Glossary: Special Education Terminology


Techniques and materials that allow individuals with LD to complete school or work tasks with greater ease and effectiveness. Examples include spellcheckers, tape recorders, and expanded time for completing assignments.

The Americans With Disabilities Act gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.

Analogy-based Phonics
In this approach, students are taught to use parts of words they have already learned to read and decode words they don’t know. They apply this strategy when the words share similar parts in their spellings, for example, reading screen by analogy to green. Students may be taught a large set of key words for use in reading new words.

Analytic Phonics
In this approach, a child learns how to analyze letter-sound relationships in previously learned words. They do not pronounce sounds in isolation.

is an acquired language disorder in which the person has either a partial or total loss of the ability to communicate verbally or using written words. This person would have difficulty to speak, read, write, recognize the names of objects, or understand what other people have said.

Asperger Syndrome
is an autism spectrum disorder named after the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger. Contrary to Autism, Children with Asperger’s may only be mildly affected and most of the time have good language and cognitive skills. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and a typical use of language are frequently reported.

Assistive Technology
Equipment that enhances the ability of students and employees to be more efficient and successful. For individuals with LD, computer grammar checkers, an overhead projector used by a teacher, or the audiovisual information delivered through a CD-ROM would be typical examples.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
A severe difficulty in focusing and maintaining attention. Often leads to learning and behavior problems at home, school, and work.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Any of a range of behavioral disorders in children characterized by symptoms that include poor concentration, an inability to focus on tasks, difficulty in paying attention, and impulsivity. A person can be predominantly inattentive (often referred to as ADD), predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, or a combination of these two.

means of or relating to the process of hearing, the organs of hearing, or the sense of hearing.

Auditory Memory
Ability to retain information which has been presented orally; may be short term memory, such as recalling information presented several seconds before; long term memory, such as recalling information presented more than a minute before; or sequential memory, such as recalling a series of information in proper order.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)
An inability to accurately process and interpret sound information. Students with APD often do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words. Also known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder, CAPD.

is a severe disorder of brain function marked by problems with social contact, intelligence and language, together with ritualistic or compulsive behavior and bizarre responses to the environment. These signs all begin before a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize; how this occurs is not well understood. The two other autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are Asperger syndrome, which lacks delays in cognitive development and language, and PDD-NOS, diagnosed when full criteria for the other two disorders are not met.

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Behavior Disorders
see Conduct Disorder

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)
A plan that includes positive strategies, program modifications, and supplementary aids and supports that address a student’s disruptive behaviors and allows the child to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

Brain Imaging Techniques
Recently developed, noninvasive techniques for studying the activity of living brains. Includes brain electrical activity mapping (BEAM), computerized axial tomography (CAT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Brain Injury
The physical damage to brain tissue or structure that occurs before, during, or after birth that is verified by EEG, MRI, CAT, or a similar examination, rather than by observation of performance. When caused by an accident, the damage may be called Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

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Child Development
refers to the biological and psychological changes that occur in human beings between birth and the end of adolescence, as the individual progresses from dependency to increasing autonomy.

Child Psychology
is the scientific study of the mental, emotional, and behavioral development of infants and children. It focuses on motor skills, cognitive development, moral and conceptual understanding, language acquisition, social, personality, and emotional development; and self-concept and identity formation.

A program model in which the LD teacher demonstrates for or team teaches with the general classroom teacher to help a student with LD be successful in a regular classroom.

Cognitive Development
the developmental process by which an infant becomes an intelligent person, acquiring knowledge with growth and improving his or her ability to think, learn, reason, and abstract. A large portion of research has gone into understanding how a child conceptualizes the world. Jean Piaget was a major force in the founding of this field, forming his “theory of cognitive development” in which he demonstrated the orderly sequence of this process from early infancy through childhood.

Conduct Disorder
is a behavioral and emotional disorder of childhood and adolescence where the child acts inappropriately, infringes on the rights of others, and violates the behavioral expectations of others. Symptoms include verbal and physical aggression, cruel behavior toward people and pets, destructive behavior, lying, truancy, vandalism, and stealing.

is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical object, such as a person, situation, or message whereby one is able to think about it and use concepts to deal adequately with that object.

Comprehension Strategies
Techniques to teach reading comprehension, including summarization, prediction, and inferring word meanings from context.

