Child with a Disability
The definition of “child with a disability” explains how and why children are found to be eligible – or ineligible – for special education and related services under IDEA. A “child with a disability,” as defined by IDEA, is entitled to a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet the child’s unique needs.
IDEA’s definition and beyond
IDEA’s definition of “child with a disability” includes definitions of specific disabilities such as intellectual disability, learning disabilities, and other health impairment. IDEA’s definitions guide how states define disability and who is eligible for FAPE. So it’s important for parents to know both how IDEA and their state define individual disabilities.
Note that, in order to fully meet the definition (and eligibility for special education and related services) as a “child with a disability,” a child’s educational performance must be adversely affected due to the disability. Note also that “educational performance” is not limited to academic performance.
Where “child with a disability” is defined in IDEA | 34 CFR §300.8
The complete definition of “child with a disability” is quite long, so we have not included the verbatim definition in this reference list, only the first paragraph of the definition, which reads:
(a) General. (1) Child with a disability means a child evaluated in accordance with §§300.304 through 300.311 as having an intellectual disability, a hearing impairment (including deafness), a speech or language impairment, a visual impairment (including blindness), a serious emotional disturbance (referred to in this part as ‘‘emotional disturbance’’), an orthopedic impairment, autism, traumatic brain injury, an other health impairment, a specific learning disability, deaf-blindness, or multiple disabilities, and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.
Categories of Disability Under IDEA
The IDEA’s disability terms and definitions guide how States in their own turn define disability and who is eligible for a free appropriate public education under special education law. The definitions of these specific disability terms from the IDEA regulations are shown beneath each term listed below. Note, in order to fully meet the definition (and eligibility for special education and related services) as a “child with a disability,” a child’s educational performance must be adversely affected due to the disability.
Considering the Meaning of “Adversely Affects”
You may have noticed that the phrase “adversely affects educational performance” appears in most of the disability definitions. This does not mean, however, that a child has to be failing in school to receive special education and related services. According to IDEA, states must make a free appropriate public education available to “any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even if the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade, and is advancing from grade to grade.” [§300.101(c)(1)]
In the list below, if a disability term is linked, clicking on the link will take you to a fact sheet for that particular disability and to other related information.
…means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engaging in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. The term autism does not apply if the child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance, as defined in #5 below.
A child who shows the characteristics of autism after age 3 could be diagnosed as having autism if the criteria above are satisfied.
…means concomitant [simultaneous] hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness.
…means a hearing impairment so severe that a child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
…for children from birth to age three (under IDEA Part C) and children from ages three through nine (under IDEA Part B), the term developmental delay, as defined by each State, means a delay in one or more of the following areas: physical development; cognitive development; communication; social or emotional development; or adaptive [behavioral] development.
…means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:
(a) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
(b) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
(c) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
(d) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
(e) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.
The term includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance.
…means an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance but is not included under the definition of “deafness.”
…means significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently [at the same time] with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
(Editor’s Note, February 2011: “Intellectual Disability” is a new term in IDEA. Until October 2010, the law used the term “mental retardation.” In October 2010, Rosa’s Law was signed into law by President Obama. Rosa’s Law changed the term to be used in future to “intellectual disability.” The definition of the term itself did not change and is what has just been shown above.
…means concomitant [simultaneous] impairments (such as intellectual disability-blindness, intellectual disability-orthopedic impairment, etc.), the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in a special education program solely for one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf-blindness.
9. Orthopedic Impairment…
…means a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by a congenital anomaly, impairments caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis), and impairments from other causes (e.g.,cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures).
…means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that—
(a) is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome; and
(b) adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
…means 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 to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; of intellectual disability; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.
…means a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
…means an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem-solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech.
The term does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.
…means an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.
FAPE | Free Appropriate Public Education
FAPE is an acronym that stands for free appropriate public education.
A cornerstone of IDEA, our nation’s special education law, is that each eligible child with a disability is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet the child’s unique needs and that prepares the child for further education, employment, and independent living.
