Special Education Acronyms: Navigating The Special Ed System

Special Education Acronyms: Navigating The Special Ed System

With the recent surge of post pandemic delays in elementary schoolers, many parents are currently struggling to understand special education acronyms. It may feel like learning a new language, but we are here to help.

Special Education Acronyms Parents Should Know

Whether your child is currently receiving extra support at school or you’re beginning the process of having your child evaluated, it’s important to know what all the different Special Education (SPED) acronyms stand for and how they impact the services your child receives.

The following list contains the most common special education acronym questions we get at Healthy Young Minds.

  • “All of these acronyms and the special education journey itself may be quite intimidating,” explained Julie D’Orsi, HYM Lead Psychometrist. “Educating yourself on the process is the best way to ensure your success in getting the services your child may need. You know your child best and are their primary advocate. Trust your instincts.”


What is the IDEA in special education?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law governing special education that ensures children with eligible disabilities receive a free, appropriate public education and that they receive special education and related services. The law outlines how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services. IDEA covers children ages 3 to 21, while early intervention services cover infants and toddlers, or birth to age 2.

2. EI

What is EI in special education?

Early Intervention (EI) is a broad term that refers to the services and support a state must provide if a child age 0-2 has a developmental delay or disability. These services include everything from speech and occupational therapy, to physical and developmental therapy. EI also accounts for family collaboration, recognizing that infants and toddlers learn best in familiar settings supported by familiar people.

Research shows EI can have a profound impact on addressing delays and a child’s ability to learn new skills and overcome challenges. Each state and territory provides EI services for free or at a reduced cost. Pediatricians will typically refer a child for evaluation by the state’s EI program, but parents, daycare and preschools can also request to have a child evaluated.


What is an IFSP in special education?

Specific to Early Intervention, an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) outlines a child’s Early Intervention services – including your child’s current level of functioning in eight key areas of development. It also outlines desired outcomes and details on the services the child will receive and how. Unlike an IEP, an IFSP is family-based and must include a statement of the family’s resources and child’s needs. Like Early Intervention, the IFSP is run by your state.

4. IEP

What is an IEP in special education?

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) outlines the individualized special education, learning goals and related services required to meet a child’s special needs. Pursuant to the IDEA, students who qualify for an IEP must be diagnosed as having one or more of 13 disabilities listed in IDEA that impact the child’s learning or educational performance.

School staff is required to monitor a child’s progress towards IEP goals and objectives and must meet with parents each year to review the plan. An IEP is unique to each child and is based on the child’s strengths and areas of need. There are strict legal requirements around an IEP, so it’s important for parents to understand all of their child’s rights with respect to an IEP.

5. 504 Plan

What is a 504 plan in special education?

Similar to an IEP, a 504 plan outlines the special education services and classroom accommodations needed for a child with a disability. Unlike an IEP, the 504 plan does not change instruction, but ensures equal access to education. While it doesn’t necessarily need to be reviewed annually, a 504 plan is a formal legally binding plan that addresses the accommodations, supports or services a child needs (and who will provide the services). For example, a child in a wheelchair might need special accommodations to be able to fully participate in instruction with peers.

6. IEE

What’s an IEE in special education?

Under IDEA, parents have the right to request an independent educational evaluation (IEE) to determine whether their child qualifies for special education services. These are typically requested when a family disagrees with a school evaluation, and IDEA stipulates that parents have the right to ask for an IEE conducted by an independent party outside the school district.

“Your child may have needs that are not met by assessments provided by the school,” explains Julie D’Orsi. “ Typically, schools simply do not have the resources needed to provide a more tailored or more extensive evaluation. You have a legal right to request that a school pay for an independent evaluation and, if that right is denied, you have a right to appeal and have an independent third party review the decision.”

7. LRE

What is LRE in special education?

As defined by the IDEA, students with disabilities are required to be taught in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), ensuring that they can be “mainstreamed” and included with their non-disabled peers as much as possible. LRE can range from the least restrictive (having your child in a regular classroom with extra supports) to a “special needs” classroom in their local school to the most restrictive (a specialized school or hospital-based setting). LRE also ensures that students have the opportunity to participate in age-appropriate non-academic and extracurricular activities with same-age peers.

