Glossary of Terms

In this glossary you will find common terms and acronyms that are used in special education.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is a disorder characterized by developmentally inappropriate behavior, including poor attention skills, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. A person whose behavior is more inattentive than hyperactive is often referred to as having ADD. If the person’s behavior is more hyperactive-impulsive than it is inattentive or if the person has a combination of hyperactivity and inattentiveness, the person is often referred to as having ADHD. The diagnosis of ADHD is a medical diagnosis and not an educational term. A doctor makes the determination of this diagnosis, often with input from parents and teachers.

Assistive Technology (AT)

AT is any item a child needs to increase, maintain or improve their ability to participate in school. AT includes low-tech and high-tech items, ranging from a calculator to a computer. AT may also include the services a child needs to help choose, obtain or use an item.


Autism is one of 11 impairments listed in the state rules and regulations. It is a developmental disability that significantly affects a child’s social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication abilities. It generally is evident before age 3 and adversely affects learning and educational performance.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)

ASDs refers to several disorders characterized by varying degrees of impairment in the areas of communication skills, social interactions, and restrict social interactions, and restricted,repetitive, and/or stereotyped patterns of behavior (e.g., hand flapping, rocking).

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)

A BIP is a plan, developed and written by a team for the following purposes:

  • to help a child learn new appropriate behaviors,
  • to help prevent challenging behaviors, and
  • to provide staff with intervention strategies for challenging behaviors.

A BIP allows the child to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE). In addition, a BIP is created from the results of a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA).

Business Day

This term refers to the days Monday through Friday, excluding state and federal holidays.

Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) 

This disorder is characterized by difficulty understanding speech or auditory instructions in the presence of normal hearing sensitivity. A child with this disorder has normal hearing, but cannot understand oral communication at the same level as other people his/her age.

Case Manager

The case manager is the special education cross categorical teacher or S/L Therapist assigned to lead the implementation and coordination of a student’s IEP services and IEP meetings.

Department of Public Instruction (DPI)

This is the agency which is charged with providing direction and technical assistance for public elementary and secondary education. It distributes and monitors federal and state monies used for education. It provides guidance on laws and policies regarding public education. For more information, visit DPI’s website.

Emotional Behavioral Disability (EBD)

EBD is one of 11 impairments listed in the state rules and regulations. A student with an EBD demonstrates social emotional or behavioral functioning that so departs from generally accepted, age appropriate ethnic or cultural norms that it adversely affects a child’s academic progress, social relationships, personal adjustment, classroom adjustment, self-care or vocational skills.

Early Childhood (EC)

This term refers to children from infancy through age 5.

English Language Learner (ELL)

A child whose primary language is not English.

English as a Second Language (ESL)

ESL is the program that provides services and instruction for students who are learning the English language.

Extended School Year (ESY)

ESY is special education and related services described in IDEA provided to children with disabilities beyond the school term. It is provided in a consistent manner with a child’s IEP. ESY is provided to special education students-

  • who are at a critical stage of skill acquisition at the end of the
    spring school term or
  • who have demonstrated significant regression of learned skills during breaks in instruction and failed to recoup those skills in a reasonable time when instruction resumed.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

FAPE includes special education and related services that:

  • are provided at public expense and under public supervision and
  • meet the standards of DPI,
  • include an appropriate preschool, elementary or secondary school education and transition to post secondary options, and
  • are provided in conformity with an IEP.

School districts are required to make FAPE available to all children enrolled in special education in their district.

Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)

A team conducts a FBA to gain information about a child’s behavior before creating and implementing a behavior intervention plan (BIP). During a FBA, the  team works to determine why a child exhibits challenging behaviors and what supports are needed to help the child learn new appropriate behaviors.

General Education Curriculum

This is the board approved curriculum that is taught in the regular education setting at each grade level.

Hearing Impairment (HI)

HI is one of 11 impairments listed in the state rules. A student identified as having a hearing impairment will have a significant impairment in hearing, with or without amplification, whether permanent or chronically fluctuating, that significantly adversely affects a child’s educational performance including academic performance, speech perception and production, or language and communication skills. It includes deafness.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

This is the current federal special education law.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

The IEP is the plan developed by the child’s IEP team that determines the annual goals for the child, and specifies the special education and related services the child will receive in the least restrictive setting for him/her.

Intellectual Disability (ID)

Formally known as Cognitive Disability.  ID is one of the 11 impairments listed in the state rules and regulations. A student with an intellectual disability has significantly below average intellectual and adaptive functioning that adversely affects his/her performance. 

Local Educational Agency Representative (LEA Rep.)