Defined in IDEA at 34 CFR §300.17
300.17 Free appropriate public education
Free appropriate public education or FAPE means special education and related services that—
(a) Are provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge;
(b) Meet the standards of the SEA [State Education Agency], including the requirements of this part;
(c) Include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in the State involved; and
(d) Are provided in conformity with an individualized education program (IEP) that meets the requirements of §§300.320 through 300.324.
OSEP’s Dear Colleague Letter on FAPE (2015, November 16)
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) released this Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) (1) to provide state and local educational agencies (SEAs/LEAs) with information to help them meet their obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in developing individualized education programs (IEPs) for children with disabilities. In particular, the Department stressed the importance of:
- holding high expectations for children with disabilities;
- ensuring that children with disabilities have meaningful access to the academic content standards set by their state; and
- aligning each child’s IEP with the state’s academic content standards for the grade in which the child is enrolled.
The Dear Colleague Letter on FAPE is available online.
The Connection Between FAPE and the IEP
As OSEP’s Dear Colleague Letter states: “Under the IDEA, the primary vehicle for providing FAPE is through an appropriately developed IEP that is based on the individual needs of the child.” (Emphasis added)
Access to the General Education Curriculum
One of the main points OSEP emphasized in its DCL on FAPE is that schools, school districts, and states must ensure that students with disabilities have access to the general education curriculum, the same curriculum that’s used with students who do not have disabilities. That curriculum is typically aligned with the state’s academic content standards for what students are to learn and be able to do at each grade level, kindergarten-grade 12.
If students with disabilities are to be held to high learning standards, their IEPs must be developed with the state academic content standards firmly in mind.
Aligning Student IEP Goals with State Standards for Learning
The DCL on FAPE includes an excellent description of how an IEP Team might approach aligning a student’s annual learning goals with the state-set academic standards for the student’s enrolled grade. The IEP process can include the team asking and answering questions such as:
- What are the state’s standards for student learning at this student’s enrolled grade?
- What are the student’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance?
- How does the student’s disability impact his or her learning, especially learning of academic content?
- What gaps exist between the set standards and the student’s present levels?
- What annual goals are indicated for the student, given those gaps?
- What supports (special education, related services, supplementary aids and services, modifications and accommodations) does the student need to work toward those annual goals and learn the expected academic content and skills?
The IEP that emerges from this approach is a standards-based IEP that guides the free appropriate public education that a student with disabilities then receives.
Resources on Standards-Based IEPs
Need more information on how to develop a standards-based IEP? We’ve listed several resources below, including helpful tools developed by three states.
Understanding the Standards-Based Individualized Education Program (IEP)
An 11-page Advocacy Brief from the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
Standards-Based IEPs: What You Need to Know
Content Standards: Connecting Standards-Based Curriculum to Instructional Planning
Teachers are required to implement the adopted content standards and to make the connection between standards-based curriculum and the planning and designing of lessons to ensure that students meet expected content standards. This IRIS module serves as a basic guide for the process (estimated completion time: 2.5 hours).
Developing Standards-Based IEPs and Determining Appropriate Instructional Accommodations
A 60-slide PowerPoint slideshow and training in PDF (651 kb), from the Georgia Department of Education.
Standards-Based IEPs | From the Virginia Department of Education
A wealth of resources, including a guidance document, online training and PowerPoint presentations, and skill worksheets that identify VA standards at each grade level K-12 in math and English language arts, examples of measurable goals in a standards–based IEP, and more.
Developing Standards-Based IEP Goals and Objectives: A Discussion Guide
A 12-page discussion guide (PDF, 523 kb) from the Minnesota Department of Education, designed to help IEP teams develop standards-based IEP goals and objectives. Read Developing Standards-Based IEP Goals and Objectives: A Discussion Guide
IDEA | Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
IDEA is an acronym for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, our nation’s special education law.
IDEA was first passed in 1975, where it was called the Education for All Handicapped Children’s Act. Every few years, the law has been revised (a process called reauthorization).
The most current version of IDEA is Public Law 108-446, passed in 2004 and called the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004.” It’s still most commonly referred to as IDEA, or IDEA 2004 (to distinguish it from other reauthorizations). Final regulations for IDEA 2004 were published in 2006.
