Special Education Definitions as provided by the Oklahoma Parents Center
A component of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education. Section 504 regulations require a school district to provide a “Free Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. This may be defined as regular or special education services. Section 504 does require development of a plan, usually referred to as a 504 plan, although this written document is not mandated.
The Individualized Education Program (IEP) of IDEA may be used as the 504 plan . Typically, a student who needs 504 services needs accommodations and/or related services but does not need special placement or instruction from a special education teacher. For example, students with ADD or ADHD, who do not qualify under the disability categories of IDEA, often have 504 plans. General education teachers, resource teachers, and speech and language therapists usually provide the additional services.
Accessing the General Education Curriculum
Occurs when students with disabilities are actively engaged in learning the content and skills of the same curriculum that is being taught to general education students. This is our current perspective on access, which is more focused on curriculum access than access to a particular setting.
Access is more likely to occur when instructional and learning goals are operationalized and monitored through appropriate assessments, research-based instructional practices and materials are utilized, and accommodations matched to the child’s individual needs are made available.
Services or supports used to enable a student to fully access the subject matter and instruction. An accommodation does not alter the content or expectations; instead it is an adjustment to instructional methods. Accommodations should be specified in a student’s IEP. Examples include books on tape, content enhancements, and allowing additional time to take a test.
An adjustment to the instructional content or performance expectations of students with disabilities from what is expected or taught to students in general education. Adaptations are usually included as part of a student’s IEP. Adaptations can include decreasing the number of exercises the student is expected to complete, assignment of different reading materials, or use of a calculator instead of working out problems by hand.
Annual Goal
A statement of reasonable expectations for a student with a disability to accomplish in the next 12 months. These goals are included in the student’s IEP and should help to direct the services and instruction the student will receive.
Assistive Technology
Technology designed to be utilized in an assistive technology device or assistive technology service. An assistive technology device is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Examples include: Braille readers, motorized wheelchairs, and specialized keyboards.
(as defined by IDEA)-means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects educational performance. Characteristics often associated with autism are engaging in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to changes in daily routines or the environment, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.
The term autism does not apply if the child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has emotional disturbance. A child who shows the characteristics of autism after age 3 could be diagnosed as having autism if the criteria above are satisfied.
Behaviors and actions that are verbal, physical and/or anti-social, such as exclusion, gossip and non-verbal body language. It can occur at school or in transit between school and home.
(as defined by IDEA)-means concomitant [simultaneous] hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness.
(as defined by IDEA)-means a hearing impairment so severe that a child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
Developmental Delay
Occurs when a child’s development progresses at a slower rate than most children. This is often seen as a delayed achievement of one or more of a child’s milestones. A developmental delay can affect a child’s physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development.
The over or under representation of minority students in special education. In other words, there is a disproportionate number, either a significantly larger or smaller percentage, of students from a specific minority background receiving special education services than the percentage of that minority in the population generally.
Typically, African Americans and Hispanics are over-represented and Asians are underrepresented. IDEA ’97 specified that disproportionality needs to be addressed by state and local districts.
Students who have dyslexia demonstrate an inability to attain language skills commensurate with their intellectual ability. The challenges these students face mainly arise in the area of processing information and having the ability to reproduce it in an understandable fashion. Individuals having dyslexia may demonstrate problems in any of the areas of reading, writing, spelling, or math calculations.
Emotional-Disturbance (ED)
(as defined by IDEA)-means a condition exhibiting one 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:

  • An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
  • An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
  • Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
  • A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
  • A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

The term includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance.
Extended School Year (ESY)
Special education and related services which meet the state standards that a student with disabilities receives beyond the school year as stipulated in the IEP. These services are provided at no charge to the family or student.
Stands for “Free Appropriate Public Education.” This right is guaranteed to students with disabilities by IDEA. The provision states that special education and related services, in accordance with the state’s standards, are provided free of charge under public supervision and direction in compliance with the student’s IEP. It includes preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education.
General Curriculum
The established plan of instruction for all students in a Local Education Agency (LEA). It can be based on the LEA’s or state’s standards and benchmarks. It incorporates the core of what students learn – i.e., the mandated academic instruction. Social, communication, and life skills are sometimes also integrated.
Students show outstanding talent compared to other children of their age, experience or environment
Hearing Impairment
(as defined by IDEA) means an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance but is not included under the definition of “deafness.”
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
First enacted in 1975 as the Education for all Handicapped Children Act. It is a comprehensive law that governs the education of students with disabilities. The current version of the law was amended in 2004 (referred to as IDEA ’04 or PL 108-446).
For more information about the IDEA, visit the U. S. Department of Education’s IDEA web site. This new site was created to provide a one-stop shop for resources related to IDEA and its implementing regulations.
Multiple Disabilities
(as defined by IDEA) means concomitant [simultaneous] impairments (such as mental retardation-blindness, mental retardation-orthopedic impairment, etc.), the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in a special education program solely for one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf-blindness.
Other Health Impairment-(OHI)
(as defined by IDEA) means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that—
(a) is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, and sickle cell anemia; and
(b) adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
Orthopedic Impairment
(as defined by IDEA) means a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by a congenital anomaly (e.g. clubfoot, absence of some member, etc.), impairments caused by disease (e.g. poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis, etc.), and impairments from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures).
US Office of Special Education Programs. An office within OSERS charged with assuring that the various states comply with IDEA.
US Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. An agency of the federal government’s executive branch within the Department of Education.
Occupational Therapy (OT)
Support services that focus on developing functional skills related to sensory-motor integration, coordination of movement, fine motor skills, self-help skills (dressing, self-feeding, etc.), adaptive devices/equipment, and positioning for school work. Can also include improving, developing or restoring functions impaired or lost through illness, injury, or deprivation or preventing, through early intervention, initial or further impairment or loss of function.
Parenting and Information Center-(PTI)
A terrific information resource for parents of children with disabilities. Every state has at least one PTI. Each one has a different name. The PTI for Oklahoma is OKLAHOMA PARENTS CENTER and is funded through the Office of Special Education Program (OSEP). Their purpose is to provide parents with information and training about: disabilities; parent and children’s rights under the IDEA and other relevant laws; and resources in the community, state, and nation.
Parent Centers know about the needs of children and families. They understand school policies and practices. Through their experience with the education of children with disabilities, the needs of families and schools, Parent Centers make valuable contributions on a local and statewide basis in support of schools to improve services and outcomes for students with disabilities.
Related Services
Developmental, corrective, and other services required to assist a student with a disability to benefit from special education. May include transportation and support services such as speech pathology, audiology, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, early identification and assessment, counseling, interpreters for persons with hearing impairments, medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes, school health services, social work services in schools, and parent counseling and training
Speech or Language Impairment
(as defined by IDEA) means a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
The set of activities and services that assist students with disabilities to successfully move from the school environment to the post-school environment, such as employment, post-secondary education, or vocational training. These services can include adult education, independent living, and community participation.
Traumatic Brain Injury-(TBI)
(as defined by IDEA) means 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, such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem-solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech. The term does not include brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or brain injuries induced by birth trauma.
Visual Impairment Including Blindness
(as defined by IDEA) means an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.

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