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Are all of these words and acronyms, the abbreviations, do I really need to know this, you ask?
I strongly recommend you learn the ones that fit you and your kiddo.  I have found that once you have the lingo, the language of a certain discipline, you can make your way.  Getting a handle on the vocabulary of the law, the doctors, and educators is going to help you immensely.  So just take your time…find the specific ones that apply to you and get these under your belt.

I will be linking words and abbreviations/acronyms from pages back into this list just in case you have one of those “brain fades” (you know what else they are called “-) … for me we can rightly call it a “senior moment”.  Hang in there…take your time and use these terms with friends and family. As you do they will begin to lock into your head so you can bring them up when you need them.



Genetic disorders
These occur where there is a problem with an individual’s DNA.
Single gene disorders
This is where a problem occurs in a single gene. Cystic fibrosis is an example of a single gene disorder.

Chromosomal disorders
This is caused by fewer, additional, or altered sets of chromosomes.  Down’s syndrome is a chromosomal disorder.

Multifactorial disorders
These are caused by mutations in multiple genes, which may interact with environmental factors.  Multifactorial disorders tend to occur later in life, such as colon cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Down’s syndrome
Down’s syndrome (also known as Down syndrome and Trisomy 21) is a genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra chromosome in a person’s DNA. It’s not hereditary, or a disease, but instead occurs by chance at conception.

Angelman syndrome
This is a chromosomal (neuro-genetic) disorder caused by the absence of a gene. People with Angelman syndrome will have developmental delay, little or no speech, seizures, and walking and balance disorders.

Sotos syndrome
This is a genetic disorder characterised by excessive physical growth during the first few years of a child’s life. Children with Sotos syndrome are usually large at birth and often heavier, taller and have larger heads than is normal for their age.

Cystic fibrosis
CF is an inherited disease.  If two carriers have a child, there is a one in four chance their baby will have CF.  It affects the internal organs (especially the lungs and digestive system) by clogging them with thick, sticky mucus, which makes it hard to breathe and digest food.

Fragile X
Fragile X (also known as Martin-Bell syndrome) is the most common known cause of inherited learning disabilities. It is caused by a ‘fragile’ or broken site on the X chromosome and affects more males than females. It can cause a wide range of difficulties with learning, as well as social, language, emotional and behavioral problems.


Social Communication Disorders and Conditions

This is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to other people. It’s also known as autistic spectrum disorder, or ASD. People with autism have difficulties with everyday social interaction. Autism is often described as a ‘spectrum disorder’ because the condition affects people in many different ways and to varying degrees.

Asperger’s syndrome
This is a form of autism. People with Asperger syndrome may have difficulties in social relationships and communicating, and limitations in social imagination and creative play. Asperger syndrome has many similarities with high-functioning autism (in fact, some argue that there is no need for the two terms).

Deficit in Attention Motor control and Perception (DAMP)
DAMP describes having some or all ADHD characteristics, as well as having motor difficulties and problems interpreting what you see and what you hear.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
ADHD (sometimes called hyperkinetic disorder) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) refer to a range of behavioral disorders or problem behaviours associated with poor attention span. These may include restlessness and hyperactivity, and often prevent children from socialising and learning.

Selective mutism
This is an anxiety disorder that affects both children and adults. People with selective mutism find it hard or impossible to speak in certain situations or to certain people, although they can speak normally when they are comfortable, for example, at home. Around eight in 1,000 people are thought to be affected.


General Developmental Disorders

Global developmental delay (GDD) – DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITY
If a child has delayed achievement of one or more developmental milestones (eg motor skills, speech and language skills, social skills) this is called developmental delay. Global developmental delay is the term used when a child has delays in all areas of development. There may be an underlying cause that is already known or can be diagnosed (such as a chromosomal or genetic disorder) or the underlying cause may be unknown.

Neurocutaneous Disorders

Hypomelanosis of Ito
An extremely rare syndrome affecting pigmentation of the skin (also known as Incontinentia pigmenti achromians or IPA). It may be associated with seizures and developmental delay. Related conditions include pigmentary mosaicism and Ito syndrome.