Exact Words of IDEA
Read the IDEA Statute and Regulations on the ed.gov website at https://sites.ed.gov/idea/statuteregulations/
IEP | Individualized Education Program
IEP is an acronym for Individualized Education Program.
IDEA defines this term as follows:
Individualized education program or IEP means a written statement for a child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised in accordance with §§300.320 through 300.324.
As the OSEP Dear Colleague Letter on FAPE makes clear, the primary vehicle for providing FAPE is through an appropriately developed IEP. The DCL focuses extensively on components of the IEP that contribute directly to holding children with disabilities to high standards while also ensuring that their education includes needed supports and services—IEP components such as
- the present levels of academic achievement and functional performance;
- the annual goals set for the child; and
- the special education, related services, and supplementary aids and services that will be provided to support the child’s progress toward the annual goals.
You’ll see all of those terms in the law’s description of the IEP.
Where the Term is Defined in IDEA
34 CFR §300.320, as follows:
(a) General. As used in this part, the term individualized education program or IEP means a written statement for each child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised in a meeting in accordance with §§300.320 through 300.324, and that must include—
(1) A statement of the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, including—
(i) How the child’s disability affects the child’s involvement and progress in the general education curriculum (i.e., the same curriculum as for nondisabled children); or
(ii) For preschool children, as appropriate, how the disability affects the child’s participation in appropriate activities;
(2)(i) A statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals designed to—
(A) Meet the child’s needs that result from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum; and
(B) Meet each of the child’s other educational needs that result from the child’s disability;
(ii) For children with disabilities who take alternate assessments aligned to alternate achievement standards, a description of benchmarks or short-term objectives;
(3) A description of—
(i) How the child’s progress toward meeting the annual goals described in paragraph (2) of this section will be measured; and
(ii) When periodic reports on the progress the child is making toward meeting the annual goals (such as through the use of quarterly or other periodic reports, concurrent with the issuance of report cards) will be provided;
(4) A statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services, based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable, to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child, and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided to enable the child—
(i) To advance appropriately toward attaining the annual goals;
(ii) To be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum in accordance with paragraph (a)(1) of this section, and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities; and
(iii) To be educated and participate with other children with disabilities and nondisabled children in the activities described in this section;
(5) An explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and in the activities described in paragraph (a)(4) of this section;
(6)(i) A statement of any individual appropriate accommodations that are necessary to measure the academic achievement and functional performance of the child on State and districtwide assessments consistent with §612(a)(16) of the Act; and
(ii) If the IEP Team determines that the child must take an alternate assessment instead of a particular regular State or districtwide assessment of student achievement, a statement of why—
(A) The child cannot participate in the regular assessment; and
(B) The particular alternate assessment selected is appropriate for the child; and
(7) The projected date for the beginning of the services and modifications described in paragraph (a)(4) of this section, and the anticipated frequency, location, and duration of those services and modifications.
(b) Transition services. Beginning not later than the first IEP to be in effect when the child turns 16, or younger if determined appropriate by the IEP Team, and updated annually, thereafter, the IEP must include—
(1) Appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills; and
(2) The transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist the child in reaching those goals.
(c) Transfer of rights at age of majority. Beginning not later than one year before the child reaches the age of majority under State law, the IEP must include a statement that the child has been informed of the child’s rights under Part B of the Act, if any, that will transfer to the child on reaching the age of majority under §300.520.
(d) Construction. Nothing in this section shall be construed to require—
(1) That additional information be included in a child’s IEP beyond what is explicitly required in section 614 of the Act; or
(2) The IEP Team to include information under one component of a child’s IEP that is already contained under another component of the child’s IEP.
Unofficial Definition of IEP in Spanish – http://www.parentcenterhub.org/definicion-iep/
For more information on IEPs
LRE | Least Restrictive Environment
LRE is an acronym that stands for least restrictive environment.
