Special Education Terms

There are many facets to special education, from pre-referral to consent to evaluation to programs and services.  There are also many specialized words and acronyms used in the field of special education.  It can all be quite overwhelming when you try to start navigating the system. 

The links below will guide you through the many special education terms and assist you in becoming more comfortable with the world of special education.

Early On through Oakland Schools (age 0-3 years)

Early Intervention located at Twin Sun (age 0-3 years)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

Cognitive Impairment (CI), also referred to as intellectual disability, describes the condition of a child whose intellectual functioning level and adaptive skills are significantly below the average for a child of his chronological age. It is the most common developmental disorder, occurring in approximately 12 of every 1000 children.(1) Varying levels of developmental delays may be identified in a child’s social skills, emotional development, communication capabilities, physical function, and academic skill sets.(2) 

Deaf-Blindness (DB) means having both hearing impairment and visual impairment, the combination of which causes severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that cannot be accommodated in special education programs without additional supports to address the unique needs specific to deaf-blindness. Deaf-blindness also means both of the following:

a)    Documented hearing and visual losses that, if considered individually, may not meet the requirements for visual impairment or hearing impairment, but the combination of the losses affects educational performance.

b)    Such students function as if they have both a hearing and visual loss, based upon responses to auditory and visual stimuli in the environment, or during vision and hearing evaluations.

Early Childhood Developmental Delay (ECDD)

Students, 0 through 7 years of age, whose primary impairment cannot be differentiated and who have an impairment of one-half of the expected development for chronological age in one or more areas of development.  

Early Childhood Developmental Delay (ECDD) Program is a special education preschool program designed to foster and develop basic learning skills for children, from three through six years of age, with physical, cognitive, language, hearing, visual, emotional or autism spectrum disorder impairments. The program focuses on developmentally appropriate school readiness skills, and has been created to meet the individual needs of each child. The ECDD team prepares the children for, and provides them with, the skills needed to make a successful transition to the elementary school. Children who qualify for the program receive specialized instruction from certified staff.  

Emotional Impairment (EI)  Students who have emotional challenges which adversely affect their education to the extent that they cannot profit from general education learning experiences without specialized support may be eligible for special education.  Areas of eligibility include:

a)    Inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships within the school

b)    Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances

c)     General pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression

d)    Tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems

Hearing Impairment (HI)

Students with a significant degree of hearing loss that interferes with their development or adversely affects their educational performance in a general education classroom may be eligible for special education

Other Health Impairment (OHI)

Students with a chronic or acute health problem, which limits strength, vitality or alertness and adversely affects their educational performance, may be eligible for special education.

Physical Impairment (PI)

Students with a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects their educational performance and may require physical adaptations within the school environment may be eligible for special education.

Severe Multiple Impairment (SXI)

Students who have moderate to severe impairment in cognitive ability and impairment in one or more of the following areas: hearing, vision, physical and health are eligible for special education.

Specific Learning Disability (SLD)

A specific learning disability is “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations, including conditions such a perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia that adversely affects a student’s educational performance. A SLD does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; mental retardation; emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.” (34CFR300.8(c)(10)).

District Process for Determination of a Specific Learning Disability:

Each local education agency and public school academy in Michigan is required to publicly post the process used to determine the existence of a Specific Learning Disability.

Consistent with this requirement, Walled Lake Schools reports the following:

For determination of a SLD, a Pattern of Strengths and Weaknesses (PSW) process is used for students in kindergarten through grade 12, which includes: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, reading comprehension, reading fluency, math calculation, and math problem solving.

It is noted that regardless of the process used, all schools must follow all of the regulatory requirements in the IDEA, the MARSE, and Michigan laws, policies and procedures for special education.

What is a SLD?

A Specific Learning Disability is “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations, including conditions such a perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia that adversely affects a student’s educational performance. A SLD does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; mental retardation; emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.” (34CFR300.8 [c][10]).

What is a PSW (Patterns of Strengths and Weaknesses) Process?

Pattern of Strengths and Weaknesses is a process that is used to determine if a student has a SLD. This process involves the collection of data to determine the following:

•   The student does not achieve adequately for the student’s age or to meet State approved grade-level standards in one or more of the areas identified at 34 CFR 300.309(a)(1)(i) when provided with learning experiences and instruction appropriate for the student’s age or State-approved grade-level standards.

 •   The student exhibits a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, achievement, or both, relative to age, State-approved grade-level standards, or intellectual development, that is determined by the Multi-disciplinary Evaluation Team (MET) to be relevant to the identification of a SLD, using appropriate assessments, consistent with the IDEA Evaluation Procedures and Additional Requirements for Evaluations and Reevaluations.

Speech and Language Impairment (SLI)

Students who do not have age-appropriate communicate skills may have a speech and language impairment.  This is manifested in one or more of the following communication impairments that adversely affects educational performance: 

a)    Articulation – omissions, substitutions or distortions of sound, persisting beyond an age which may be corrected by maturation. 

b)    Voice – including inappropriate pitch, loudness or voice quality.

c)     Fluency – i.e. stuttering that interferes with effective communication.

d)    Language – impairment in understanding or using age appropriate vocabulary, grammar or form.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Students who, because of an acquired injury to the brain, have a total or partial functional disability or a social impairment that adversely affects their educational performance may be eligible for special education.  This includes students who sustain an open or closed head injury resulting in an impairment in cognition, language, memory, attention, reasoning, behavior, physical functioning, information processing or speech.

Vision Impairment (VI)

Students with significant visual problems that interfere with their development or which adversely affects their educational performance.  Visual problems include:

a)    Central visual acuity for near or far point vision of 20/70 or less in the better eye after routine refractive correction

b)    A peripheral field of vision restricted to not more than 20 degrees

c)     A diagnosed progressively deteriorating eye condition