Special Education Glossary

Key terms for parents and guardians to assist in understanding the educational processes for the optimum student learning environment. Special education is not limited to the following terms and this is not an exhaustive list. Please feel free to email me if you think a term should be added. 

Academic Aptitude – A measure of a student’s intellectual ability provided by an intelligence test.

Anticipatory Anxiety – This is the type of stress that students may feel if they have had repeated failures or if they are facing a new situation. This type of stress might make a situation worse because the students feel that he or she will not succeed.

Articulation – This is the way in which a person uses speech patterns. Almost perfect clear forming of the syllables and pronunciations of the letters.

Assistive Technology– Adaptive technology, such as voice recorders, keyboards or various computer programs provided for students with physical challenges.

Auditory Perception –This is the idea that a student can hear satisfactorily and is able to produce evidence that hearing is adequate for speech and language development. If not, the student would have an auditory perception problem.

Behavioral Support Plan – A plan for children who not only need educational support but also supports which focus on behavior.

Case Coordinator – This is the educational staff member who manages or oversees the child’s Individual Education Plan and educational goals.

Coercive Family System – This is a negative system of control against the child. The child then does not have the family support and therefore, has academic challenges and behavior issues.

Continuum of Services – The areas of placement of accommodations for a student with special needs in the “least restrictive environment.”

Co-morbid – This is a condition that exists on top of the main diagnosis or the primary disability. This might be low self-esteem, depression, and mood swings.

Context of the Child – The way in which the child develops based on the social interactions.

Developmental Delays –Neurological delays which affect the child’s ability to communicate, show emotion, and which produces motor and cognitive delays.

Developmental Profiles – Based on the age range of the child; a profile of the child in comparison to other children to show a base where the child should be performing.

Dysgraphia –Very poor handwriting; student tends to concentrate more on the writing than they do on the lesson.

Dyslexia –This is a severe processing and organization disability mainly in the areas of reading, writing, and spelling.

Early Intervention –Provides the educational assistance to children with special needs or at risk children. This plan allows families to gain the services children need and provides added support for success after pre-school.

Embedded Instruction – Daily special educational instruction provided and included in the regular education classroom.

Expanded Core Curriculum – An area in which the student needs extra supports within the core curriculum to succeed. This is a functional process and could be a resource teacher, small group instruction or basic life skills.

Expressive Language – Another type of communication in which the message is translated through oral and written outputs.

Family-centered Early Intervention –This type of intervention focuses on family first and how the family can help the child.

Fluency – A flow of the words that form complete and easily understood sentences.

Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) – Teachers use this assessment to track and gauge various behaviors and interactions with other children. Teachers are able to address the challenges with the children in specific ways. Once these skills are in place or a plan is in place, the children can start the academics and education.

Hypersensitivity – This is an extreme sensitivity to noises of varying degrees. Some children with autism have a difficult time processing sounds and this creates tension and fear in the children.

Incidental Learning – Certain children learn by copying other children or seeing the event or task to learn.

Inclusion– Having children with special needs attending classes with the regular education students.

Individualized Education Plan – (IEP) a specific school-wide individual student plan which provides the goals and educational agenda especially geared towards the child’s physical, intellectual or neurological disability.

Individualized Family Service Plan – (IFSP) – A plan that assists the families with an agenda and a plan to help the child.

Instructional Technology – An area of teaching with various adaptive technologies for children with special needs.

Least Restrictive Environment – The place or plan that gives the student the optimum educational setting.

Learned Helplessness – This is a type of learned behavior that lowers a student’s self esteem. The child may have negative feelings, and if something bad happens or the child does not feel positive about their performance, he or she may give up because giving up is more effective than trying to do well.

Multiple Intelligence’s – Some students are so gifted and have many higher level abilities that they might need additional attention or interventions and support.

Multidisciplinary Team –A team of professional therapists in various fields; speech, occupational, physical and remedial specialists.

Other Health Impairment – While there are many diseases and conditions that are considered a disability, there are too many to list so they are all lumped into this one “umbrella.” This could include, severe, mild or moderate cognitive and physical delays,in addition to temporary conditions. It is a good way to provide services for many children who do not have a specific diagnosis.

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) – This is more of a visual rather than a verbal type of interaction; hands on learning.

Related Services – These are services that are provided to the child which allow for therapies in school such as a speech teacher, language interventions and special education.

Self-management – This is the idea that students can help themselves by administering control over their behavior.

Theory of Mind – This is the ability to be sensitive to another human being. These are the feelings that someone can give or feel for someone else. This trait tends to be absent in autistic children

Transition Coordinators – This is a person who coordinates the student’s movement from high school to the community. This person would provide community services such as job counselors and assist with the life skills portion of the transition. This is a skillful person who can help plan transportation and living arrangements

Transition Services – A plan for children 16 years or older that includes community services and goals for how they will live and work when they graduate high school.

Twice Exceptional – When a child is exceptional in more than one area. A child might be “gifted intellectually” and do well with reading, but also struggle with writing, organization and might have processing delays.

Unexplained Under-Achievement – Some students might have a disability or a neurological disorder that would explain some educational deficits. This type of achievement would cover students who might have cultural difficulties as well as motivation, behaviors, or family life.

Wraparound approach – This is the idea that other outside agencies work together for the child. This would include social agencies, community members, and the family.


Kirk, S., Gallagher, J., Anastasiow, N., & Coleman, M. (2006). Educating Exceptional Children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 13th Edition.

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