What is Special Education?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines special education as a specially designed education plan provided at no cost to children with disabilities to meet their unique needs. IDEA lists 13 categories of special education. They are Autism, Blindness, Deafness, Emotional Disturbance, Hearing Impairment, Intellectual Disability (formerly known as Mental Retardation), Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impaired, Specific Learning Disability, Speech or Language Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Visual Impairment. Every school district has the legal responsibility to identify, locate and evaluate students who require special education services. To qualify for services, a child must have one of the identified disabilities, AND it must adversely affect their educational performance. The law calls this Child Find.

The State of Tennessee core beliefs about special education consists of the following:

• Special education is not a place. It is the most intensive intervention along the continuum of service defined by individual need, services, and placement.
• Strong leadership at every level is the foundation of a collaborative and inclusive environment that supports all students.
• All students are general education students first. Every student can learn, demonstrate growth, and access high-quality, evidence-based instruction that maximizes their potential in the least restrictive environment.
• Educators are professionals, content experts, and the key to student success.
• All students can achieve postsecondary success.


To watch a video about IEP Rights and Responsibilities, click below

IEP and Responsibilities Recording-20211017_202903-Meeting Recording.mp4


It’s often difficult to understand the language used in special education. Acronyms are used frequently and leave many parents frustrated because they don’t understand. Below we’ve shared many of the acronyms used in special education in the hope that we can remove some of the challenges in understanding what is being communicated about your child’s special education needs.

Click the + below to read more about each acronym.

AAC Augmentative and Alternative Communication

AAC refers to all forms of communication outside of oral speech. Some students will use AAC devices and technology to communicate.

ABA Applied Behavior Analysis

ABA is a type of therapy that focuses on improving behaviors including social and communication skills.

ABC Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequences

The ABCs of behavior is a functional behavior assessment that is commonly used to better understand inappropriate or disruptive behaviors that students may have. Antecedent is the event or circumstance that is happening right before the behavior. Behavior is the observed behavior that follows. Consequence is what happens right after the behavior and is usually in the form of a reinforcement or punishment.

ASD Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Autism is a spectrum which means that no two people with autism are alike. Some may have difficulties with communication and eye contact while others may struggle without having a set schedule.

AT Assistive Technology

AT is used to assist students with disabilities to increase their overall capacity to work and fully participate in the classroom. AT includes any “device, piece of equipment, or product system” that is used to improve functional capabilities on students with disabilities.

ASD Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Autism is a spectrum which means that no two people with autism are alike. Some may have difficulties with communication and eye contact while others may struggle without having a set schedule.

ASD Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Autism is a spectrum which means that no two people with autism are alike. Some may have difficulties with communication and eye contact while others may struggle without having a set schedule.

BASC Behavior Assessment System for Children

The Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC) is used to monitor changes in children’s behavior or emotional status.

BIP Behavior Intervention Plan

A BIP targets a student’s problem behavior with interventions that are linked to the function of the behavior. Each intervention addresses a behavior that is explicitly stated and measurable. A BIP can include prevention and/or replacement strategies.

VI Blindness

Blindness means a visual impairment. Listed under vision impairments.

CBI Community Based Instruction

Community-based instruction (CBI) is a strategy or instructional method that promotes the teaching and use of academic and functional skills in the student’s natural environment. The setting, as well as the tasks performed in these settings, should be relevant to the student, facilitate independence and be age appropriate. Instruction, materials and activities need to mirror age-appropriate activities used by non-disabled same age peers while being developmentally appropriate for the needs of the student.

CTE Career and Technical Education

CTE is a general education program that focuses on preparing students for specific careers.

MI Deaf-Blindness

Deaf-Blindness means a hearing and visual impairment, the combination of which causes severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that cannot be accommodated in special education programs by just addressing one of the

HI Hearing Impairment/Deafness

Deafness means that a person has a very severe hearing loss and relies primarily on lip reading or sign language for communication. Hearing Impairment means an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance but does not include Deafness

DD Developmental Delay

Developmental Delay refers to children between the ages 3-9 who are experiencing delays in one or more of the following areas: physical, cognitive, communication, social or emotional, or adaptive behavior that adversely affects their educational performance.

DIBELS Dynamic Indicator of Basic Early Literacy Skills, an early reading assessment

The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) 8th Edition is an assessment that can be used for benchmark screening and monitoring growth of students in grades K-8. The early literacy development tool is a valid dyslexia screener as well. DIBELS is aligned with the Common Core State Standards in Reading and is also a valid dyslexia screener. Starting in 2020-2021, DIBELS 8th Edition will replace DIBELS Next and DIBELS 6th Edition.

