A Basic Glossary for Parents of Children With Special Needs


Not sure what some of the technical terms in your child’s IEP mean, and missed the chance to ask the teacher? Here are several definitions of common terms used in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act:

Autism: A developmental disability involving meaningful verbal and nonverbal communication issues and social non-interaction. Generally evident at age three or earlier. Adversely affects educational performance. May also show signs of repetitive or stereotyped movements, resistance to change, and unusual responses to sensory stimulation. If a child’s educational performance is impacted mostly by emotional disturbance, they may not be treated as autistic even if many of these factors are presented.

Deaf-Blindness: A simultaneous visual and hearing impairment which results in severe communication and other developmental issues that can only be accommodated within a program specifically created for children with deafness, blindness, and/or deaf-blindness.

Emotional Disturbance: A condition that adversely affects a child’s educational performance and meets one or more of the following standards:

• An inability to relate satisfactorily with peers and teachers,

• Continuous inappropriate behavior under otherwise-normal circumstances,

• Continuous pervasive negative emotional state under otherwise-normal circumstances,

• A marked tendency to develop fears or physical symptoms related to school or personal issues.

• A learning disability that cannot be explained by any other standard factors.

• The educational performance is not being impacted by “mere” social maladjustment.

Intellectual Disability: A significant sub-average level of general intellect co-existent with adaptive behavior deficits and adversely affecting the child’s educational performance.

Orthopedic Impairment: A severe impairment of the skeleton or connective tissue that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Can include diseases (i.e. polio), birth defects (i.e. osteogenesis imperfecta), or impairments with other causes (i.e. cerebral palsy, amputations.)

Other Health Impairment: Educational performance limited by a significantly lower-than-average degree of strength, vitality, or alertness with respect to the education environment caused by a chronic or acute health problem. Asthma, ADHD, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, hemophilia, leukemia, nephritis, sickle cell anemia, Tourette syndrome, and many other issues can fall under this umbrella.

Specific Learning Disability: A disorder in at least one of the basic brain processes used to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do math. Does not include learning problems that are the result of direct sensory disabilities, motor disabilities, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

Speech Impairment or Language Impairment: Adversely affected educational performance due to communication disorder including stuttering, malarticulation, delayed language development, or voice impairment.

Infant with a Disability or Toddler with a Disability: A person under 3 years of age that requires early intervention to address significant developmental delays in one or more areas, including cognitive development, physical development, communication development, social development, emotional development, and adaptive development.

At-Risk Infant or At-Risk Toddler: As above, but after the person in question has begun to respond to early intervention.

Twice Exceptional or 2E: A student with special needs who also shows evidence of high achievement capacity in intellectual, artistic, creative, or leadership areas, or in specific academic fields, who requires a level of activity or engagement not provided by the school’s ordinary curriculum in order to fully explore and develop those capacities.

Source by Peter Mangiola