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Frequently used educational terms: learning and attention problems

Cut through the confusion by becoming familiar with the medical, psychological, legal and educational terms often used in educational settings.

By Jan Baumel, M.S.

As you address your child's learning or attention problems with teachers and other professionals, you will probably hear many terms that are new or confusing to you. Following is a guide to terms frequently used in educational settings.

Accommodations: Techniques and materials that don't change the basic curriculum but do make learning a little easier or help kids communicate what they know

Achievement Tests: Measures of acquired knowledge in academic skills, such as reading, math, writing and science

Advocacy: Recognizing and communicating needs, rights and interests on behalf of a child; making informed choices

Asperger's Syndrome (AS): An Autism Spectrum Disorder that is milder than autism but shares some symptoms. Common features include obsessive interest in a single subject, difficulty with social interactions and strange movements or mannerisms. Treatments aim to help improve communication skills and modify repetitive routines. Find out more about AS

Assessment: Process of identifying strengths and needs to assist in educational planning; includes observation, record review, interviews, and tests

Assistive Technology (AT): Any item, piece of equipment or system that helps kids with disabilities bypass, work around or compensate for specific learning deficits

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD): A neurobehavioral disorder that causes an individual to be inattentive or hyperactive/impulsive or to display a combination of those symptoms

Auditory Discrimination: Ability to identify differences between words and sounds that are similar

Auditory Processing: Among kids with normal hearing, the ability to understand spoken language

Autism (AU): A disorder that usually arises in early childhood. Symptoms include major problems with communication, social interactions and repetitive behaviors. Autism, sometimes referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), is considered a "spectrum disorder" because the symptoms and features range widely. Current treatments for autism include behavior and communication therapies and medications that may help control symptoms. Find out more about autism

Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP): A set of strategies designed to encourage appropriate classroom behavior and social skills. It may be necessary to develop a BIP as part of your child's IEP (Individualized Education Program, see below) if teachers find that her behavior interferes significantly with learning. Depending on the circumstances, a BIP may specifically aim to teach your child new skills, reinforce positive behaviors or increase motivation. The plan should be based on positive feedback rather than punishment and must be reevaluated regularly. 

Collaboration: Working in partnership on behalf of a child; e.g., parent and teacher, or special education teacher and general education teacher

Compliance Complaint: Complaint filed with the state department of education or local school district by a person who feels that an educational law has been broken

Designated Instruction and Services (DIS): Sometimes called related services; specialized instructional, and/or support services identified through an assessment and written on an IEP as necessary for a child to benefit from special education (e.g., speech/language therapy, vision services, etc.)

Discrepancy: Difference between two tests, such as between measures of a child's intellectual ability and his academic achievement

Due Process: Procedural safeguards to protect the rights of the parent/guardian and the child under federal and state laws and regulations for special education; includes voluntary mediation or a due process hearing to resolve differences with the school

Dysarthria: Disorder of fine motor muscles involved in speech; affects ability to pronounce sounds correctly

Dyscalculia: Problems with basic math skills; trouble calculating

Dysgraphia: Difficulty writing legibly with age-appropriate speed

Dyslexia: A language-based learning disability. In addition to reading problems, dyslexia can also involve difficulty with writing, spelling, listening, speaking and math

Dysnomia: Difficulty remembering names or recalling specific words; word-finding problems

Dyspraxia: Difficulty performing and sequencing fine motor movements such as buttoning

Jan Baumel, M.S., Licensed Educational Psychologist, spent 35 years in education as a teacher, school psychologist, and special education administrator before joining Schwab Learning. Today she is a consultant to local school districts and university field supervisor for student teachers.

Comments from readers

"I sure wish I knew about you and the services 5 years ago!!!!"
"Thank you! Going for a job interview in a couple hours and this was a wonderful recap of terminology and current practices used in Spec Ed."
"Want some additional information, answers to questions, or support? Please consider joining and posting them at the 'Learning and Attention Difficulties' group found here at GS to receive to receive practical suggestions from parents who have faced similar challenges:"
"Good Morning: I love your Web Site! Do you have any information or recommendations on public and/or private High Schools that are doing a great job helping students who have IEP's, and that need help with Math and or Language Arts? We have a daughter in the 10th grade. She does well in school and with extracurricular activities, but needs a little help. We find ourselves having to locate other options and don't know where to look. We have applied to other public shcools with a better reputation for students needing resorce help, via the permit process. We seem to run into the same problem..they either donot accept Permit Students that require Spec Ed. support, because they have to save their dollars for students that live in their district, or if they do accept Permit Students (Spec. Ed.) if you get accepted, they tell you that they cannot guarantee that your student will be able to continue through to graduation. Who wants to have their student at a school for possiblly one year! We appreciate any help that you can provide. Warmest Regards Mrs. C. "