Special Education Frequently Asked Questions


 

I.     General Definitions and Special Education Law

What is special education?

What is meant by disability, exceptionality and special needs?

What is IDEA? What is IDEIA?

What is Public Law 94-142?

Which students are eligible for special education?

How is a studentís eligibility for special education determined?

Are students with limited english proficiency or of environmental/economic disadvantage eligible for special education?

If special education is mandated federally, why does each state appear to do things differently?

II.    The IEP

What is an IEP?

Who is on the IEP Team?

What is a Child Study Team?

When is a studentís IEP reviewed and changed?

What is meant by free appropriate public education (FAPE)?

What are related services?

What are supplementary aids and services?

What are transition services?

What is meant by least restrictive environment (LRE)?

III.   Section 504

What is a 504 Plan?

What are the criteria for eligibility under a 504 Plan?

What is meant by "major life activities?"

Is the process leading to a 504 Plan similar to the IEP process?

Who is on the 504 Plan Team?

IV.   Early Intervention and the IFSP

What are early intervention services?

What is an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)?

What is the difference between an IFSP and an IEP?

V.    Parentsí Rights

What role do parents play in the IEP process?

Can an IEP meeting be held without the parent present?

Is a school district required to provide an interpreter/translator for parents when the IEP Team meets?

What information must be included in the notice of a meeting that is sent to parents?

What is due process?

How are due process disputes resolved?

VI.   Definitions of New Jersey's Special Education Categories

What is autism?

What is an auditory impairment?

What is deafness?

What is meant by emotionally disturbed?

What is meant by cognitively impaired?

What is meant by multiple disabilities?

What is an orthopedic impairment?

What is meant by other health impairment?

What is a specific learning disability?

What is meant by social maladjustment?

What is a communication impairment?

What is meant by preschool disabled?

What is meant by traumatic brain injury?

What is a visual impairment?

VII.  Students with Exceptionalities

What are the signs that a student may have special educational needs?

What can children with exceptionalities really do?

What can a school do to help children with exceptionalities succeed?

VIII. Reference Information

 

 

General Definitions and Special Education Law

What is special education?

In its initial function, special education is a system of pragmatic intervention. These interventions, used successfully, will empower students to overcome or compensate for disabilities that hinder learning. These interventions include:

  • Preventive Intervention Ė averting potential or minor learning deficiencies.

  • Remedial Intervention Ė instruction aimed at eliminating the effect of a disability on learning.

  • Compensatory Intervention Ė using various methods to compensate for a disability.

In essence, special education is individualized, intensive, and purposeful instruction designed to address distinct problems in teaching and learning (Heward. 2005).

 

What is meant by disability, exceptionality and special needs?

In the context of this FAQ, the three terms are interchangeable. They each refer to a specific emotional, mental, physiological, psychological, or social condition that affects a childís development and learning.

 

What is IDEA? What is IDEIA?

IDEA is an acronym that refers to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This law provides the federal mandate for special education services in each state. It outlines the system of funding employed for special education and related services. The law also establishes a framework for "due process" procedures in special education.  In 2004, IDEA was reauthorized and modified to align more closely with the goals of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act; the resultant legislation is entitled the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA).

 

In aiding students with disabilities, IDEA was preceded by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In addition, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 provided a broad set of regulations protecting the civil rights of people with various disabilities. Before the inception of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, approximately 1 million children with disabilities were denied pertinent services and schooled in separate facilities and institutions. Since then, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has been amended several times in order to ensure that students with special needs are serviced appropriately. For an in-depth discussion of Section 504, IDEA, and the ADA, please refer to S. James Rosenfeldís article,  Section 504 and IDEA: Basic Similarities and Differences.

 

What is Public Law 94-142?

P.L. 94-142 is the legal code that encompasses the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, the predecessor to the IDEA and IDEIA. The term is generally used interchangeably with IDEA, as it also refers to all amendments affecting the 1975 Act.

 

Which students are eligible for special education?