8. ESY

What is ESY in special education?

Extended School Year (ESY) services are an important feature in many IEPs. Unlike summer school, ESY services are individualized to your child’s needs and are typically recommended if your child is at risk of regressing or losing progress made towards their IEP goals. Depending on your child’s needs, ESY could include speech therapy during extended breaks, or full-time school in a special education classroom for the duration of the summer.


What is FAPE in special education?

Under the IDEA, every child age 3 to 22 is legally entitled to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) that meets their needs. This ensures that every child can participate in education to the extent of their abilities – including after-school activities. An “appropriate” education is one that’s similar to the education services received by non-disabled students but also meets your child’s needs This could include anything from education in a regular classroom with aids and services, a special education classroom, or education in a private, specialized school. IEPs play an important role in ensuring that a child’s education plan meets their needs.

10. MTSS

What is MTSS in special education?

A multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) is a data-based framework that educators use to screen all students and identify as early as possible any students that may be experiencing academic, behavioral, or social emotional challenges. This framework helps educators ensure that instructional resources are aligned to meet student needs. It also helps differentiate between students who might need supplemental learning and those that need more intensive special education.

Most school districts use three to four tiers of support, starting with whole-class interventions that might have students work in small groups based on needs and strengths. Struggling students may move to the next tiers of small group interventions or intensive individualized support, getting pulled out of the general education classroom for individual lessons. If a child is still struggling, the next step is typically an evaluation to determine if the child needs special education (though parents have the right to request an evaluation at any point).

Special Ed Parent Rights Glossary

If you have a child with special needs, you have certain special education rights as a parent under the IDEA. It's important to understand those rights and now what to ask for to ensure that your child gets the right level of support to meet their needs.

Here are the special ed terms parents should know to make the most out of the process and achieve the best outcomes.

1. Accommodations

What are accommodations in special education?

Accommodations in special education refer to changes made to support your child’s learning that don’t change the classroom instructional content. For example, a child with ADHD might learn better sitting on an exercise ball than a chair. Another child might require additional learning aids or modifications, for example, be allowed extra time for testing and homework.

2. Related Services

What are related services in special education?

Related services covers a broad range of supplemental services and supports that a child with an IEP or 504 plan might require to ensure they can benefit from special education. These supports and services include critical therapies like speech and language, physical and occupational therapy, adaptive recreation, evaluations, counseling and school health services, even transportation. Many of these related services are outlined in a child’s IEP to ensure that they are part of their education plan.

3. Procedural Safeguards

What are procedural safeguards in special education?

Procedural safeguards are focused on protecting the rights of children with disabilities and their parents and to ensure they have the ability to view and contest any decisions made by their school district. These safeguards include Prior Written Notice, which means the school district must contact you if it wants to change or does not change your child’s evaluation, identification or placement. Parents and their child also have the right to participate in any meeting discussing their child, review all educational records, and request an independent educational evaluation, or IEE, for their child.

In most cases, it is in the best interest of a school district to provide the most appropriate supports for a child. However, there may be instances when the parents and school district disagree about the type or level of services a child requires. Procedural safeguards are one way to protect parent and child rights. Another important protection is the use of an advocate.

4. Special Education Advocate

What is a special education advocate?

SPED advocates are independent advisors who specialize in all the laws and regulations related to special education in your state. They serve as a neutral third-part to families and provide critical advice with respect to supports and services, evaluations, and IEPs.

Check out Wright’s Law, one of the leading sources for information on SPED laws and parent child rights. It’s also a great resource when it comes to advocating effectively for your child.

  • “You are your child’s best advocate. Most times school districts are willing to work with families to ensure that children’s individual needs are met, but remember they are often juggling many families and limited budgets. Having an independent evaluation may be the step that is needed for your child’s wellbeing, both in and outside of school. At Healthy Young Minds, we first listen to your concerns then use the best, individualized instruments to get you the answers you so desperately need. We thoroughly explain the results and provide a treatment plan for home and school.” - Julie D'Orsi, Healthy Young Minds Lead Psychometrist

Written by Dr. Cari Whitlock

Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Neuropsychologist at Healthy Young Minds

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