ED (EMN in EdPlan) Emotional Disturbance

Emotional Disturbance means a condition exhibiting one (1) or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance: (A) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors. (B) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers. (C) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances. (D) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression. (E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

ELL/ESL English Language Learner/English as a Second Language

A student whose first language is other than English and who are limited in their English language proficiency.

ESY Extended School Year

Extended school year (ESY) services are special education and related services that are provided to a student with a disability beyond the regular school year in accordance with his/her IEP. The need for ESY services must be determined annually on an individual basis by the Individual Education Program (IEP) team.

FAPE Free and Appropriate Public Education

FAPE is the concept that all students with disabilities will receive free and appropriate public education. An appropriate education can vary from self-contained to general education classes. FAPE is guaranteed to students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

FERPA Federal Education Records Privacy Act

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law enacted in 1974 that protects the privacy of student education records. FERPA applies to any public or private elementary, secondary, or post-secondary school and any state or local education agency that receives funds under an applicable program of the US Department of Education. The Act serves two primary purposes. It gives parents or eligible students more control over their educational records, and it prohibits educational institutions from disclosing “personally identifiable information in education records” without the written consent of an eligible student, or if the student is a minor, the student’s parents (20 U.S.C.S. § 1232g(b)). An eligible student is one who has reached age 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level.

FBA Functional Behavior Assessment

FBA is the process of describing and observing a student’s disruptive or inappropriate behaviors to understand the function of that behavior, or reason why they may be engaging in a particular behavior. Understanding the function of certain behaviors is the first step in determining strategies for addressing and improving these behaviors.

FD Functional Delay (Only recognized in the State of TN)

Functional Delay means a continuing significant disability in intellectual functioning and achievement which adversely affects the student’s ability to progress in the general school program, but adaptive behavior in the home or community is not significantly impaired and is at or near a level appropriate to the student’s chronological age.


IDEA is a law that mandates access to free and appropriate public education for individuals with disabilities, as well as access to accommodations and services.

ID Intellectual Disability

ID is a disability that is characterized by significant limitation in intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior. An intellectual disability originates before the age of 18.

IEE Independent Education Evaluation

If you don’t agree with the results of the school’s evaluation of your child, you have the right to request an independent educational evaluation (IEE). An IEE is conducted by an outside professional who isn’t employed by the school. An IEE can determine whether your child has a learning disability or other disorder and identify the educational services most suitable to your child as a result.Independent Education Evaluation

IEP Individualized Education Plan

An IEP is a written document that is developed to evaluate the needs of a student with a disability and implement a plan for how the school will provide supports to address those needs.

IFSP Individual Family Service Plan

When infants and toddlers need services, you may hear the term IFSP. IFSP stands for Individualized Family Service Plan. An IFSP is a written legal document that lays out the supports and services kids with developmental delays need to start catching up.I am text block. Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

IG Intellectually Gifted

Intellectually Gifted means a child whose intellectual abilities, creativity, and potential for achievement are so outstanding that the child’s needs exceed differentiated general education programming, adversely affects educational performance, and requires specifically designed instruction or support services

IPE Individualized Plan for Employment

The IPE is a plan created with the help of a Vocational Rehabilitation counselor that outlines a program of services that leads to successful employment. The types of services provided are based on the needs of the individual and are designed to help them become employable.Individualized Plan for Employment

ITP Individualized Transition Plan

An ITP is a section within the IEP that is introduced as soon as a student turns 14 in Tennessee. The ITP is used to determine goals for a student to accomplish while they are in high school to prepare for transition to postsecondary education, employment, or community participation.

LEA Local Education Agency

LEA is a public board of education or other public authority within a state that maintains administrative control of public elementary or secondary schools in a school district. School districts and county offices of education are both LEAs.

LRE Least Restrictive Environment

LRE is a principle within the IDEA that helps determine where a student with disabilities will spend their time in school and how their services will be provided. LRE guarantees that students with disabilities must receive their education alongside their peers without disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate and should not be removed unless learning cannot be achieved in such environment even with appropriate supports.

MD Multiple Disabilities

Multiple Disabilities means concomitant impairments (such as Intellectual Disability, Deafness, Intellectual Disability-Orthopedic Impairment), the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated by addressing only one of the impairments. The term does not include Deaf-Blindness.

OCR Office of Civil Rights

The mission of the Office for Civil Rights is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights.

OHI Other Health Impairment

OHI is a category that encompasses a wide range of conditions. OHI’s include health conditions like asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and any other health condition that adversely affects a student’s educational performance.

