for college and career. 

CAPD: Central auditory processing disorder occurs when the central nervous system have problems processing information that comes through listening. People with CAPD have difficulty processing auditory input. 

CBA: A curriculum based assessment is any assessment that is based on the curriculum that is being used in school. 


CCS: California Children’s Services is a state program for children with certain diseases or health problems.


CDE: California Department of Education oversees the state's diverse public school system, including being in charge of enforcing education law and regulations and continuing to reform and improve public school programs.


CDC: California Diagnostic Centers provide high-quality, individualized services to special education students, their families and school districts.

CFR: The Code of Federal Regulations is the codification of rules published in the     Federal Register by the departments, such as the Department of Education, and agencies of the Federal Government. 34 CFR Part 300 concerns special education. 

COPAA: Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates works to protect and enforce the legal and civil rights of students with disabilities and their families with the goal of securing high quality educational services.  


CP: Cerebral palsy is a group of permanent movement disorders that appear in early childhood. 


CSD: The California School for the Deaf is a free public school in the state of California that  serves deaf children. 

DD: A developmental delay is when your child does not reach their developmental

milestones at the expected times. It is more than being just a little behind. It is a

substantial lag. A child may experience a developmental delay in one or more areas of development: cognition, social or emotional skills, speech or language skills, motor skills, or activities of daily living. Ultimately the child may grow out of the problem. 


DIS: Designated instruction and services, now known as related services, are any services that are necessary to help a student benefit from his or her special education program. 


DHH: Deaf and hard of hearing programs serve eligible students with a documented hearing loss that negatively impacts communication skills and/or access to the core curriculum. 

DRC: Disability Rights California is a nonprofit disability rights group established by federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. 

DS: Down syndrome is a genetic disorder, affecting about one in every 700 births, that is typically associated with physical growth delays and mild to moderate intellectual disability. 


DSM: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association offers a common language and standard criteria for the  classification of mental disorders. It is used, or relied upon, by clinicians, researchers, psychiatric drug regulation agencies, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, the legal system, and policy makers.

DYX: Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects areas of the brain that process language. Persons with dyslexia often have difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words through decoding. Dyslexia is very common, affecting 20% of Americans. 


ED: Emotional disturbance is one of the eligibility categories for a special education IEP. 


ERMHS: Educationally related mental health services are mental health services that are provided to students receiving special education services.


ESY: Extended school year services are special education and/or related services provided beyond the usual school year.


FAPE: free and appropriate public education is special education and related services are provided to students with disabilities at public expense and under public supervision and direction at no cost to the student’s parents.

FAS: Fetal alcohol syndrome may result in child whose mother drank alcohol while pregnant. The effects vary from person to person. Those affected are more likely to have problems at school, engage in high risk behavior, and and have problems with alcohol and drugs.


FBA: Functional analysis assessment is an approach to figuring out why your child behaves a certain way and identify ways to address the behavior. Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is a  process of collecting information. Information from the FBA may be used to develop a behavior integration plan. 


FERPA: Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act  is a federal law that protects the privacy of student educational records. 


HHI: Home and hospital instruction serves students who incur a temporary disability, which makes attendance in the regular day classes or alternative education program impossible or inadvisable. 


IA: An instructional assistant, also known as a paraprofessional or teacher’s aide, is responsible for helping special education students.

IAES: An interim alternative educational setting is an educational setting and program other than the student's current placement in which a student is placed as a disciplinary disciplinary measure that enables the student to continue to receive educational services according to his or her Individualized Education Program. Students with IEPs may be placed in an IAES for up to 45 days.

ID: An intellectual disability is a disability characterized by significant limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior that originates before the age of 18. Adaptive behavior consists of conceptual, social and practical skills that are learned and performed by people in their everyday lives. 


IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the county and ensures special education and related services to those children.   


IEE: Independent educational evaluation: Under federal law, a parent may request an IEE if the parent disagrees with an evaluation obtained by a public agency.  

IEP: Individualized educational program is a legal document that spells out your child’s learning needs, the services and other special supports the school will provide and how progress will be measured.

ITP: The individual transition plan is a section of a student's IEP that outlines transition goals and services. Under the IDWEA, special education students are to have ITPs by the time they reach 16-years-old.                    


LEA: Local education agency is a public board of instruction, such as a school district, that serves public elementary or secondary schools.

LRE: Least restrictive environment is a federal mandate stipulating that, to the maximum extent possible, students with disabilities be educated with their non-disabled peers.

MD: Muscular dystrophy is a group of neuromuscular diseases that cause weaknesses and loss of muscle mass. 

MDR: A manifestation determination review is held when a student with an IEP is alleged to have broken a school rule and the school proposes to remove the child. A hearing is held to determine whether the student's behavior was a manifestation of the child's disability or a result of the school district's failure to implement the IEP. 


NPS: Nonpublic schools are private, nonsectarian and certified by the state of California to provide special education services to students based on their IEPs. 


OAH: Office of Administrative Hearings is a quasi-judicial tribunal that hears administrative disputes. 


