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PFA Tips: Understanding Common Acronyms in Special Education

Download a printable version of “Understanding Common Acronyms in Special Education”


It can feel confusing if everyone in an IEP meeting is throwing around letters you are not familiar with. So here is a brief cheat sheet of some of the most common acronyms related to special education.

ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) – a scientific approach requiring the implementation of established principles of learning, behavioral strategies, and environmental modifications to improve and teach new behaviors.

ACM (Alternate or Augmentative Communication Method) – A communication system individually developed for a person who is non-verbal, such as sign language, picture symbols, etc.

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) – Enacted in 1990, the premier civil rights law supporting equal access in all areas of life for people with disabilities.

ADLs (Activities of Daily Living) – Activities associated with maintaining personal hygiene and nutritional status, money management, and maintaining the personal living environment.

AT (Assistive Technology) – Devices or equipment used to assist people with disabilities more effectively carry out activities of daily living.

BP (Behavior Plan) – A plan that’s based on an FBA to help replace problem behaviors with more positive ones.

CBM (Curriculum-Based Measurement) – A method teachers use to find out how students are progressing in basic academic areas such as math, reading, writing, and spelling.

DD (Developmental Delay) – When a child does not reach their developmental milestones at the expected times.

DD (Developmental Disability) – A diverse group of chronic conditions that are due to mental or physical impairments that arise before adulthood and can be persistent for the lifespan.

DDA (Developmental Disabilities Administration) – The State agency mandated to provide services to individuals with developmental disabilities in Maryland.

DORS (Division of Rehabilitative Services) – A division of the State Department of Education which focuses on the vocational needs of persons with disabilities.

EI (Early Intervention) – Individualized services for infants and toddlers who are at risk for or are showing signs of developmental delay.

ESY (Extended School Year) – Individualized instructional program for eligible students with disabilities that is provided beyond the regular school year.

FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) – Public schools are required to provide appropriate education and modifications, aids and related services free of charge to students with disabilities.

FBA (Functional Behavioral Assessment) – The process for collecting data to help determine why a behavior occurs.

FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) – A federal privacy law that gives parents certain protections with regard to their children’s education records, such as report cards, transcripts, disciplinary records, contact and family information, and class schedules.

HSA (Maryland High School Assessments) – Tests that measure school and individual student progress toward Maryland’s High School Core Learning Goals. Passing the HSA is a graduation requirement.

ID (Intellectual Disability) – Intellectual disability is a disability characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills. This disability originates before the age of 18.

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) – The federal law that guarantees all children with disabilities access to a free and appropriate public education.

IEP (Individualized Education Program) – A written plan for a child with a disability that is developed and implemented in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan) – A written plan describing the infant’s current level of development, the family’s strengths and needs related to enhancement of the infant’s development, goals for the infant and the other family members, and the specific early intervention services needed to meet the goals.

ITP (Individualized Transition Plan) – Addresses areas of post-school activities, post secondary education, employment, community experiences and daily living skills.

LD (Learning Disability) – Neurologically-based processing problems that can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math. They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention.

LEA (Local Education Agency) – A school district.

LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) – IDEA clause that states students with disabilities should be educated with students without disabilities to the maximum appropriate extent.

MDTAP (Maryland Technology Assistance Program) – Support access to assistive technology (AT) devices and services.

MSA (Maryland School Assessment) – A test of reading and math achievement for grades 3-8 that meets the testing requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

MSDE (Maryland State Department of Education) – The State agency which oversees public school districts.

OT (Occupational Therapy/Therapist) – Customized intervention to improve a person’s fine motor skills and ability to perform daily activities.

PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) – A set of assessments that measure whether students are on track to be successful in college and careers.

PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) – The emphasis on schoolwide systems of support that include proactive strategies for defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate student behaviors to create positive school environments.

PLEP (Present Level of Educational Performance) – A summary describing the student’s current achievement in the areas of need as determined by an evaluation.

PPS (Pupil Personnel Services) – Provides direct services and case management to students who are experiencing academic, behavioral, emotional, physical, and social difficulties,

PT (Physical Therapist or Physical Therapy) – Customized intervention to improve gross motor skills, such as sitting, crawling, standing, walking, kicking a ball, and jumping.

SECAC (Special Education Citizens Advisory Committee) – A forum which enables a local director of special education to seek meaningful input from parents, community partners, service providers, and school administrators on local issues.

SESAC (Special Education State Advisory Committee) – Advises the State Board on unmet needs of students with disabilities, including the development of evaluations, reports, and corrective action plans in response to federal monitoring, and implementing policies and procedures to coordinate services for students with disabilities.

SI (Sensory Integration) – The process by which we receive information through our senses, organize this information, and use it to participate in everyday activities.

SLP (Speech-Language Pathologist) – SLPs work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders in children and adults.

TY (Transitioning Youth) – A special category of eligibility and priority for services. Through the Governor’s Transitioning Youth Initiative the DDA, in collaboration with the Division of Rehabilitative Services (DORS), has been able to fund supported employment and other day services for eligible graduating students who otherwise may not have received DDA services.

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