Basic Special Education Acronyms & Glossary of Terms

Updated January 11, 2022
Acronyms for Special Education
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Special education is instruction that meets the needs of students who learn differently from their peers. Professionals in special education work with children whose academic performance is much lower or much higher than expected at their age. For example, these children may have:

  • Physical disabilities
  • Learning disabilities
  • Developmental disorders
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Emotional disorders
  • Special gifts and talents

It is common for special education practitioners and families to use abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms to "shorthand" their communication. Parents and educators alike should understand these terms in order to best serve every student’s needs.

Common Acronyms in Special Education

Acronyms represent various laws and processes used in special education evaluation and program development. Here are some common special education terms that you may encounter as an educator or parent.

  • CAP: Client Assistance Program
  • EDGAR: Education Department General Administrative Regulations
  • ERIC: Educational Resources Information Center
  • FAPE: Free Appropriate Public Education
  • GATE: Gifted and Talented Education
  • HIPAA: Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act
  • IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
  • OSHA: Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • PASS: Plan to Achieve Self-Support
  • WIC: Women, Infants, and Children (a Special Supplemental Food Program)

Commonly Used Initialisms

Initialisms can represent various laws, abilities and processes. As with acronyms, initialisms are also frequently used in the evaluation process.

  • ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act): The ADA was passed in 1990 to provide enforceable guidelines and actions when working with a American with disabilities.
  • ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder): A child who has this neurobiological disorder may have difficulties with self-control and paying attention. They will also exhibit inappropriate behavior at times.
  • ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder): A child with this disorder will have the same problems as one with ADD, but is also hyperactive.
  • APD (Auditory Processing Disorder): APD affects a child’s ability to interpret and understand speech. They may have language delays or difficulty learning in a standard classroom.
  • ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder): Previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome or autism, ASD is developmental in nature and affects the way the child interacts with their environment verbally and non-verbally.
  • ASL (American Sign Language): ASL is the main sign language used by deaf communities in the United States. It uses vocabulary from English, but different syntax.
  • AT (Assistive Technology): AT is technology designed to help people with disabilities perform tasks or increase skills. Examples of AT include wheelchairs, closed captioning, speech-to-text typing, and hearing aids.
  • BD (Behavior Disorder): This acronym covers inappropriate behaviors and difficulties with social interactions that interfere with learning.
  • BIP (Behavioral Intervention Plan): After observing a student in an educational context, special education educators create a BIP to address specific behavior modifications and goals.
  • CC (Closed Captioning): CC refers to the text that is added to the bottom of the television screen to duplicate the audio. It is an assistive tool for individuals with hearing loss.
  • CCSS (Common Core State Standards): These academic standards are established in math and English literacy to show what a student should accomplish at each grade level.
  • CD (Cognitive Delay): A child with cognitive delay is performing intellectually below the norm which impacts his or her education.
  • CP (Cerebral Palsy): A child with CP has difficulty controlling over bodily movement. It is caused by abnormal brain development or injury.
  • DD (Developmental Disability): A developmental disability occurs when there is a gap between a child’s expected level achievement or milestones and their actual abilities at that age.
  • DS (Down Syndrome): Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of a third copy of chromosome 21. Children with Down syndrome often have developmental and learning disabilities.
  • ED (Emotional Disturbance): An emotionally disturbed child has trouble with learning, social interactions, and exhibiting appropriate behavior. They are often depressed and fearful.
  • FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome): FAS includes physical and mental defects that develop in a fetus after high levels of alcohol consumption by the mother.
  • GT (Gifted and Talented): Gifted and talented children have above-average abilities for their age. They require a different approach to education than their peers.
  • HI (Hearing Impaired): Hearing-impaired means partial or total hearing loss.
  • LD (Learning Disability): An LD is a disorder of one or more of the psychological processes that are needed to speak, write, listen, do mathematical calculations, and so on.
  • ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder): The ODD child is strong-willed, defiant, and anti-social.
  • OHI (Other Health Impaired): This covers health problems that affect the child's school performance.
  • OI (Orthopedic Impairment): An OI describes any orthopedic impairment that impedes a child's education.
  • PDD (Pervasive Development Disorder): PDD is a diagnostic category that includes disorders involving socialization and communication. A few disorders under this category are Autism Spectrum Disorder, Rett Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.
  • TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury): Children with a TBI have an injury to the brain that results in mental, physical, or behavioral changes.
  • VI (Visual Impairment): VI describes a visual impairment that affects educational achievement and school performance.

Paperwork Initialisms

There are several initialisms for special education that are used in the paperwork involved in the assessment and placement of children with special needs. For example:

  • APR (Annual Performance Report): An APR covers the student's progress. It is sent to the US Department of Education for monitoring purposes.
  • AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress): These are standards established by state education departments covering the amount of progress a student should make in a given year.
  • EI (Early Intervention): EI services are geared to children who show signs of developmental delay at age 3 or below.
  • IEE (Individual Education Evaluation): An IEE is an independent evaluation of a student's abilities, conducted by a non-school employee.
  • IEP (Individual Education Plan): An IEP lists the goals, timelines, and services that will help a student meet their goals. It is usually developed by a committee of teachers, parents, and other professionals.
  • LRE (Least Restrictive Environment): An LRE is the ideal setting for a student with special needs because it has the most amount of accommodations and least restrictions to the student’s progress.
  • PLEP (Present Level of Educational Performance): As part of an IEP, the PLEP is a statement of the student's current level of functioning and includes his or her academic strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles.

These are the commonly used special education abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms. A medical or educational professional can be an excellent source of explanation for acronyms or initialisms which are more specific or more specialized.


Glossary of Special Education Terms

There are many strategies to meet all student needs, even when some students’ needs are different than their classmates. Here are some common special education terms that you’ll find in an individual education plan or special education lesson plan.

  • 504 Plan: A 504 plan sets behavioral goals for students with disabilities. Unlike an IEP, it does not indicate a specialized education plan. It does include classroom modifications that assist students whose behavioral disability keeps them from succeeding academically.
  • Accommodation: An accommodation is a small change in a lesson’s time, format, setting, or presentation to meet students’ needs. Examples of accommodations include seating changes, deadline extensions, shorter assessments, and options of typing written assignments.
  • Differentiation: Differentiated lessons are designed to address all student needs. If a lesson is differentiated well, every student can access the instruction without major accommodations or modifications.
  • Inclusive Education: When schools focus on inclusive education, they strive to include students with varying abilities in instruction and activities. Inclusive classrooms are different from special education classrooms, which include only students with special needs.
  • Mainstream: A mainstream classroom is a general education classroom (as opposed to a special education classroom). When used as a verb, mainstream describes the process of preparing a special education student to enter a general education classroom.
  • Modifications: Modifications are fundamental changes to the classroom curriculum or instruction to what a student is expected to learn. Students with IEPs often have modified lessons or assignments.
  • Transition Plan: IEPs typically include a transition plan. These plans detail the goals a student should meet in order to transition to mainstream education, post-secondary school, or independent living. No matter their skill level, all students in special education need to have a way to transition from their current educational situation to the next life stage.

More Special Education Resources

No matter how experienced you are in the classroom, it’s important to be aware of new and traditional teaching strategies. Check out a list of teaching strategies that you could implement immediately with an education article. You can also learn about the history of ESL all over the world.