OCD: Obsessive compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder in which people have

recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). 


OCR: Office for Civil Rights aims to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights.


ODD: Oppositional defiant disorder is a condition in which a child displays an ongoing pattern of an angry or irritable mood, defiant or argumentative behavior, and vindictiveness toward people in authority.


OHI: Other health impairment is one of the categories of eligibility for an IEP. It is defined a “having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that— (a) is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis [a kidney disorder], rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome; and (b) adversely affects a child’s educational performance.”


OI                  Orthopedic impairment is one of the categories of eligibility for an IEP.  To be

                      eligible, a child must have a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely

                      affects the child’s educational performance. 

O&M            Orientation and mobility services instruct students who are blind or visually i

                     impaired with instruction in traveling safely and effectively in the environment.

OSEP            The Office of Special Education Programs at the Department of Education

                     supports programs and projects authorized by the Individuals with Disabilities

                     Education Act that improve results for children with disabilities.

OSERS          The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, which is part of

                     the Department of Education, supports programs that support millions of youth

                     and adults with disabilities. OSERS includes two main programs: the Office of

                     Special Education Programs and the Department of Rehabilitative Services.


OT                 Occupational therapy in schools is enhances the student's ability to

                      access the learning environment. This may include working on handwriting or

                      fine motor skills to enable the child to complete written assignments, helping

                      the child organize himself or herself,  or  working with the teacher to modify the

                      classroom or possibly adapt learning materials to facilitate successful 


P&A              Protection and Advocacy is a nonprofit agency that works to advance the                              rights of persons with disabilities. P&A helps persons with disabilities with such

                     problems as housing and employment discrimination, abuse and neglect,

                     mental health and support, special education rights, access to technology, and

                     regional center eligibility.

PBIS             Positive behavioral intervention and supports are positive behavioral

                     interventions and systems used to improve school safety and promote positive

                     behavior. PBIS was developed as an alternative to aversive interventions, such

                     as restraints, that are used with students with disabilities who engage in self

                     injury and aggression.

PL                 Present levels of academic achievement and functional performance is

                      information included in the IEP that provides a summary of the child's

                     educational performance and special needs. 


PT                  Physical therapy is a related service that is provided to help a child with a

                      disability benefit from his or her special education program in the least

                      restrictive learning environment. 


PWN             Prior written notice must be given whenever the school district: (1) Proposes

                      to begin or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of

                      your child or the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to your

                      child; or (2) refuses to begin or change the identification, evaluation, or

                      educational placement of your child or the provision of FAPE to your child. 


RSP               A resource specialist program is a program that provides academic support

                      and strategies for identified students so that they can be successful in the

                      general education environment. 

RTI                Response to intervention is a process used by educators to identify and help

                      students who are struggling with a skill or lesson through

                      targeted interventions.


SAI                Specialized academic instruction is the primary service provided to students

                      who qualify for special education. This service includes any kind of specific

                      practice that adapts the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction to help

                      students with disabilities access the general curriculum. 


SARB             School attendance review boards are intended to act as safety nets for

                      students with persistent attendance or behavior problems by them in

                      school. SARBs have the power to refer students and their parents or guardians

                      to court.


SDC               A special day class is a special education classroom where a student will be

                      provided instruction for more than 50% of the school day.  

SE                 Special Education is specially instruction designed to meet the unique needs

                     of an eligible disabled student. 

SEA               The state education agency in California is called the California Department of

                     Education, which oversees the state's public school system. 


SELPA           Special education local plan areas provide for all special education service

                      needs of children residing within regional boundaries.The SELPA collaborates

                      with county agencies and school districts to develop and maintain

                      environments in which special needs students may succeed.

Section 504 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a civil rights law that prohibits    

                      disability discrimination by programs or activities that receive federal funds.

SIT                Sensory integration therapy is therapy to address the integration and

                      interpretation of sensory stimulation from the environment by the

                     brain. Students in need of sensory integration therapy are under-reactive or

                     over-reactive to the sensory stimulation of touch, movement, sight, smells,

                     tastes and sounds. 


SLD               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, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak,

                      read, write, spell or do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as

                      perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and

                      developmental aphasia.  


SLI                 Speech and language impairments are communication disorders. For

                      special education students, these disorders include stuttering, impaired 

                     articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely          

                     affects a child's educational performance.

SLP               Speech and language pathologists provide speech and language therapy to

                     persons with speech and language impairments. 


SPED            Special education is specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to

                      meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.


SST                A student study team is a group of school staff and a child's parents and

                      sometimes the child who meet to consider the child's educational needs. 

TBI                A traumatic brain injury is a complex injury with a broad spectrum of

                      symptoms and disabilities. For purposes of special education eligibility, the

                      IDEA defines a TBI as an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external

                      physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial

                      impairment, or both, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. 

TDD              A telecommunications device for the deaf is typically a device about the size

                      of a typewriter or laptop computer with a QWERTY keyboard and small screen

                      that uses an LED, LCD, or VFD screen to display typed text electronically. 