Neurological disorders

Sensory processing disorder
SPD, also known as sensory integration dysfunction, is a complex disorder of the brain which means that sensory signals from the body are not processed by the brain in the usual way. A person with SPD may find it difficult to process and act on information received through their senses, and so struggle to perform everyday tasks. It is thought about one in 20 people is affected by SPD.

Also called developmental coordination disorders, or DCD. Children with dyspraxia have difficulties with motor coordination (tasks such as crawling, walking, jumping and fine coordination) when compared to children of the same age. People with dyspraxia may also experience problems with delayed speech or other speech problems. Dyspraxia is a life-long condition, but people are often undiagnosed and characterised instead as ‘clumsy’ or ‘arkward’.

Verbal dyspraxia
Verbal dyspraxia may occur alone or with other dyspraxic symptoms. It’s thought that children with verbal dyspraxia have a problem with making the precise movements needed to coordinate speech.

This causes a tendency to have recurrent seizures (or fits). A seizure is caused by a sudden burst of excess electrical activity in the brain, which causes a temporary disruption in the messages passing between brain cells, which in turn results in the brain’s normal messages being scrambled.

Semantic pragmatic disorder
SPD is a term used to describe children with possible autistic spectrum tendencies and communication problems caused by specific language difficulties, for example talking in memorised phrases rather than putting words together freely.

Tourette’s syndrome
Tourette’s syndrome (sometimes known as multiple tic disorder or tic spectrum disorder) is an inherited neurological (brain) condition that results in involuntary and uncontrollable sounds and movements.

Auditory Processing Disorder
People with APD have difficulties processing auditory (verbal) information. APD is not a hearing problem, but an inability to process what is heard.

Congenital bilateral perisylvian syndrome
CBPS describes a malformation in the structure of the brain. There is a very wide spectrum in how this affects people, varying from severe brain impairments and epilepsy to very mild cognitive impairments. Lissencephaly is an umbrella term for brain disorders of the type including CBPS.

Mylagic encephalomyelitis (ME)
Mylagic encephalomyelitis, also known as ME, is a neurological disorder characterized by debilitating physical and mental exhaustion following normal, everyday activities. The symptoms of ME can include muscle and joint pain, disordered sleep, gastric disturbances and poor memory and concentration. The majority of people affected experience a fluctuating pattern of recovery and relapse.


Mobility and Muscular Disorders

Cerebral palsy
CP includes a variety of conditions, and is not an illness or disease itself. Instead, it is the description of a physical impairment that affects movement. No two people with CP are the same, and the degree to which it affects people varies from barely noticeable to extremely severe. CP is most commonly the result of failure of a part of the brain to develop properly or damage to the brain, either before or during birth, or in early childhood. There are three main types of CP (which correspond to injuries to different parts of the brain):

• Spastic CP: muscles become weak and stiff, especially under effort, which can affect movements.
• Athetoid CP: causes some loss of control of posture, which may also affect other movements.
• Ataxic CP: causes problems with balance, and sometimes irregular speech and shaky hand movements.

Muscular Dystrophy
The terms ‘muscle disease’, ‘muscular dystrophy’, ‘neuromuscular conditions’ and ‘neuromuscular disorders’ all describe a large spectrum of conditions affecting the muscles or the nerves which control the muscles.

Hypermobility describes the joint laxity that results from connective tissue problems, which causes joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments to be laxer and more fragile than is the case for most people. With this comes vulnerability to the effects of injury.



Special Educational Needs 
First, a note explaining what special educational needs are and why they’re different from special needs.
‘Special educational needs’ (SEN) is a phrase that is frequently used in schools and nurseries, and comes with a person who serves as a ‘special  educational needs coordinator’ (SENCO).   The education world has its own set of jargon much like a physician does.   world

Be aware that you can have special educational needs without coming under the ‘special needs’ umbrella – for example, a child with dyslexia would be considered to have SEN but would not really be considered a child with special needs.  However, children with special needs would have special educational needs.  Still confused?   Hmmm, I sometimes felt a little lost too.  Hang in there, you’ll get it.

This is a learning difficulty that makes it extremely difficult to read, write, and spell.  Dyslexia is not linked to intelligence or lack of intelligence.