IDEA does not define “least restrictive environment” in its definitions section. However, it requires that each student receive special education and related services in the “least restrictive environment” and describes what this means. These provisions appear in the final Part B regulations at §§300.114 through 300.120, as part of IDEA’s provisions addressing “State Eligibility.” The core of IDEA’s LRE provisions are at §300.114, cited below.
(a) General. (1) Except as provided in §300.324(d)(2) (regarding children with disabilities in adult prisons), the State must have in effect policies and procedures to ensure that public agencies in the State meet the LRE requirements of this section and §§ 300.115 through 300.120.
(2) Each public agency must ensure that—
(i) To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled; and
(ii) Special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
(b) Additional requirement—State funding mechanism—(1) General. (i) A State funding mechanism must not result in placements that violate the requirements of paragraph (a) of this section; and
(ii) A State must not use a funding mechanism by which the State distributes funds on the basis of the type of setting in which a child is served that will result in the failure to provide a child with a disability FAPE according to the unique needs of the child, as described in the child’s IEP.
(2) Assurance. If the State does not have policies and procedures to ensure compliance with paragraph (b)(1) of this section, the State must provide the Secretary an assurance that the State will revise the funding mechanism as soon as feasible to ensure that the mechanism does not result in placements that violate that paragraph.
For more information on LRE
Partners Resource Network offers a suite of information about LRE and its role in determining children’s placement (where they will receive FAPE and needed special education and related services). The suite includes a short-and-sweet overview; a detailed summary of the interplay between LRE, FAPE, and placement; and how school disciplinary actions can affect a child’s placement.
Where will a student with a disability receive his or her special education and related services? IDEA requires placement in the least restrictive environment (LRE) for each child, a setting that is based on the child’s IEP. Use the options and paths below to find out more about:
- who decides placement;
- how they decide it;
- what LRE is and why it’s a foundation element in IDEA and in deciding a child’s placement; and
- how placement can be affected if a child with a disability violates certain codes of student content.
LRE in Placement Decisions
LRE–least restrictive environment–is a foundational principle in IDEA. What is LRE, and how does it shape placement decisions? This discussion takes a detailed look.
Looking for information about, and best practices for, the inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classrooms and in the daily activities of school?
Placement and School Discipline
How is a child’s placement affected when he or she is being disciplined for a violation of the student code? Find out what authority school personnel have to remove a child from his or her current placement, what authority the hearing officer has, what constitutes a change of placement, and what placement the child will have during any appeal.
Discipline, in Detail
Here are all the details on IDEA’s discipline procedures, which guide how schools respond to behavioral infractions of children with disabilities.
As the OSEP Dear Colleague Letter on FAPE discusses, pivotal elements in helping children with disabilities achieve to high standards in the general education curriculum for their grade level are the supports they receive in the classroom and elsewhere in the school, especially special education and related services. The related services that a student receives are based upon his or her unique needs related to disability. So it’s important to know what kinds of related services are available and which would appropriately support the student’s learning.
Related services help children with disabilities benefit from their special education by providing extra help and support in needed areas, such as speaking or moving. Related services can include, but are not limited to, any of the following:
- speech-language pathology and audiology services
- interpreting services
- psychological services
- physical and occupational therapy
- recreation, including therapeutic recreation
- early identification and assessment of disabilities in children
- counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling
- orientation and mobility services
- medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes
- school health services and school nurse services
- social work services in schools
- parent counseling and training
Related services in IDEA | §300.34
(a) General. Related services means transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, early identification and assessment of disabilities in children, counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, and medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes. Related services also include school health services and school nurse services, social work services in schools, and parent counseling and training.
(b) Exception; services that apply to children with surgically implanted devices, including cochlear implants.
(1) Related services do not include a medical device that is surgically implanted, the optimization of that device’s functioning (e.g., mapping), maintenance of that device, or the replacement of that device.
(2) Nothing in paragraph (b)(1) of this section—
(i) Limits the right of a child with a surgically implanted device (e.g., cochlear implant) to receive related services (as listed in paragraph (a) of this section) that are determined by the IEP Team to be necessary for the child to receive FAPE.