TS                 Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive,

                      stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. 


VI                   A visual impairment is an impairment in vision that, even with correction,

                      adversely affects a child’s educational performance. 

Commonly used jargon

504 plans: Designed to help students with disabilities through the provision of supports and the removal of barriers, 504 plans enable the student has equal access to the general education curriculum.  

Accommodations: These supports allow a student to complete the same assignment or test as other students, but with a change in the timing, formatting, setting, scheduling, response or presentation. The accommodation does not alter in any significant way what the test or assignment measures. Examples of accommodations include preferential seating, providing a student extra time to take a test, or allowing a student to use a use a book on tape.

Assessment plan: Before a student can be assessed to determine eligibility for special education services or reassessed while receiving special education and related services, an assessment plan must be developed and provided to the parents for their approval. The assessment plan will indicate the areas in which the student will be assessed. Common areas include academic achievement, health, intellectual development, language/speech and communication development, motor development, social emotional skills, adaptive behavior, post secondary transition, and in other areas.

Child find: Under the law, your school district has an obligation to identify, locate and evaluate all children with disabilities who may be eligible for special education, including those who are attending private schools or are homeless or wards of the court. This is duty is commonly called “child find.”

Compliance complaint: When the district appears to have violated a part of special education law or procedure, a parent may file a complaint with the California Department of Education. Possible violations may include: (1) failure to implement an IEP; (2) failure to assess or refer a student to special education; (3) failure to follow timelines for assessment and referral; (4) failure to inform parents of an IEP meeting; or (5) failure to implement a due process hearing decision or mediation agreement.  

Due process hearing: When the parents of a student with disabilities and the school district disagree about the student’s eligibility, placement, program needs, or whether the student's IEP has been appropriately implemented, either side can request a due process hearing. At the hearing, both sides present evidence by calling witnesses and submitting relevant educational records and possible outside assessments that support their position. An administrative law judge decides which side one on each issue and may order appropriate relief for the student.  

IEP goals: Goals represent what an IEP team believes a student will be able to accomplish in the ares of identified need in a year’s time. Annual goals must be written in measurable terms.

IEP meeting: During an IEP meeting, the IEP team should review a student’s assessments, observations of the student, the progress the student has made, and whether a student is eligible for special education. Parents are full members of the student’s IEP team and should be invited to all IEP meetings regarding their child. 

IEP team: A student's IEP must be developed by a team. The team must include the student’s parents or guardians, a special education teacher, a general education teacher if the student is or may be placed at least part of the time in a general education classroom, and a school administrator who has authority to make decisions about a student’s IEP. The student may be part of the IEP team. Sometimes, specialists such as a school psychologist or an speech and language therapist may be part of the team. Someone knowledgeable about the student's assessments must participate when assessments are discussed at the IEP team meeting.

Inclusion: The IDEA does not use the term "inclusion." Instead, the IDEA requires school districts to place students in the least restrictive environment. This means that, to the maximum extent appropriate, school districts must educate students with disabilities in the regular classroom with appropriate aids and supports with their nondisabled peers. 

Informed consent: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that a parent be fully informed and agrees in writing before the school system takes an action regarding a special education student. 

Mainstreaming: This term, which does not appear in the law, refers to Individuals with

Disabilities Act’s strong preference that children be educated in the least restrictive environment.

Mediation: A voluntary alternative dispute resolution process that may occur after either a parent or a school district files a due process complaint  with the Office of Administrative Hearing.

Modifications: Unlike accommodations, which do not change the instructional level, content, or performance criteria, modifications alter one or more of those elements on a given assignment. Modifications are changes in what students are expected to learn, based on their individual abilities.

Placement: Specific educational placement means that unique combination of facilities, personnel, location or equipment necessary to provide instructional services to an individual with exceptional needs, as specified in the IEP, in any one or a combination of public, private, home and hospital, or residential settings.

Psycho-educational evaluation: Psycho-educational testing helps identify areas that impact a child's learning. 

Related services: These are services that are necessary to help a student benefit from special education. These include speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, early identification and assessment of disabilities in children, counseling services, orientation and mobility services, and medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes, school health and nurse services, social work services in schools, and parent counseling and training.

Special education: Special Education means teaching that is designed to meet a student's unique needs. Special education is free. The student may be taught in a general education classroom or in more restrictive environments such as in a special education classroom, at home, in a residential placement, or in Juvenile Hall. 

Stay put: Until due process hearing procedures are complete, a special education student is entitled to remain in his or her current educational placement, unless the parties agree otherwise. This is referred to as “stay put.” For purposes of stay put, the current educational placement is typically the placement called for in the student’s IEP, which has been implemented prior to the dispute arising.   

Transition plan: This is a section of a student's IEP with a plan that outlines goals and services that promote the transition from high school adulthood. Under the law, transition planning must start by the time a student reaches16-years-old

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Or send us an email: 


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3017 Douglas Blvd., Suite 300, Roseville, CA


Or meet with us at

1901 Harrison Street, Suite 1100

Oakland, CA  


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