Children ages 3 through 21 who require special education and related services because of a disability are eligible. A child with a disability is defined as having at least one of the following exceptionalities:

 

Federal definition

New Jersey definition

Autism

Autistic

Mental retardation

Cognitively impaired

Hearing impairment (including deafness)

Auditorily impaired

Speech or language impairments

Communication impaired

Visual impairments (including blindness)

Visually impaired

Emotional disturbance

Emotionally disturbed

Orthopedic impairments

Orthopedically impaired

Traumatic brain injury

Traumatic brain injury

Other health impairments

Other health impaired

Specific learning disabilities

Specific learning disability

 

Beyond this, it is noteworthy that the definitions of disability in the New Jersey Administrative Code also include descriptions of the following additional categories: Multiply disabled, Preschool child with a disability, Social maladjustment, and Deaf/blindness.

 

How is a studentís eligibility for special education determined?

 

Every school district has its own specific procedures for determining eligibility. Nevertheless, the process, in general, is fairly standardized. A student exhibiting symptoms of severe academic, social, emotional, or environmental stress is initially screened by a school-based intervention team. This necessary step precedes a referral to the Child Study Team. This intervention team is typically comprised of the studentís teacher, a school administrator and a school counselor. After attempting to determine the possible etiology of the studentís difficulties, the team will recommend interventions to assist the student. These may include, but are not limited to:

 

Parent Interviews

A family court referral or PINS (Person In Need of Supervision) petition

Specific Classroom Modifications

Daily/Weekly Progress Reports

Professional or Peer Tutoring

Hearing, Medical, Speech or Vision Screening

In-School Counseling

Referral to Child Protective Services

Disciplinary Action

Non-Special Education Remediation Services (if offered by the school or district)

If the difficulties persist through a trial period while the studentís performance is monitored, the intervention team may refer the student to the Child Study Team for a more thorough assessment. The education agency in charge must make reasonable efforts to obtain a parentís consent for evaluation. If the parent(s) fail(s) to respond to the request for consent, the CST may evaluate the student. If the parent refuses consent, the school or education agency may pursue an evaluation through the mediation and due process procedures specified in IDEA.

In any event, the Child Study Team performs a complete educational case study of the student. This multi-faceted approach ensures that the student is correctly diagnosed and properly treated. The case study includes the following steps:

  1. The Initial Referral to the Child Study Team

  2. Diagnostic Assessment of the Student

  3. Classroom Observation of the Student

  4. Discussion/Analysis of Assessment and Observation by the Child Study Team

  5. Parent Interviews

  6. Psychoeducational, Language, Psychological and Social Evaluations

  7. Diagnosis of the Studentís Difficulty/Disability/Impairment

  8. Recommendations Concerning the Studentís Placement

  9. Creation of an Individualized Education Program (through an IEP meeting)

  10. Implementation of the IEP

Are students with limited english proficiency or of environmental/economic disadvantage eligible for special education?

If such a student is diagnosed with a specific exceptionality by the Child Study Team, that student is most definitely eligible. However, a student is not eligible for special education if his/her learning difficulties do not stem from a specific disability.

 

If special education is mandated federally, why does each state appear to do things differently?

Although different states and school districts have their own unique procedures, the classification system, due process procedures and other federal regulations apply to all states. Indeed, while a state may add certain elements in order to execute the law, no state may pass legislation that limits or restricts those federal guidelines.

 

The IEP

 

What is an IEP?

IEP stands for Individualized Education Program (also called Individualized Education Plan, Individual Educational Program, etc.). The IEP is a legally binding contract of services provided by a school district for children classified with a disability. While different school districts vary the IEP in format and structure, there are seven legally mandatory components:

  1. A statement of the studentís present levels of educational performance.

  2. A statement of annual goals, including short-term objectives.

  3. A statement of special education, related services and supplementary aids and services provided for the student.

  4. A statement indicating modifications in the administration of state or district-wide assessments of achievement (or a statement indicating that the student will not participate in such assessments).

  5. A statement documenting the projected date for the commencement of services and the frequency, location and duration of those services.

  6. A statement explaining the criteria used to assess a studentís progress towards his/her annual goals and the means to be used in informing the parent/guardian of this progress.

  7. If necessary, a statement explaining the extent to which the student will not participate with non-disabled students in the general education classroom and/or other activities.