(ii) Limits the responsibility of a public agency to appropriately monitor and maintain medical devices that are needed to maintain the health and safety of the child, including breathing, nutrition, or operation of other bodily functions, while the child is transported to and from school or is at school; or
(iii) Prevents the routine checking of an external component of a surgically implanted device to make sure it is functioning properly, as required in §300.113(b).
(c) Individual related services terms defined. The terms used in this definition are defined as follows:
(1) Audiology includes—
(i) Identification of children with hearing loss;
(ii) Determination of the range, nature, and degree of hearing loss, including referral for medical or other professional attention for the habilitation of hearing;
(iii) Provision of habilitative activities, such as language habilitation, auditory training, speech reading (lip-reading), hearing evaluation, and speech conservation;
(iv) Creation and administration of programs for prevention of hearing loss;
(v) Counseling and guidance of children, parents, and teachers regarding hearing loss; and
(vi) Determination of children’s needs for group and individual amplification, selecting and fitting an appropriate aid, and evaluating the effectiveness of amplification.
(2) Counseling services means services provided by qualified social workers, psychologists, guidance counselors, or other qualified personnel.
(3) Early identification and assessment of disabilities in children means the implementation of a formal plan for identifying a disability as early as possible in a child’s life.
(4) Interpreting services includes—
(i) The following, when used with respect to children who are deaf or hard of hearing: Oral transliteration services, cued language transliteration services, sign language transliteration and interpreting services, and transcription services, such as communication access real-time translation (CART), C-Print, and TypeWell; and
(ii) Special interpreting services for children who are deaf-blind.
(5) Medical services means services provided by a licensed physician to determine a child’s medically related disability that results in the child’s need for special education and related services.
(6) Occupational therapy—
(i) Means services provided by a qualified occupational therapist; and
(A) Improving, developing, or restoring functions impaired or lost through illness, injury, or deprivation;
(B) Improving ability to perform tasks for independent functioning if functions are impaired or lost; and
(C) Preventing, through early intervention, initial or further impairment or loss of function.
(7) Orientation and mobility services—
(i) Means services provided to blind or visually impaired children by qualified personnel to enable those students to attain systematic orientation to and safe movement within their environments in school, home, and community; and
(ii) Includes teaching children the following, as appropriate:
(A) Spatial and environmental concepts and use of information received by the senses (such as sound, temperature and vibrations) to establish, maintain, or regain orientation and line of travel (e.g., using sound at a traffic light to cross the street);
(B) To use the long cane or a service animal to supplement visual travel skills or as a tool for safely negotiating the environment for children with no available travel vision;
(C) To understand and use remaining vision and distance low vision aids; and
(D) Other concepts, techniques, and tools.
(8)(i) Parent counseling and training means assisting parents in understanding the special needs of their child;
(ii) Providing parents with information about child development; and
(iii) Helping parents to acquire the necessary skills that will allow them to support the implementation of their child’s IEP or IFSP.
(9) Physical therapy means services provided by a qualified physical therapist.
(10) Psychological services includes—
(i) Administering psychological and educational tests, and other assessment procedures;
(ii) Interpreting assessment results;
(iii) Obtaining, integrating, and interpreting information about child behavior and conditions relating to learning;
(iv) Consulting with other staff members in planning school programs to meet the special educational needs of children as indicated by psychological tests, interviews, direct observation, and behavioral evaluations;
(v) Planning and managing a program of psychological services, including psychological counseling for children and parents; and
(vi) Assisting in developing positive behavioral intervention strategies.
(11) Recreation includes—
(i) Assessment of leisure function;
(ii) Therapeutic recreation services;
(iii) Recreation programs in schools and community agencies; and
(iv) Leisure education.
(12) Rehabilitation counseling services means services provided by qualified personnel in individual or group sessions that focus specifically on career development, employment preparation, achieving independence, and integration in the workplace and community of a student with a disability. The term also includes vocational rehabilitation services provided to a student with a disability by vocational rehabilitation programs funded under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. 701 et seq.