This is a problem with writing by hand. Children and adults with dysgraphia have messy or illegible handwriting and may write with a mix of upper and lower case letters.


NOTE:  Rosa’s Law changed the term ‘mental retardation’ to be used in future references as “intellectual disability.”   The definition of the term itself did not change, only the use of “intellectual disability” instead of “mental retardation.”


Over the years while working in the health and safety field (OSHA & EPA), there were many, many abbreviated terms used.  It can get a little mind boggling to muddle through these acronyms/abbreviations when they are used in settings like the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting and frankly could be intimidating.  So, here is a list that can help you stay on top of the abbreviated terms that may be used by one of the professionals in your life.


ACRONYMS/Abbreviations  A to Z


A Acronyms
AAC | Alternative Augmentative Communication
ABA | Applied Behavioral Analysis
ABC | Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence
ADA |Americans with Disabilities Act
ADD/ADHD | Attention Deficit/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
ADLs | Activities of Daily Living
ADR | Alternative Dispute Resolution
AIM | Accessible Instructional Materials
APE | Adaptive Physical Education
APR | Annual Performance Report
ARD | Admission, Review, and Dismissal Committee
ARRA | American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
ASD | Autism Spectrum Disorders
ASL | American Sign Language
AT | Assistive Technology
AYP | Adequate Yearly Progress

B Acronyms
BD | Behavioral Disorder
BIE | Bureau of Indian Education
BIP | Behavioral Intervention Plan
BOE | Board of Education

C Acronyms
CAP | Corrective Action Plan
CAPD | Central Auditory Processing Disorder
CAPTA | Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act
CBA | Curriculum Based Assessment
CC | Closed Captioning
CDA | Child Development Associate
CDC | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
CEC | Council for Exceptional Children
CF | Cystic Fibrosis
CFR | Code of Federal Regulations
CIFMS | Continuous Improvement and Focused Monitoring System
COP | Community of Practice
CP | Cerebral Palsy
CPRC | Community Parent Resource Center
CSHCN | Children with Special Health Care Needs
CSPD | Comprehensive System of Personnel Development
CST | Child Study Team

D Acronyms
DB | Deaf-Blind
DD | Developmental Delay
DD Act | Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act
DIBELS | Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy
DoDDS | Department of Defense Dependent Schools
DS | Down Syndrome
DSM | Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association

E Acronyms
ECE | Early Childhood Education
ECSE | Early Childhood Special Education
ED | Emotional Disturbance
ED | U.S. Department of Education
EDGAR | Education Department General Administrative Regulationsschool books
EHA | Education of the Handicapped Act (now IDEA)
EHDI | Early Hearing Detection and Intervention
EI | Early Intervention
EIS | Early Intervening Services
ELL | English Language Learner
EMH | Educable Mentally Handicapped
EMR | Educable Mentally Retarded
EPSDT | Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment
ERIC | Educational Resources Information Center
ESD | Extended School Day
ESEA | Elementary and Secondary Education Act
ESL | English as a Second Language
ESY or EYS | Extended School Year or Extended Year Services

F Acronyms
FAPE | Free Appropriate Public Education
FAS | Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
FBA | Functional Behavioral Assessment
FC | Facilitated Communication
FEOG | Full Educational Opportunity Goal
FERPA | Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
FOIA | Freedom of Information Act

G and H Acronyms
GE | General Education
GPRA | Government Performance and Results Act
GT | Gifted and Talented
HI | Hearing Impaired
HO | Hearing Officer
HoH | Hard of Hearing
HOUSSE | High Objective Uniform State Standards of Evaluation
HQT | Highly Qualified Teacher

I Acronyms
IA | Instructional Assistant
IAES | Interim Alternative Educational Setting
ID | Intellectual Disabilities
IDEA | Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

IEE | Individualized Educational Evaluation
IEP | Individualized Education Program
IES | Institute of Education Sciences
IFSP | Individualized Family Service Plan
IHE | Institution of Higher Education
ITCA | Infants and Toddlers Coordinators Association
ITP | Individualized Transition Plan