  8. For each student age 14 or older, a statement of transition needs and/or services.

Essentially, the IEP is a blueprint that outlines a studentís progress, strengths and weaknesses. Although a studentís IEP must be kept confidential, general education teachers who have contact with a special education student must have access to it. Unfortunately, many teachers and administrators consider the IEP to be more of a legal document than a working educational plan. Teachers especially should review their studentsí IEPs thoroughly in order to gain an insight into their progress.

 

Who is on the IEP Team?

The IEP Team must include the following members:

  1. The parent(s)/guardian(s) of the student.

  2. If the student participates in a general education classroom, at least one general education teacher of the student. If the student has no general education teacher, a general education teacher who is knowledgeable about the districtís programs shall participate.

  3. At least one special education teacher/provider of the student.

  4. A qualified representative of the local education agency.

  5. An individual qualified to interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results.

  6. At the discretion of the student or parent, other individuals with special expertise regarding the studentís program.

  7. If age 14 or older, the student must be invited. If appropriate, students younger than age 14 may attend.

What is a Child Study Team?

The Child Study Team (CST) is a group of professionals who perform the task of diagnosing students with special needs. A CST is generally made up of the following individuals:

  • School Psychologist

  • School Social Worker

  • Educational Diagnostician (also referred to as a Learning Consultant or Learning Disabilities Teacher-Consultant)

In addition to these members, the CST may utilize various other professionals in order to evaluate and properly diagnose a student (i.e. audiologist, physical therapist, autism specialist, etc.). Typically, one member of the team is assigned as a casemanager to a school or cluster of schools. It is important to distinguish the Child Study Team from the IEP Team, which also includes parents, general education teachers and special education teachers.

 

When is a studentís IEP reviewed and changed?

The IEP Team reviews each studentís performance annually to determine progress and plan for the upcoming year. In addition, a reevaluation of the studentís program must be conducted every three years. However, a reevaluation may be conducted sooner if necessary.  Under IDEIA, a number of state are using three-year IEPs (i..e with no annual review) on a trial basis.

 

What is meant by free appropriate public education (FAPE)?

Free, appropriate, public education or FAPE is the standard outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. By law, FAPE refers to special education and related services that:

  • Have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge.

  • Meet the standards of the state education agency.

  • Include an appropriate preschool, elementary, or secondary school education in the State involved.

  • Are provided in conformity with the studentís IEP.

What are related services?

The term "related services" means transportation, and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as may be required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education. It includes the early identification and assessment of disabling conditions in children. Related Services include:

  • speech-language pathology and audiology services

  • psychological services

  • physical and occupational therapy

  • recreation (including therapeutic recreation)

  • social work services

  • counseling services (including rehabilitation counseling)

  • orientation and mobility services

  • medical services (diagnostic and evaluation purposes only)

What are supplementary aids and services?

The term "supplementary aids and services" means, aids, services, and other supports that are provided in the general education classroom or other education-related settings to enable children with disabilities to be educated with non-disabled children to the maximum extent appropriate in accordance with the law.

 

What are transition services?

The term "transition services" means a coordinated set of activities for a student with a disability that:

  • Is designed within an outcome-oriented process, which promotes movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation.

  • Is based upon the individual studentís needs, taking into account the studentís preferences and interests.

  • Includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and, when appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.

What is meant by least restrictive environment (LRE)?

The term "least restrictive environment" refers to the placement of students with exceptionalities in the most advantageous educational placement suitable for their needs. This standard is mandated by IDEA. The continuum of educational placements ranges from the least to the most restrictive:

  1. General Education Classroom Placement. This is the least restrictive placement for all students. It is rare that students with special needs will be placed in this environment without some type of special education support.

  2. General Education Classroom Placement with Special Education Consultation. In this placement, the student remains in the general education setting. A consultant teacher provides support on an as-needed basis.

  3. General Education Classroom Placement with Specialist Assistance or In-Class Support. In this placement, the student also remains in the general education classroom for the entire day. However, the student receives regularly scheduled support and/or assistance from a professional while in the classroom. This may include: academic in-class support, sign language interpretation, etc.

  4. General Education Classroom Placement with Related and/or Supplementary Services. In this placement, the student remains in the classroom for the majority of the day. At scheduled times, supportive services outlined in the IEP are provided. These may include: speech therapy, physical therapy, adaptive physical education, occupational therapy, individual or groups counseling, etc.