(13) School health services and school nurse services means health services that are designed to enable a child with a disability to receive FAPE as described in the child’s IEP. School nurse services are services provided by a qualified school nurse. School health services are services that may be provided by either a qualified school nurse or other qualified person.
(14) Social work services in schools includes—
(i) Preparing a social or developmental history on a child with a disability;
(ii) Group and individual counseling with the child and family;
(iii) Working in partnership with parents and others on those problems in a child’s living situation (home, school, and community) that affect the child’s adjustment in school;
(iv) Mobilizing school and community resources to enable the child to learn as effectively as possible in his or her educational program; and
(v) Assisting in developing positive behavioral intervention strategies.
(15) Speech-language pathology services includes—
(i) Identification of children with speech or language impairments;
(ii) Diagnosis and appraisal of specific speech or language impairments;
(iii) Referral for medical or other professional attention necessary for the habilitation of speech or language impairments;
(iv) Provision of speech and language services for the habilitation or prevention of communicative impairments; and
(v) Counseling and guidance of parents, children, and teachers regarding speech and language impairments.
(16) Transportation includes—
(i) Travel to and from school and between schools;
(ii) Travel in and around school buildings; and
(iii) Specialized equipment (such as special or adapted buses, lifts, and ramps), if required to provide special transportation for a child with a disability.
Unofficial definition in Spanish
For more information on related services
As the OSEP Dear Colleague Letter on FAPE indicates, special education is at the core of how schools address the needs of students with disabilities and support them in achieving the annual goals stated in their IEPs as aligned with the state’s academic content standards. Accordingly, how this term is defined in law and implemented in the real world is extremely important to students, families, and schools.
Where “special education” is defined in IDEA
IDEA defines “special education” at 34 CFR §300.39, as follows:
(a) General. (1) Special education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including—
(i) Instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and
(ii) Instruction in physical education.
(2) Special education includes each of the following, if the services otherwise meet the requirements of paragraph (a)(1) of this section—
(i) Speech-language pathology services, or any other related service, if the service is considered special education rather than a related service under State standards;
(ii) Travel training; and
(iii) Vocational education.
(b) Individual special education terms defined. The terms in this definition are defined as follows:
(1) At no cost means that all specially-designed instruction is provided without charge, but does not preclude incidental fees that are normally charged to nondisabled students or their parents as a part of the regular education program.
(2) Physical education means—
(i) The development of—
(A) Physical and motor fitness;
(B) Fundamental motor skills and patterns; and
(C) Skills in aquatics, dance, and individual and group games and sports (including intramural and lifetime sports); and
(ii) Includes special physical education, adapted physical education, movement education, and motor development.
(3) Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this part, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction—
(i) To address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability; and
(ii) To ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children.
(4) Travel training means providing instruction, as appropriate, to children with significant cognitive disabilities, and any other children with disabilities who require this instruction, to enable them to—
(i) Develop an awareness of the environment in which they live; and
(ii) Learn the skills necessary to move effectively and safely from place to place within that environment (e.g., in school, in the home, at work, and in the community).
(5) Vocational education means organized educational programs that are directly related to the preparation of individuals for paid or unpaid employment, or for additional preparation for a career not requiring a baccalaureate or advanced degree.
Key points about “special education”
When you read the Dear Colleague Letter on FAPE, you’ll notice that there are several points made about the nature of “special education.” These include that:
- Special education is instruction that is specially designed to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. The hallmark of special education is that it is individualized for student needs.
- Special education is provided at no cost to parents or students.
- Special education can be provided in different locations, depending on student needs. IDEA strongly prefers that students receive their special education services in the general education classroom with their nondisabled peers, as you can see by its LRE provisions.
- Special education is not a place, however. It’s a set of services, which includes adapting instruction (what’s presented, how it’s presented) to address the unique needs of the child that result from the disability.
- Special education isn’t separated from the academic content that students are supposed to learn for their grade. It’s meant to support the learning of that academic content. That’s why IDEA emphasizes that special education needs to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the general curriculum that all students are expected to learn. And that’s why the Dear Colleague Letter on FAPE stresses the importance of aligning a student’s goals in the IEP to the academic content for that student’s enrolled grade.