OI Orthopedic Impairment

Orthopedic Impairment means a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes, but is not limited to, impairments caused by congenital anomaly (e.g., club foot,absence of some member), impairments caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis), and impairments from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures).

Paras Paraprofessional

Paras are assistants in a classroom that provide instructional and behavioral support to students. Paraprofessionals are not certified teachers, but are still crucial members of a school’s support staff. Paras are also often referred to as instructional aides or teacher assistants.

PBIS Positive Behavior Interventions and Support

PBIS is a three-tiered method for providing behavioral support for all students. Tier 1 involves basic foundational support that all students receive. Tier 2 provides supports for students who are at risk of developing more serious problem behaviors. Tier 3 is where students receive intensive and individualized behavior supports.

PLEP Present Level of Educational Performance

PLEP is a description of what a student is currently able to do. This information is usually located in the IEP.

PT Physical Therapy/Therapist

A PT is a movement expert who improves a student’s quality of life through exercise and gross motor skill development.

PWN Prior Written Notice

Prior written notice is a document outlining important school district decisions about a student’s special education program. It is not a meeting invitation. School districts must provide parents with a prior written notice after a decision has been made regarding matters affecting their student’s IEP or eligibility for special education, but before any decision is implemented or changes to the student’s program take place.
Prior written notice must be provided in the parent’s native language or other mode of communication that you understand.

O & M Orientation and Mobility

Orientation and Mobility (O&M) in the school setting is considered to be a related service for students with visual impairment as defined under 34 CFR § 300.34 of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and is provided to students who meet criteria for
special education services under Special Education Rule 13 160-4-7-.05, Eligibility Determination and Categories of Eligibility.

OT Occupational Therapy/Occupational Therapist

School-based OT is designed to enhance the student’s ability to fully access and be successful in the learning environment. Their job is to help the student in achieving their goals in order to improve quality of life, whether that be fine motor skills, sorting, or handwriting.

RR Reevaluation Report for most every three years

The Reevaluation Report (RR) documents the results of the reevaluation of a student and the team decision regarding the student’s continued eligibility for special education. Reevaluations are conducted when: the child’s performance indicates a need, the student’s initial evaluation or reevaluation anniversary date is approaching (two years for students with Intellectual Disability or three years for all other disabilities), when requested by parents or Local Education Agency (LEA) (unless request is denied), when a special education student moves in to LEA from within Pennsylvania, and when a student transitions from Early Intervention and has been identified with a disability recognized in school age services.

RTI Response to Intervention (RTI is NOT special education)

RTI is a multi-tiered approach to early identification of students with complex learning and behavior needs. The first tier of RTI is where all students start. They receive high-quality, research-based instruction. Students who struggle in Tier 1 receive targeted interventions in Tier 2. These services are provided in a small group setting. The third tier involves intensive interventions where students are then referred for a comprehensive evaluation to see if they qualify for special education services under the IDEA.

Section 504 Section 504 Plan

Section 504 plans ensure that a child with a disability has equal access to education as their peers. It is guided by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Students who do not qualify for an IEP might still qualify for a Section 504 plan.

SKEMA Skills, Knowledge, and Experience Mastery Assessment

To earn an occupational diploma a student must meet the criteria on the Skills, Knowledge, and Experience Mastery Assessment. This assessment looks at the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to be successful in the workplace. All required skills must be completed at a score of 3 or higher and 8 out of 10 critical skills must be completed at 3 or higher.

SLD Specific Learning Disability

The term Specific Learning Disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations and that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Such term includes conditions such as perceptual disabilities (e.g., visual processing), brain injury that is not caused by an external physical force, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

SLP Speech Language Pathologist

An SLP works with students who struggle with language and communication skills. Their goal is to improve a student’s performance in the classroom by targeting their language abilities. They can either work with students in a one-on-one or small group setting.

SI/LI Speech or Language Impairment

A Speech or Language Impairment means a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or voice impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

SOP Summary of Performance

The SOP is a summary of a student’s functional performance and includes recommendations for ways to help the student meet their postsecondary goals. This is usually completed during the final year of the student’s high school education.

TBI Traumatic Brain Injury

A TBI is an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external force which resulted in a functional disability that adversely affects a student’s educational performance.

VI Visual Impairment

Visual Impairment is defined as impairment in vision (even with correction) that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. This term includes both partial sight and blindness.

OT Occupational Therapy/Occupational Therapist

School-based OT is designed to enhance the student’s ability to fully access and be successful in the learning environment. Their job is to help the student in achieving their goals in order to improve quality of life, whether that be fine motor skills, sorting, or handwriting.