L, M, and N Acronyms
LD | Learning Disability
LEA | Local Education Agency
LEP | Limited English Proficiency
LRE | Least Restrictive Environment
MD | Muscular Dystrophy
MD or MH | Multiple Disabilities or Multiply Handicapped
MDR | Manifestation Determination Review
MMR | Mildly Mentally Retarded
Mod MR | Moderately Mentally Retarded
MOU | Memorandum of Understanding
MR | Mental Retardation
NASDSE | National Association of State Directors of Special Education
NCLB | No Child Left Behind Act (Elementary and Secondary Education Act)
NIH | National Institutes of Health
NIMAS | National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard
NIMH | National Institute of Mental Health
NPRM | Notice of Proposed Rule Making

O Acronyms
OCD | Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
OCR | Office of Civil Rights
ODD | Oppositional Defiant Disorder
OHI | Other Health Impairment
OI | Orthopedic Impairment
O & M | Orientation and Mobility
OSEP | Office of Special Education Programs
OT | Occupational Therapy

during the lessonP and R Acronyms
P&A | Protection & Advocacy
PALS | Peer-Assisted Learning System
PASS | Plan for Achieving Self-Support
PBS | Positive Behavioral Supports
PCA | Personal Care Attendant
PD | Physical Disability
PDD | Pervasive Developmental Disorder
PEI | Spanish acronym for the Individualized Education Program (Plan Educativo Individualizado)
Perkins Act | Carl Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act
PLEP or PLP | Present Level of Educational Performance or Present Level of Performance
PP | Paraprofessional
PS | Preschool
PT | Physical Therapy
PTI | Parent Training and Information Center
RFP | Request for proposals
RS | Related Services
RTI | Response to Intervention
RTTT | Race to the Top Fund

S Acronyms
SAS | Supplementary Aids and Services
SB | Spina Bifida
SCHIP | State Children’s Health Insurance Program
SE | Special Education
SEA | State Education Agency
SEAC | Special Education Advisory Committee
Section 504 | Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
SED | Serious Emotional Disturbance
SI & SPD | Sensory Integration and/or Sensory Processing Disorder
SIG | State Improvement Grant
SIP | State Implementation Plan
SLD | Specific Learning Disability
SLI | Speech/Language Impairment
SLP | Speech/Language Pathologist
SPOA | Specific Power of Attorney
SPP | State Performance Plan
SSDI | Social Security Disability Income
SSI | Supplemental Security Income
SST | Student Study Team

T to Z Acronyms
TA&D | Technical Assistance and Dissemination Network funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)
TANF | Temporary Assistance to Needy Families
TBI | Traumatic Brain Injury
TDD | Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf
TMH | Trainable Mentally Handicapped
TMR | Trainable Mentally Retarded
TS | Tourette Syndrome
T-TA | Training and Technical Assistance
TTY | Teletypewriter (phone system for the deaf)
TWWIIA | Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act
VI |Visual Impairment
Voc Ed | Vocational Education
VR | Vocational Rehabilitation
WIC | Women, Infants and Children (Special Supplemental Food Program)
WWC | What Works Clearinghouse


WHEW!  This is a lot, I know.   But having a way to capture a term or definition quickly may prove helpful as you navigate the special needs world.  So….I hope this proves to be a resource to you.  On each of the pages you have green buttons at the top of the narrative.    You can choose to make copies of this as a pdf, email it, or print what you want from this lengthy vocabulary list.   It should make it easier for you to get a hard copy of what you need.  I hope you find this site feature valuable.

Questions or Comments?  Comment below or drop me a line at linda@specialneedsadvocatepower.com

2 Responses to “Vocabulary-Terms-Acronyms

  • admin


    I have been out of the loop with a family member who received a cancer diagnosis in March. Many doc appointments and treatments later we are hopefully on the mend. If you’d like to contact me I have an email linda@specialneedsadvocatepower.com. It is embedded in many of my posts. I plan on getting a newsletter up and running so folks can get a heads up when I post something. Let me know if this works for you. Linda

  • admin

    Hello Stephanie.

    There is a wealth of information in the videos and other articles or videos I have in my library. Let me know if there is something specific you are searching as related to special needs and I will keep it in mind as I put up posts.

    Stay well!


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