Comprehension Strategy Instruction
The explicit teaching of techniques that are particularly effective for comprehending text. The steps of explicit instruction include direct explanation, teacher modeling (“think aloud”), guided practice, and application. Some strategies include direct explanation (the teacher explains to students why the strategy helps comprehension and when to apply the strategy), modeling (the teacher models, or demonstrates, how to apply the strategy, usually by “thinking aloud” while reading the text that the students are using), guided practice (the teacher guides and assists students as they learn how and when to apply the strategy) and application (the teacher helps students practice the strategy until they can apply it independently).

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The ability to translate a word from print to speech, usually by employing knowledge of sound-symbol correspondences. It is also the act of deciphering a new word by sounding it out.

Developmental Aphasia
A severe language disorder that is presumed to be due to brain injury rather than because of a developmental delay in the normal acquisition of language.

Developmental disability
is a term used in the United States to describe life-long, disabilities attributable to mental and/or physical or combination of mental and physical impairments, manifested prior to age 18. The term is used most commonly in the United States to refer to disabilities affecting daily functioning in three or more of the following areas:

• capacity for independent living
• economic self-sufficiency
• learning
• mobility
• receptive and expressive language
• self-care
• self-direction

Direct Instruction
An instructional approach to academic subjects that emphasizes the use of carefully sequenced steps that include demonstration, modeling, guided practice, and independent application.

A severe difficulty in understanding and using symbols or functions needed for success in mathematics.

A severe difficulty in producing handwriting that is legible and written at an age-appropriate speed.

A severe difficulty in understanding or using one or more areas of language, including listening, speaking, reading, writing, and spelling.

A marked difficulty in remembering names or recalling words needed for oral or written language.

A severe difficulty in performing drawing, writing, buttoning, and other tasks requiring fine motor skill, or in sequencing the necessary movements.

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Embedded Phonics
In this approach, students learn vocabulary through explicit instruction on the letter-sound relationships during the reading of connected text, usually when the teacher notices that a student is struggling to read a particular word. Letter-sound relationships are taught as part of sight word reading. If the sequence of letter-sounds is not prescribed and sequenced, but is determined by whatever words are encountered in text, then the program is not systematic or explicit.

Eric Digest
ERIC – the Education Resources Information Center – is an online digital library of education research and information. ERIC is sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education. ERIC provides ready access to education literature to support the use of educational research and information to improve practice in learning, teaching, educational decision-making, and research.

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Fragile X Syndrome
or Martin-Bell syndrome, is the most common form of inherited mental retardation. People who suffer from this condition have developmental delay, variable levels of mental retardation, and behavioral and emotional difficulties. They may also have characteristic physical traits. Generally, males are affected with moderate mental retardation and females with mild mental retardation.

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A letter or letter combination that spells a single phoneme. For instance in English the sound “f” can be represented by ‘F’, ‘f’, ‘ff’, ‘FF’, ‘ph’, ‘PH’, ‘Ph’, ‘gh’, ‘GH’ such as the f in fun, the ph in phantom, and the gh in laugh.

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is the excessive and often inappropriate activity, often associated with attention-deficit disorder. A hyperactive person will often show strong emotional reactions, impulsive behavior, and sometimes a short span of attention. Some children may show these characteristics naturally, as personality differs from person to person. However, when hyperactivity starts to become a problem for the child or other people, it may be classified as a medical disorder.

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Individualized Education Program
commonly referred to as an IEP, is mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In Canada and the United Kingdom, an equivalent document is called an Individual Education Plan.

is a term used by people with disabilities and other disability rights advocates for the idea that all people should freely, openly and without pity accommodate any person with a disability without restrictions or limitations of any kind.

is the abbreviation for Intelligence Quotient which is an estimate of intelligence level. The IQ is usually calculated by dividing the mental age, derived through psychological testing, by the chronologic age and multiplying the result by 100. The average IQ is considered to be 100.

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is a designation for the sum of primary and secondary education. It is used in the United States, Canada, and some parts of Australia. The expression is a shortening of Kindergarten (4-6-year-old) through 12th grade (16-19 years old), the first and last grades of free education in the United States, Australia and English Canada. It is often used in school website URLs, generally appearing before the country code top-level domain (or in the United States, the state top-level domain).

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Learned Helplessness
A tendency to be a passive learner who depends on others for decisions and guidance. In individuals with LD, continued struggle and failure can heighten this lack of self-confidence.

Learning Disability (LD)
A disorder that affects people’s ability to either interpret what they see and hear or to link information from different parts of the brain. It may also be referred to as a learning disorder or a learning difficulty.

Learning Modalities
Approaches to assessment or instruction stressing the auditory, visual, or tactile avenues for learning that are dependent upon the individual.