Special Education, in Brief
Special education is instruction that is specially designed to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. This means education that is individually developed to address a specific child’s needs that result from his or her disability. Since each child is unique, it is difficult to give an overall example of special education. It is individualized for each child.
Some students may be working at the pre-kindergarten grade level, others at the first, second, or third grade level. There may be students whose special education focuses primarily on speech and language development, cognitive development, or needs related to a physical or learning disability. Special education for any student can consist of:
- an individualized curriculum that is different from that of same-age, nondisabled peers (for example, teaching a blind student to read and write using Braille);
- the same (general) curriculum as that for nondisabled peers, with adaptations or modifications made for the student (for example, teaching 3rd grade math but including the use of counting tools and assistive technology for the student); and
- a combination of these elements.
It is also important to remember that the education, services, and supports outlined in a child’s IEP do not necessarily cover that child’s entire education. The IEP only addresses those educational needs resulting from the child’s disability. If a child needs special education support throughout the school day, for all activities, the IEP will cover all these needs. If the child doesn’t need special education support in one or more areas (for example, physical education, music, or science), then the IEP will not include these subjects. The child accesses them through the general curriculum/ class, with no additional special education services.
Adaptations and Modifications
The individualization of instruction is an important part of special education. Instruction and schoolwork are tailored to the needs of the child. Sometimes a student may need to have changes made in class work or routines because of his or her disability. Modifications can be made to:
- what a child is taught, and/or
- how a child works at school.
Sometimes people get confused about what it means to have a modification and what it means to have an accommodation. Usually a modification means a change in what is being taught to or expected from the student. Making an assignment easier so the student is not doing the same level of work as other students is an example of a modification. An accommodation is a change that helps a student overcome or work around the disability. Allowing a student who has trouble writing to give his answers orally is an example of an accommodation. This student is still expected to know the same material and answer the same questions as fully as the other students, but he doesn’t have to write his answers to show that he knows the information.
What is most important to know about modifications and accommodations is that both are meant to help a child to learn. For example:
Jack is an 8th grade student who has learning disabilities in reading and writing. He is in a regular 8th grade class that is team-taught by a general education teacher and a special education teacher. Modifications and accommodations provided for Jack’s daily school routine (and when he takes state or district-wide tests) include the following:
- Jack will have shorter reading and writing assignments.
- Jack’s textbooks will be based upon the 8th grade curriculum but at his independent reading level (4th grade).
- Jack will have test questions read/explained to him, when he asks.
Modifications or accommodations are most often made in the following areas:
Scheduling. For example:
- giving the student extra time to complete assignments or tests
- breaking up testing over several days
Setting. For example:
- working in a small group
- working one-on-one with the teacher
Materials. For example:
- providing audiotaped lectures or books
- giving copies of teacher’s lecture notes
- using large print books, Braille, or books on CD (digital text)
Instruction. For example:
- reducing the difficulty of assignments
- reducing the reading level
- using a student/peer tutor
Student Response. For example:
- allowing answers to be given orally or dictated
- using a word processor for written work
- using sign language, a communication device, Braille, or native language if it is not English.
Where is special education provided?
Special education instruction can be provided in a number of settings, such as: in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings (§300.26). Schools must ensure that a continuum of alternative placements is available to meet the needs of children with disabilities. This continuum must include the placements just mentioned (instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions). Unless a child’s IEP requires some other arrangement, the child must be educated in the school he or she would attend if he or she did not have a disability [§300.116(c)].
Special education instruction must be provided to students with disabilities in what is known as the least restrictive environment, or LRE. IDEA includes provisions that ensure that children with disabilities are educated with nondisabled children, to the maximum extent appropriate. Each state must also ensure that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily [§300.114(a)(2)(ii)].
So what does “specially designed instruction” mean?
Given the importance of “specially designed instruction” in the core of special education’s definition, it’s useful to take a closer look at how that term is defined:
(3) Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this part, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction—
(i) To address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability; and
(ii) To ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children. [§300.39(b)(3)]
Thus, as part of designing the instruction to fit the needs of a specific child, adaptations may be made in the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction. This is a strong point of pride within the special education field and a considerable accomplishment that’s come from 30 years of practice: the individualization of instruction.