  5. General Education Classroom Placement with Resource Room Replacement/Support. In this placement, the student spends the majority of the day in the general education setting. They are pulled out of the classroom at scheduled times for remediation and/or support in specific subjects.

  6. Special Classroom Placement with Mainstreaming. In this placement, the student spends the majority of the day in a special class that is typically grouped by age-level and exceptionality. However, the student is mainstreamed into a general education classroom for part of the school day. This mainstreaming typically occurs in special subjects, including: art, music, physical education, etc.

  7. Full-Day Special Class in a District School. In this placement, the student remains with a special class for the entire day. These classes provide a highly structured and closely monitored setting.

  8. Special School Outside of the School District. This setting is beneficial for students whose needs cannot be addressed in a district school. These schools typically provide programs specifically geared towards certain exceptionalities.

  9. Homebound Instruction. This educational placement is rarely used on a permanent basis. It is typically employed when a student is in transition between placements or is restricted to his or her home due to illness or injury. This placement requires that a teacher visit the home or make arrangements to conduct instruction at an agreed upon venue.

  10. Residential School. Residential placements are reserved for students that require highly therapeutic environments. The nature and duration of these services require that the student reside within the school community.

  11. Hospital or Institution. This is the most restrictive educational environment. Nevertheless, for some students, it is a necessity in order to ensure their safety and adequate care.

Section 504

 

What is a 504 plan?

A 504 plan is a legally binding education plan created under the authority of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It is designed to create modifications and accommodations for students with special needs who are attending their schoolís general education program. For this reason, the 504 plan should not be confused with an IEP. However, in some instances, students transitioning from special education to general education classroom placement may qualify for a 504 Plan.

 

What are the criteria for eligibility under a 504 plan?

Put simply, the student must meet the qualifications set forth in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The student must exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities.

  • have a record of such a physical or mental impairment.

  • be perceived as having such a physical or mental impairment.

It is important to note that although a student may not qualify for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), he/she may still qualify for a 504 Plan.

 

What is meant by "major life activities?"

The term "major life activities" includes, but is not necessarily limited to:

  • caring for oneself

  • the performance of manual tasks

  • respiration

  • seeing

  • hearing

  • walking

  • working

  • learning

Is the process leading to a 504 Plan similar to the IEP process?

The steps are somewhat similar. However, Section 504 grants far greater leeway than IDEA. Generally, in order to design and implement a 504 Plan, the following steps must be taken:

  1. The student is referred by a teacher, parent/guardian, school-based intervention team or support staff, physician, or therapist. It is also possible for the student to initiate a self-referral.

  2. A 504 Plan meeting is scheduled and held.

  3. If applicable, a 504 Plan is developed for the student.

  4. The team sets a review date for the plan.

Who is on the 504 Plan Team?

The following persons make up the 504 Plan Team:

  • 504 Officer (typically, the principal of the studentís school or an assigned district-level administrator)

  • The student (when appropriate)

  • Studentís parent/guardian

  • Studentís teacher(s)

  • Local Education Agency administrator(s)

  • Support staff (i.e. school nurse, paraprofessionals, speech therapist, etc.)

Early Intervention and the IFSP

 

What are early intervention services?

The term "early intervention services" means services that are designed to meet the developmental needs of an infant or toddler with a disability in any one or more of the following areas:

  1. physical development

  2. cognitive development

  3. communication development

  4. social or emotional development

  5. adaptive development

These services must be provided under public supervision and at no cost (except where federal or state law provides for a system of payments by families, including a schedule of sliding fees). To the maximum extent appropriate, these services must be provided in natural environments, including the home, and community settings in which children without disabilities participate. The services must be provided by a qualified professional in the given field, and must conform with a studentís individualized family service plan (IFSP). Early Intervention Services include:

  • family training, counseling, and home visits

  • special instruction

  • speech-language pathology and audiology services

  • occupational therapy

  • physical therapy

  • psychological services

  • service coordination services

  • medical services only for diagnostic or evaluation purposes

  • early identification, screening, and assessment services

  • health services necessary to enable the infant or toddler to benefit from the other early intervention services

  • social work services

  • vision services

  • assistive technology devices and assistive technology services

  • transportation and related costs that are necessary to enable an infant or toddler and the infantís or toddlerís family to receive such services

What is an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)?