Learning Strategy Approaches
Instructional approaches that focus on efficient ways to learn, rather than on curriculum. Includes specific techniques for organizing, actively interacting with material, memorizing, and monitoring any content or subject.

Learning Styles
Approaches to assessment or instruction emphasizing the variations in temperament, attitude, and preferred manner of tackling a task. Typically considered are styles along the active/passive, reflective/impulsive, or verbal/spatial dimensions.

Locus of Control
The tendency to attribute success and difficulties either to internal factors such as effort or to external factors such as chance. Individuals with learning disabilities tend to blame failure on themselves and achievement on luck, leading to frustration and passivity.

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Metacognitive Learning
Instructional approaches emphasizing awareness of the cognitive processes that facilitate one’s own learning and its application to academic and work assignments. Typical metacognitive techniques include systematic rehearsal of steps or conscious selection among strategies for completing a task.

Mental retardation
is a developmental disability, characterized by significantly impaired cognitive functioning and deficits in adaptive behaviors that first appears in children under the age of 18. Once focused almost entirely on cognition, the definition now includes both a component relating to mental functioning and one relating to individuals’ functional skills in their environment.

Minimal Brain Dysfunction (MBD)
A medical and psychological term originally used to refer to the learning difficulties that seemed to result from identified or presumed damage to the brain. Reflects a medical, rather than educational or vocational orientation.

Motor skills
is a learned series of movements that combine to produce a smooth and efficient action. Motor skills are divided into two parts:

• Gross motor skills include lifting one’s head, rolling over, sitting up, balancing, crawling, and walking. Gross motor development usually follows a pattern. Generally large muscles develop before smaller ones, thus, gross motor development is the foundation for developing skills in other areas (such as fine motor skills). Development also generally moves from top to bottom. The first thing a baby usually learns to control is its eyes.

• Fine motor skills include the ability to manipulate small objects, transfer objects from hand to hand, and various hand-eye coordination tasks. Fine motor skills may involve the use of very precise motor movement in order to achieve an especially delicate task. Some examples of fine motor skills are using the pincer grasp (thumb and forefinger) to pick up small objects, cutting, coloring, writing, or threading beads. Fine motor development refers to the development of skills involving the smaller muscle groups.

Multisensory Learning
An instructional approach that combines auditory, visual, and tactile elements into a learning task. Tracing sandpaper numbers while saying a number fact aloud would be a multisensory learning activity.

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National Institute for Literacy
Literacy is an individual’s ability to read and write, it enables us to achieve our goals, to develop our knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the community and wider society. Since its creation in 1991, the National Institute for Literacy has served as a catalyst for improving opportunities for adults, youth, and children to thrive in a progressively literate world.

Neuropsychological Examination
A series of tasks that allow observation of performance that is presumed to be related to the intactness of brain function.

Nonverbal learning disability
or nonverbal learning disorder (NLD or NVLD) is a neurological disorder which originates in the right hemisphere of the brain. NLD is characterized by a large discrepancy between high verbal and lower performance scores on an IQ test, with deficits in gross motor skills, visual-spatial relations and social skills.

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Onset-rime Phonics Instruction
In this approach, students learn to break monosyllabic words into their onsets (consonants preceding the vowel) and rimes (vowel and following consonants). They read each part separately and then blend the parts to say the whole word.

Oppositional defiant disorder
is a controversial psychiatric category described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as an ongoing pattern of disobedient, hostile and defiant behavior toward authority figures which supposedly goes beyond the bounds of normal childhood behavior. People who have it may appear very stubborn.

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Pervasive Developmental Disorders, PDD
The category of special education services for students with delays or deviance in their social, language, motor and or cognitive development. As opposed to specific developmental disorders, PDD refers to a group of five disorders: – Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), which includes atypical autism, and is the most common. – Autism, the best-known – Asperger syndrome – Rett syndrome – Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD).

Perceptual Handicap
Difficulty in accurately processing, organizing, and discriminating among visual, auditory, or tactile information. A person with a perceptual handicap may say that “cap/cup” sound the same or that “b” and “d” look the same. However, glasses or hearing aids do not necessarily indicate a perceptual handicap.

The smallest phonetic unit in a language that is capable of conveying a distinction in meaning, as the m of mat and the b of bat in English.

is a form of instruction to cultivate the understanding and use of the alphabetic principle. It emphasizes the predictable relationship between phonemes (the sounds in spoken language) and graphemes (the letters that represent those sounds in written language) and shows how this information can be used to read or decode words. See also: Analogy-based phonics, Analytic phonics, Embedded phonics, Onset-rime phonics instruction, Phonics through spelling, Synthetic phonics, Systematic and explicit phonics instruction.