As the provisions above show, adaptations can take many forms in response to the child’s needs; the field is replete with guidance on this critical part of special education.
What’s peer-reviewed research?
Time for another definition–not more from “special education” but, rather, from where this article began–the statement of special education that’s required in the IEP. If you look back up, you’ll see that the special education a child receives must be “based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable” [§300.320(a)(4)]. What might that mean?
With the passage of the 2004 Amendments to IDEA, some new terms and concepts became part of the IEP process. One such is peer-reviewed research. The term is not formally defined in the IDEA, but the Department of Education’s discussion in the Analysis of Comments and Changes may be helpful in understanding the term’s general meaning and why no formal definition was included in the regulations:
“Peer-reviewed research” generally refers to research that is reviewed by qualified and independent reviewers to ensure that the quality of the information meets the standards of the field before the research is published. However, there is no single definition of “peer reviewed research”’ because the review process varies depending on the type of information to be reviewed. (71 Fed. Reg. at 46664)
The term is used in conjunction with the phrase “to the extent practicable.” To better understand what this means and how IEP teams are to apply peer-reviewed research in their selection of services to be provided to a child with a disability, you may find the Department of Education’s comments helpful.
States, school districts, and school personnel must…select and use methods that research has shown to be effective, to the extent that methods based on peer-reviewed research are available. This does not mean that the service with the greatest body of research is the service necessarily required for a child to receive FAPE. Likewise, there is nothing in the Act to suggest that the failure of a public agency to provide services based on peer-reviewed research would automatically result in a denial of FAPE. The final decision about the special education and related services, and supplementary aids and services that are to be provided to a child must be made by the child’s IEP Team based on the child’s individual needs. (71 Fed. Reg. at 46665)
The role of states in determining what special education is
This discussion of special education as a term brings to mind how it is also a process, a system. IDEA may define the term and establish rigorous standards for its implementation, but how special education unfolds in schools is very much a state and local matter. Education is traditionally a state responsibility, with each state vested with the authority to determine its own policies within the parameters of federal requirements. This is one reason why it’s so critical to know your state’s specific special education policies and requirements.
For more information on special education in Texas, visit the following resources:
Supplementary Aids and Services
If special education and related services are at the core of providing student with disabilities with a free appropriate public education, so, too, are supplementary aids and services for many such students. Supplementary aids and services are often critical elements in supporting the education of children with disabilities in regular classes and their participation in a range of other school activities.
Supplementary aids and services defined in IDEA
Supplementary aids and services means aids, services, and other supports that are provided in regular education classes, other education-related settings, and in extracurricular and nonacademic settings, to enable children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate in accordance with §§300.114 through 300.116.
Read IDEA §300.42 Supplementary aids and services
Unofficial definition in Spanish
Examples | Some examples of these additional services and supports are:
- adapted equipment—such as a pencil grip, special seat, or cut-out cup for drinking;
- a one-on-one aide;
- assistive technology—such as a computer, special software, or a communication system;
- training for staff, the student, and/or parents;
- adapted materials—such as books on tape, large print, or highlighted notes;
- peer tutors; and
- collaboration/consultation among staff, parents, and/or other professionals (such as an occupational therapist, a behavior specialist, or a mobility specialist).
Who decides what supplementary aids and services a student receives?
The ARD/IEP Team (which includes the parents, and the student no later than age 16) determines what supplementary aids and services are appropriate for a student with a disability, given the student’s disability-related needs, the curriculum and academic content to be learned, and the school routine. The team then documents their decision in the IEP.
For more information about supplementary aids and services
IDEA defines “transition services” as follows:
(a) Transition services means a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that—
(1) Is designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation;
(2) Is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and includes—
(ii) Related services;
(iii) Community experiences;
(iv) The development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives; and
(v) If appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and provision of a functional vocational evaluation.
(b) Transition services for children with disabilities may be special education, if provided as specially designed instruction, or a related service, if required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education.