An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) provides a blueprint for the early intervention process of children with disabilities and their families. Through the IFSP process, family members and service providers work together to create, implement, and assess services designed to foster the childís and familyís development. According to IDEA, an IFSP must include:

  1. A statement of the childís present levels of physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, and adaptive development.

  2. A statement of the familyís resources, priorities, and concerns relating to enhancing the development of the child with a disability.

  3. A statement of goals to be achieved for the child and the family, including the evaluative criteria used to determine progress.

  4. A statement of specific early intervention services that the child and/or family will receive, including the frequency, intensity, and duration of such activities.

  5. A statement explaining the natural environments in which services will be provided, including justification of the extent, if any, to which the services will not be provided in a natural environment.

  6. A statement documenting the projected date for the commencement of services.

  7. The name of the service provider responsible for implementing the plan and coordinating with other agencies.

  8. A statement outlining steps to support the childís transition to preschool and/or other appropriate services.

  9. If applicable, a statement explaining the extent to which parents will provide payment for services.

What is the difference between an IFSP and an IEP?

An IFSP differs from an IEP in many ways. First and foremost, the IEP is an individualized education program, while the IFSP is and individualized family service plan. Put simply, the IFSP is based around the family, rather than the school. It includes goals for the family as well as the child. Furthermore, whereas an IEP indicates the least restrictive environment for a studentís educational placement, an IFSP emphasizes natural environments such as the home and local community settings.

 

Parentsí Rights

 

What role do parents play in the IEP process?

Parents, educators and administrators are equal members of the IEP Team. Parents have the right to participate in meetings concerning their childís:

  • Identification (the decision to evaluate the student)

  • Evaluation (the nature and scope of assessment procedures)

  • Classification (the determination of whether the child is eligible for special education and/or related services)

  • Development and review of the IEP

  • Educational placement

  • Reevaluation

It is important for parents to maintain regular contact with the educational professionals that work with their child. Also, in preparation for an annual review or reevaluation, parents should prepare by reviewing past IEPs and student records. As the parent is typically the only team member that sees the child at home, their input is most important in assessing student progress and achievement.

 

Can an IEP meeting be held without the parent present?

An IEP meeting may be held without a parent, if the parent is unable or unwilling attend. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of the school district to invite the parent(s) and document its attempts to set a time when all persons can attend. When possible, alternative methods for parents to participate, such as by phone, must be initiated. In the absence of a parent/guardian, the remainder of the IEP Team will evaluate and make decisions concerning placement, related services and educational program.

 

Is a school district required to provide an interpreter/translator for parents when the IEP Team meets?

Yes. When necessary, an interpreter or translator must be provided by the school at no cost to the parent.

 

What information must be included in the notice of a meeting that is sent to parents?

The written notice of the meeting must state the purpose, time, location and those who will attend. The notice must confirm that the parent may invite to the meeting other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel. The determination of whether the individual has such knowledge or special expertise is determined by the party which invited the individual. In addition, beginning at age 14, or younger if appropriate, the notice for a student with a disability must indicate that the purpose of the meeting will be the development of a statement of the transition service needs, and that the school will invite the student to attend.

 

What is due process?

"Due Process" is a legal principle outlined in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution:

"[No person shall] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

In reference to special education, the deprivation of liberty takes one of two forms:

  • a parent may disagree with the schoolís procedures or decisions regarding a childís identification, evaluation, program or educational placement.

  • a school may disagree with a parentís refusal to grant consent for a childís evaluation or classification.

How are due process disputes resolved?

Before continuing with a formal due process hearing, parents must be offered the opportunity to resolve the dispute through a mediation process. Mediation is a completely voluntary process for all parties involved. If the parents decline to participate in mediation or are not satisfied with the results, they retain the right to a due process hearing. If either the school or parent is dissatisfied with the decision in the hearing, that party may appeal the judgment to the state education agency. If the state education agency does not overturn the original decision, all parties retain the right to take civil action through the courts.

 

Definitions of New Jersey's Special Education Categories

 

What is autism?

Autism is a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a childís educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. The term does not apply if a childís educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance. Under some circumstances, it is possible for a child to be diagnosed with autism after age three.

 

What is deaf-blindness?

Deaf-blindness is defined as concomitant 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.

 

What is an auditory impairment?

An auditory impairment is an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a childís educational performance but that is not included under the definition of deafness in this section.

 

What is deafness?

Deafness is an auditory impairment that is so severe that the child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, that adversely affects a childís educational performance.

 

What is meant by emotionally disturbed?

An emotional disturbance is 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 childís educational performance:

  1. An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.

  2. An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.

  3. Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.

  4. A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.

  5. A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

This term includes schizophrenia. The term, however, does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance.

 

What is meant by cognitively impaired?

The term cognitively impaired corresponds to "mentally retarded" and means a disability that is characterized by significantly below average general cognitive functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior; manifested during the developmental period that adversely affects a studentís educational performance and is characterized by one of the following:

  • Mild cognitive impairment corresponds to "educable" and means a level of cognitive development and adaptive behavior in home, school and community settings that are mildly below age expectations with respect to all of the following:

        • The quality and rate of learning;

        • The use of symbols for the interpretation of information and the solution of problems; and

        • Performance on an individually administered test of intelligence that falls within a range of two to three standard deviations below the mean.

  • Moderate cognitive impairment corresponds to "trainable" and means a level of cognitive development and adaptive behavior that is moderately below age expectations with respect to the following:

        • The ability to use symbols in the solution of problems of low complexity;

        • The ability to function socially without direct and close supervision in home, school and community settings; and

        • Performance on an individually administered test of intelligence that falls three standard deviations or more below the mean.

  • Severe cognitive impairment corresponds to "eligible for day training" and means a level of functioning severely below age expectations whereby in a consistent basis the student is incapable of giving evidence of understanding and responding in a positive manner to simple directions expressed in the childís primary mode of communication and cannot in some manner express basic wants and needs.

What is meant by multiple disabilities?

Multiple disabilities or multiple handicaps refers to concomitant impairments (such as mental retardation-blindness, mental retardation-orthopedic impairment, etc.), the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf-blindness.

 

What is an orthopedic impairment?

An orthopedic impairment is a disability that severely and adversely affects a childís educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by congenital anomaly (e.g., clubfoot, absence of some member, etc.), impairments caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis, etc.), and impairments from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures).

 

What is meant by other health impairment?

The term other health impairment refers to a limited strength, vitality or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that:

  1. 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, and sickle cell anemia; and

  2. Adversely affects a childís educational performance.

What is a specific learning disability?

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 an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such 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 mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

 

What is meant by social maladjustment?

The term social maladjustment refers to the consistent inability to conform to the standards for behavior established by a school. Such behavior is seriously disruptive to the education of the student and/or other students and is not due to emotional disturbance.

 

What is a communication impairment?

A communication impairment or communication handicap is a disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a childís educational performance.

 

What is meant by preschool disabled?

The term preschool handicapped refers to an identified disabling condition and/or a measurable developmental impairment which occurs in children between the ages of three and five years and requires special education and related services.

 

What is meant by traumatic brain injury?

The term traumatic brain injury corresponds to "neurologically impaired" and refers to 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 childís 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.

 

What is a visual impairment?

The term visual impairment refers to an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a childís educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.

 

Students with Exceptionalities

 

What are the signs that a student may have special educational needs?

The symptoms of students with special needs are numerous and diverse. The most important aspect of examining these behaviors is the consistency with which they appear. While exhibiting these symptoms does not guarantee that an exceptionality exists, consistent demonstration of the following behaviors may indicate a more serious problem. Although these symptoms have been separated into two categories, this is not meant to imply that they are independent of each other. For example, severe academic stress may manifest itself in a behavioral problem. Nonetheless, it is important to note that only qualified professionals should attempt to diagnose such exceptionalities (Pierangelo, 1994).