The LEA Rep. is a person on the IEP Team who has knowledge about, and can commit the school’s resources to enable the child to receive appropriate IEP services. All IEP meetings must have an LEA Rep. present and actively involved.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

This is the environment that the IEP team has determined is the most appropriate educational setting for the child that will enable the child to be involved and make progress in the general education curriculum. This environment should include typically developing same age/grade peers to the greatest extent possible based upon individual needs.

Manifestation Determination (MD)

Under IDEA, a manifestation determination is a process conducted by an IEP team to determine whether a specific behavior or cluster of behaviors is related to, or a manifestation of, the student’s disability(ies). IDEA requires that before removing a student for disciplinary reasons beyond 10 cumulative (or consecutive) days in a school year, the IEP team must first conduct an MD. If the behavior subject to discipline is related to the student’s disability, the student cannot be removed.

Other Health Impairment

OHI is one of 11 impairment areas listed in the state rules. A student identified as OHI would have limited strength, vitality or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems. The term includes but is not limited to: a heart condition, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, nephritis, asthma, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, epilepsy, lead poisoning, leukemia, diabetes, or acquired injuries to the brain caused by internal occurrences or degenerative conditions, which adversely affect a child’s educational performance.

Orthopedic Impairment (OI)

OI is one of 11 impairment areas listed in the state rules. A student identified as OI would have a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects his/her educational performance. The term includes, but is not limited to:

  • impairments caused by congenital anomaly, such as a clubfoot or absence of a limb
  • impairments caused by disease, such as poliomyelitis or bone tuberculosis
  • impairments from other causes, such as cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures.

Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP)

This term refers to the section of the IEP document where the IEP team describes:

  • the child’s strengths,
  • parent concerns, and
  • the child’s abilities relative to language arts and math standards.

The PLAAFP also includes a discussion of how the child’s impairment affects his/her ability to participate in the general education curriculum and environment.

Progress Notes

Students who receive special education services must have their progress towards annual goals reported to their parents/guardians as often as progress is shared with the parents/guardians of all students during the school year. This will typically coincide with the issuing of report cards.   

Related Services

Related Services are developmental, corrective, and other supportive services that are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education. Examples of related services include:

  • transportation,
  • speech-language pathology and audiology services,
  • interpreting services,
  • school psychological services,
  • school physical and occupational therapy services,
  • recreation services,
  • early identification and assessment of disabilities in children,
  • counseling services (e.g., rehabilitation counseling),
  • orientation and mobility services, and
  • medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes.

Related services also include school health services and school nurse services.

Response to Intervention (RtI)

This term refers to the practice of providing high-quality instruction and intervention matched to student need and frequent progress monitoring to make data-based decisions about supports etc., that may improve a child’s success at school.

Significant Developmental Delay (SDD)

SDD is one of 11 impairment areas listed in the state rules. Children identified as SDD are children who are age 3 through 9 years of age  who are experiencing significant delays in the areas of physical, cognition, communication, social-emotional or adaptive development.

Special Education

This is the program that provides specially designed instruction by special education staff to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.

Specific Learning Disability (SLD)

SLD is one of 11 impairment areas listed in the state rules and regulations. A student identified as SLD would have a severe learning problem due to a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in acquiring, organizing, or expressing information that manifests itself in school as an impaired ability to listen, reason, speak, read, write, spell or do mathematical calculations, despite appropriate instruction in the general education curriculum.

Specialized Physical Education (SPE)

SPE is specially designed curriculum and/or instruction in physical education for a child with a disability. SPE may be provided across a continuum of environments.

Speech & Language (S/L)

S/L is one of 11 impairment areas listed in the state rules and regulations. A student identified as having a S/L impairment has an impairment of speech or sound production, voice, fluency, and/or language that significantly affects educational performance or social, emotional or vocational development.

Supplementary Aids and Services

This term refers to the services and supports provided in regular education classes and other settings to enable a child with a disability to meet their IEP goals while being educated with children who do not have disabilities.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

TBI is one of 11 impairment areas listed in the state rules and regulations. A student identified as having a TBI has 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. The term applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas. It does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital, degenerative or induced by birth trauma.


Transition is the term that applies to preparing a child for life after high school. Transition planning is a required part of every child’s IEP starting the year a student turns at 14. Transition planning is also required for every child moving from Birth to Three Programs to early childhood special education. Sometimes transition planning happens when a child moves from one grade to the next, or one school to the next (e.g., elementary to middle school, middle school to high school). Transition can also mean moving from one class to the next class in school.

Visual Impairment (VI)

VI is one of 11 impairment areas listed in the state rules and regulations. Visual impairment means that, even after correction, a child’s visual functioning significantly adversely affects his or her educational performance.

Sources of Information
Wilmshurst, Linda, Ph.D., ABPP & Brue, Alan W., Ph.D., NCSP 2005. A Parent’s Guide to Special Education. New York, NY: American Management Association Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction