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As you address your child’s learning or attention problems with teachers and other professionals, you will probably hear many terms that are new or confusing. Following is a guide to terms frequently used in educational settings, followed by common acronyms descriptions. 

                          Accommodations: Techniques and materials that change how your child learns, not what he                                     learns; or that help your child communicate what he knows. 

                          Achievement Tests: Measures of acquired knowledge in academic skills, such as reading, math, writing, and science. 

Advocacy: Recognizing and communicating needs, rights, and interests on behalf of a child; making informed choices. 

Assessment: Process of identifying strengths and needs to assist in educational planning; includes observation, record review, interviews, and tests. 

Assistive Technology: Any item, piece of equipment, or system that helps kids with disabilities bypass, work around, or compensate for specific learning deficits. 

                         Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A neurobehavioral disorder that causes an                                       individual to be inattentive or hyperactive/impulsive, or to display a combination of those                                           symptoms. 

Auditory Discrimination: Ability to identify differences between words and sounds that are similar. 

Auditory Processing: Ability to understand spoken language in kids with normal hearing. 

Collaboration: Working in partnership on behalf of a child, e.g., parent and teacher, or special education teacher and general education teacher. 

Discrepancy: Difference between 2 tests, such as between measures of intellectual ability and academic achievement. 


Due Process: Procedural safeguards to protect the rights of the parent/guardian and the child                                    under federal and state laws and regulations for special education; includes voluntary mediation or                          a due process hearing to resolve differences with the school. 

                              Dysarthria: Disorder of fine motor muscles involved in speech; affects ability to pronounce                                       sounds correctly. 

Dyscalculia: Problems with basic math skills; trouble calculating. 

Dysgraphia: Difficulty writing legibly with age-appropriate speed. 

Dyslexia: A language-based learning disability. In addition to reading problems, dyslexia can also involve difficulty with writing, spelling, listening, speaking and math. 

Dysnomia: Difficulty remembering names or recalling specific words; word-finding problems. 

Dyspraxia: Difficulty performing and sequencing fine motor movements, such as buttoning. 

                        Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): Entitles a public school child with a disability to an                                       educational program and related services to meet her unique educational needs at no cost to the                             parents; based on IEP; under public supervision and meets state standards. 

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Federal law that provides for special education and related services to eligible children with disabilities. 

Individual Transition Plan (ITP): The section of a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) that outlines transition services and helps identify and develop goals which need to be accomplished for the student to meet his post-high school goals. 

Individualized Education Program (IEP): Written plan to meet the unique educational needs of a child with a disability who requires special education services to benefit from the general education program.

Informed Consent: Agreement in writing from parents that they have been informed and understand implications of special education evaluation and program decisions; permission is voluntary and may be withdrawn. 

Intelligence Quotient (IQ): Score used to indicate general cognitive ability; average range of intelligence, which includes 84 percent of the population, is 85 to 115. 

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): Educational instruction in a place that encourages maximum interaction between disabled and nondisabled kids and is appropriate to both. 


                        Learning Disability (LD): A neurobiological disorder which affects the way a person of average to                               above average intelligence receives, processes, or expresses information. LD impacts one’s ability                              to learn the basic skills of reading, writing, or math. 

Modification: Modifications are changes in the delivery, content, or instructional level of a subject or test. They result in changed or lowered expectations and create a different standard for kids with disabilities than for those without disabilities.

Multidisciplinary Team: Professionals with different training and expertise; may include, but not limited to, any combination of the following public school personnel — general education teacher, special education teacher, administrator, school psychologist, speech and language therapist, counselor — and the parent. 

Primary Language: Language other than English, or other mode of communication such as sign language, that the child first learned, or the language that's spoken in the home. 

Procedural Safeguards: Legal requirements that ensure parents and kids will be treated fairly and equally in the decision-making process about special education. 

Pupil Records: Personal information about the child that is kept by the school system and is available for review by legal guardians and others directly involved in her education. 

Referral: Written request for assessment to see if the child is a "child with a disability" who needs special education and related services to benefit from her general education program. 

                       Resiliency: Ability to pursue personal goals and bounce back from challenges. 

                       Retention: The practice of having a student repeat a certain grade-level (year) in school; also called                            “grade retention.” 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act: Federal civil rights law requiring school programs and buildings to be accessible to children with disabilities; protects from discrimination. 

Self-Advocacy: Child's ability to explain specific learning needs and seek necessary assistance or accommodations. 

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

Transition: Process of preparing kids to function in future environments and emphasizing movement from one educational program to another, such as from elementary school to middle school, or from school to work. 

Visual Processing: Ability to interpret visual information in kids with normal sight.

- Source:

Two girls playing in tube
Confident student
Little girl playing with blocks
Kids in a huddle
Confident high school student in front of blackboard
Toddler drawing with crayons
Students running out of school last day of school


ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 

ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder 

ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder 

AT – Assistive Technology

BIP – Behavior Intervention Plan 

BSEA – Bureau of Special Education Appeals 

BTR – Behavioral Treatment Residence 

DCF – Department of Children and Families (formerly DSS) 

DD – Developmental Delay 

DDS – Department of Developmental Services (formerly DMR, effective 7/1/09) 

DESE – Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (formerly DOE) 

DMH – Department of Mental Health

DPH – Department of Public Health 

DYS – Department of Youth Services 

ED – Emotional Disability 

EI – Early Intervention 

ESY – Extended School Year 

ETV – Educational and Training Voucher 

FAPE – Free Appropriate Public Education 

FBA – Functional Behavioral Assessment 

FERPA - Family Education Rights and Privacy Act 

GAL – Guardian Ad Litem 

IAES – Interim Alternative Educational Setting 

IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education

Improvement Act of 2004 Public Law 108-446 

IEE – Independent Education Evaluation 

IEP – Individual Education Program 

IFC – Intensive Foster Care 

IFSP – Individual Family Service Plan 

LEA – Local Education Agency 

LD – Learning Disability 

LRE – Least Restrictive Environment 

MCAS – Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System 

MCB – Massachusetts Commission for the Blind 

MCDHH – Massachusetts Commission for Deaf and Hard of Hearing 

MVHA - McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act 

MRC – Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission 

MTSS – Massachusetts Tiered System of Support 

OT – Occupational Therapy 

PLEP – Present level of Educational Performance 

PT – Physical Therapy 

PL – Public Law 

PQA – Program Quality Assistance 

PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder 

SEA – State Education Agency 

SED – Serious Emotional Disability 

SEIS – Special Education in Institutional Settings 

Section 504 – Section of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 

SESP – Special Education Surrogate Parent 

SLD – Specific Learning Disability 

STARR – Stabilization, Assessment, and Rapid Reunification 

TPF – Transition Planning Form 

VR – Visiting Resource 

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