MY GUIDE > Special Education Acronyms and Terms

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Learn to speak “special education”

Like a lot of professional fields, Special Education has its own special terms and acronyms. (An acronym is an abbreviation made up of the first letters of other words in a phrase or name.) Educators and service providers use these terms as shortcuts, and sometimes they forget that not everyone knows what they mean. When you don’t understand what a professional is saying, ask for an explanation. Usually the person you are talking with will be happy to help you understand.

Here are some of the most commonly used acronyms, shortcuts and the terms they stand for. See links to more extensive lists below.

504—Section 504 is a federal law designed to protect the rights of people with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal funding. Children with disabilities who do not qualify for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) may receive supports, services, and accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. For instance, a parent of a child with a disability who doesn’t qualify for special education but still needs assistance may be advised to look into “a 504 plan” for their child.

ARD—Stands for Admission Review and Dismissal. The group that meets to guide a child’s admission to and dismissal from special education is called the ARD Committee. This group writes and reviews the child’s IEP (see below). This term is used almost exclusively in Texas. In other states, the ARD Committee is known as the “IEP Team.” You may see the terms “ARD Committee,” “ARDC,” “ARD/IEP team,” or just “IEP team.” They are all the same.

ECI—Stands for Early Childhood Intervention. This is a key program providing educational and developmental assistance (and possibly other services) for children with disabilities and medical diagnoses from the ages of birth to 3.

FAPE—Stands for Free Appropriate Public Education. Every child with a disability is entitled to a free, appropriate public education. 

FIE—Stands for Full Individual Evaluation, an assessment of your child’s abilities to determine his eligibility and needs for special education services.

FIIE—Stands for Full Individual and Initial Evaluation. The terms “FIE” and “FIIE” are used interchangeably and mean the same thing.

IDEA—Stands for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal law that guides special education and Early Childhood Intervention.

IEP—Stands for Individualized Education Program. This is the plan, written by the ARD Committee, that guides the education for a child with disabilities.

IFSP—Stands for Individualized Family Service Plan. This is the plan, written by the IFSP team, that guides services and supports for infants and toddlers and their families.

LRE—Stands for Least Restrictive Environment. This describes a setting where a child with disabilities can be with peers who do not have disabilities and still accomplish his IEP goals.

PLAAFP—Stands for Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance. This is a statement of a child’s current skills, abilities and needs. It is used to develop the IEP. One way to think of it is that the PLAAFP is where your child is now, and the IEP annual goals describe where you hope your child will be in a year.

ECSE—Stands for Early Childhood Special Education. This is a key program providing educational and developmental assistance (and possibly other services) for children with disabilities from the ages of 3 through 5.