Phonics through spelling
involves teaching children to segment words into phonemes and to make words by writing letters for those phonemes.

Prereferral Process
A procedure in which special and regular teachers develop trial strategies to help a student showing difficulty in learning remain in the regular classroom.

is a medical term denoting the doctor’s prediction of how a patient’s disease will progress, and whether there is chance of recovery.

Psychological Tests
Is a field characterized by the use of samples of behavior in order to assess psychological constructs, such as cognitive and emotional functioning, about a given individual. The technical term for the science behind psychological testing is psychometrics. Samples of behavior are observations over time of a person performing tasks that have usually been prescribed beforehand. These responses are often compiled into statistical tables that allow the evaluator to compare the behavior of the individual being tested to the responses of a norm group.

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Reading Disabilities
Another term for dyslexia, sometimes referred to as reading disorder or reading problems.

Resource Program
A program model in which a student with LD is in a regular classroom for most of each day, but also receives regularly scheduled individual services in a specialized LD resource classroom.

Ritalin (Methylphenidate)
is a psycho stimulant drug approved for treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and narcolepsy.

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Section 504
is one of the four key sections of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of Federal contractors. Section 504 created and extended civil rights to people with disabilities. It has provided opportunities for children and adults with disabilities in education, employment and various other settings. It allows for reasonable accommodations such as special study area and assistance as necessary for each student.

The development of specific skills and understandings that enable children and adults to explain their specific learning disabilities to others and cope positively with the attitudes of peers, parents, teachers, and employers.

Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID)
also called sensory processing disorder, is a neurological disorder that was first studied in-depth by Dr. Jean Ayres who describes sensory integration as the ability to organize sensory information for use by the brain. An individual with sensory integration dysfunction would therefore have an inability to organize sensory information as it comes in through the senses.

Social Skills
is any skill facilitating interaction and communication with others. Social rules and relations are created, communicated, and changed in verbal and nonverbal ways. The process of learning such skills is called socialization.

Special Education (SPED)
Services offered to children who possess one or more of the following disabilities: specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, multiple disabilities, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, autism, combined deafness and blindness, traumatic brain injury, and other health impairments.

Special needs
is a term used in clinical diagnostic and functional development to describe individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental, or psychological.The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the International Classification of Diseases show guidelines for clinical diagnosis. Autism, Down syndrome, developmental delays, blindness, and cystic fibrosis are examples of special needs.

Specific developmental disorders
categorizes specific learning disabilities and developmental disorders affecting coordination.

Specific Language Disability (SLD)
A severe difficulty in some aspect of listening, speaking, reading, writing, or spelling, while skills in the other areas are age-appropriate. Also called Specific Language Learning Disability (SLLD).

Specific Learning Disability (SLD)
The official term used in federal legislation to refer to difficulty in certain areas of learning, rather than in all areas of learning. Synonymous with specific learning disabilities and learning disabilities.

also known as stammering, is a speech disorder in which the flow of speech is disrupted by involuntary repetitions and prolongations of sounds, syllables, words or phrases, and involuntary silent pauses or blocks in which the stuttered is unable to produce sounds. ‘Verbal non-fluency’ is the accepted umbrella term for such speech impediments.

Subtype Research
A recently developed research method that seeks to identify characteristics that are common to specific groups within the larger population ofindividuals identified as having learning disabilities.

Synthetic Phonics
In this instructional approach, students learn how to convert letters or letter combinations into a sequence of sounds, and then how to blend the sounds together to form recognizable words.

Systematic And Explicit Phonics Instruction
provides instruction in a carefully selected and useful set of letter-sound relationships and then organizes the introduction of these relationships into a logical instructional sequence. Children can practice and review the relationships they are learning.

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Commonly used to refer to the change from secondary school to postsecondary programs, work, and independent living typical of young adults. Also used to describe other periods of major change such as from early childhood to school or from more specialized to mainstreamed settings.

Tourette syndrome, also called Tourette’s syndrome, Tourette’s disorder, Gilles de la Tourette syndrome, GTS or, more commonly, simply Tourette’s or TS, is an inherited neuropsychiatric disorder with onset in childhood, characterized by the presence of multiple physical (motor) tics and at least one vocal (phonic) tic; these tics characteristically wax and wane. Tourette’s is defined as part of a spectrum of tic disorders, which includes transient and chronic tics.

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The terms definitions of this glossary were adapted from the following sources:  Dr. Jean Lokerson, ERIC Digest; The Partnership for Reading; Good Learners Teaching guide; The dictionary by Farlex.

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