 

Behavioral-Environmental-Physiological Difficulties

Academic-Communicative-Sensory Difficulties

Complications during pregnancy or childbirth

Academic skills very slow in developing

Emotional or social immaturity

Inability to read or spell at grade level

Great difficulty in making choices

Strong discrepancies between achievement and ability

Distractibility

Poor written expression despite excellent verbal vocabulary

Excessively absent

Frequently gives excuses for inappropriate behavior

Impulsivity

Difficulty with mathematical reasoning

Difficulties in socializing with age-based peers

Late development of speech

Easily frustrated

Difficulty in retrieving words while speaking

Excessively tardy

Poor verbal articulation

Student appears to never want to go home

Avoids eye contact

Avoids challenging tasks and responsibility

Difficulty in identifying rhymes

Student projects difficulties onto others

Frequently transposes letters, numbers or symbols

Trouble separating from parent

Difficulty in holding writing instruments

Reluctant to accept change

Student appears to be clumsy; difficulty with motor skills

Focuses socially on adults

Poor physical coordination

Defies authority

Poor reading comprehension

Frequently procrastinates

Difficulty in comprehending spatial orientation

Trouble in group activities

Trouble keeping personal and school items organized

Frequently points out other studentsí mistakes

Frequently hands in incomplete work

Excessively physical

Trouble following or recalling directions

Social withdrawal

Frequently misplaces things

Frequently forgetful

Overreacts/underreacts to stimuli

Constant visits to nurse

Lacks motivation

Overly critical of oneself

Trouble concentrating on academic material

Experiences panic attacks

Difficulty in decoding words

Hyperactivity

Appears to finish homework/classwork very quickly

Relatively short attention span

Student requires constant reassurance

Student appears to be constantly sleepy or lethargic

Requires an excessive amount of time to complete homework

 

What can children with exceptionalities really do?

Children with exceptionalities can grow up to do many things. If one looks to history, you may find that such people have:

  • Become President of the United States

  • Invented the light bulb

  • Written Walden

  • Developed the idea that the earth revolves around the sun

  • Designed the rockets that took man to the moon

  • Developed the theory of relativity

  • Painted the Mona Lisa

  • Written the most popular symphonies in history

  • Liberated France from the Nazis

  • Invented the telephone

  • Written the Declaration of Independence

  • Developed the laws that govern all motion in the universe

  • Invented the airplane

  • Starred in Top Gun

  • Become Americaís top flying ace during the First World War

  • Led the Chicago Bulls to the NBA championship six times (being named MVP each time)

  • Written A Christmas Carol

  • Created Mickey Mouse

  • Directed The Godfather Trilogy

  • Written Paradise Lost

  • Freed over 300 slaves through the Underground Railroad

  • Achieved the highest speed ever attained by any Olympic sprinter

  • Founded the worldís largest online brokerage house

These children have also gone on to become teachers, firefighters, soldiers, sales representatives, physical therapists, nurses, police officers, baseball umpires and anything else one could imagine. In essence, children with exceptionalities are like all children. They are capable of anything that they apply themselves towards.

 

What can a school do to help children with disabilities succeed?

There is no easy answer to that question. Like all children, they need a supportive environment to nurture their gifts. They need rules to help them understand that this world has limits. Nevertheless, most importantly, they need good parents and teachers that understand them and are willing to help them.

 

Reference Information

 

Sections I-V of this  FAQ are paraphrased, or quoted directly, from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  Section VI, which contains the descriptions of the federal categories of disability (e.g. autism, specific learning disability), was drawn from the New Jersey Administrative Code (NJAC).  These definitions are aligned with those that appear in the Federal Register.  I wrote Section VII based on my studies at Kean University (Union, NJ) during the completion of my M.A. in special education.

 

Information pertaining to IDEA may be found at http://idea.ed.gov/explore/home.

 

Information pertaining to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 may be found at http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/sec504.index.htm.

 

The NJAC sections pertaining to special education are found in Title 6A, Chapter 14 (6A:14) and are accessible at http://www.nj.gov/education/code/.

 

Additional references include:

 

Heward, W. L. (2005). Exceptional children: An introduction to special education (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education/Merrill/Prentice Hall.
 

Pierangelo, R. (1994). A survival kit for the special education teacher. West Nyack, NY: Center for Applied Research in Education.
 

 

 

Last Updated on June 20, 2010

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