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Alphabet Soup: Understanding the Language of Special Education

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Updated on Mar 5, 2009

The IDEA requires the implementation of appropriate IEPs, so it's a good idea to meet with school officials to make sure your child is receiving a FAPE. Sound confusing? It can be. The world of special education seems to come with its own unique language. It’s full of abbreviations and shorthand that can be overwhelming for parents unfamiliar with the terminology.

In order to advocate for your child, you need to understand the alphabet soup. Below are some important terms and explanations:

  • IDEA: This is the accepted abbreviation for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, most recently revised in 2004. This federal law, along with the state counterparts, is the basis for all special education services provided to children throughout the country.
  • FAPE: This is the principle upon which the IDEA is based, that every child who meets the definition of a “child with a disability” under the IDEA is entitled to a Free, Appropriate, Public, Education.
  • IEP: The Individualized Education Program is a document created by the public school administration for each child receiving special educational services. It must address the child’s present level of performance, discuss how the child’s disability affects his progress and participation in class, set specific goals, and indicate how the child’s progress toward these goals will be measured. The IEP is a road map that the school is required to follow as it tracks each student through the school year.
  • LRE: Least Restrictive Environment refers to the principle, supported by the IDEA, that children should be provided with special education services in their regular classroom whenever appropriate. This is sometimes called "inclusion."
  • 504 and ADA: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act are both federal laws that prohibit discrimination and require schools to make “reasonable accommodations” to ensure education is accessible to all students.
  • NCLB: No Child Left Behind is a 2002 federal law requiring schools to have highly qualified teachers and scientifically proven teaching methods. NCLB also increases school accountability. NCLB provides options for parents whose children are in failing schools.
  • ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a behavior disorder characterized by severe inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Although not a learning disability, it often affects school performance and is covered under the IDEA.
  • Dyslexia: Dyslexia is a neurologically based learning disability that affects word recognition, reading, and spelling.
  • Dysgraphia: Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects handwriting.
  • Dyscalculia: Dyscalculia is a learning disability characterized by difficulty with mathematical concepts and calculations.

Knowledge is key to navigating the wealth of facts, figures, regulations, and services that exist within the realm of special education. Armed with the right information, you’ll be able to ensure your child receives an appropriate educational experience. Not only because he deserves it, but because it’s his legal right.

For more information about legal issues and disabled students' rights, click on http://www.wrightslaw.com.

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