Education Station  Special Education  Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Special Education (and Related) Terminology

auditory discrimination - the ability to recognize differences in phonemes (sounds). This includes the ability to identify words and sounds that are similar and those which are different. e.g. "ball" vs. "bell".

auditory processing - the ability to analyze or make sense of information taken in through the ears. An auditory processing disorder is different from problems involving hearing, such as deafness or hard of hearing. Difficulties with auditory processing do not affect what is heard by the ear, but do affect how this information is interpreted, or processed by the brain. An auditory processing deficit can interfere directly with speech and language, but can affect all areas.

auditory sequencing - the ability to remember or reconstruct the order of items in a list or the order of sounds in a word or syllable. One example is saying or writing "ephelant" for"elephant".

auditory memory - the ability to store and recall information which was given verbally. An individual with difficulties in this area may not be able to follow instructions given verbally or may have trouble recalling information from a story read aloud.

central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) - A CAPD is a receptive language disorder. It refers to difficulties in the decoding and storing of auditory information - usually incoming verbal messages.

communication disorder - A communication disorder is an inability to understand or use speech and language to relate to others in society.

developmental disability - The United States government's definition of "developmental disability" requires that the disability be a mental and/or physical impairment, manifest before the individual is 22 years old, will likely continue indefinitely, results in substantial functional limitations in 3 or more major life activities, and will necessitate special services and supports of either lifelong or extended duration.

Speech and language disorders are not generally "developmental disabilities," in and of themselves, but can be a result of a developmental disability. Speech and language disorders, however, are sometimes labelled as "developmental apraxia of speech" or "developmental dyspraxia" in order to indicate that the disorder is one that occurs in children without a known incident of injury or illness. This does not mean to infer that these particular speech and language disorders are not caused by an injury or lillness, simply that the moment of injury/illness is typically unknown.

developmental speech and language disorder - difficulty producing speech sounds, using spoken language to communicate, or understanding what other people say. Often the earliest indicator of a learning disability.

dysgraphia - a neurological disorder characterized by writing disabilities. Specifically, the disorder causes a person's writing to be distorted or incorrect. In children, the disorder generally emerges when they are first introduced to writing. They make inappropriately sized and spaced letters, or write wrong or misspelled words, despite thorough instruction. Children with the disorder may have other learning disabilities, however, they usually have no social or other academic problems.

dyslexia - a brain-based type of learning disability that specifically impairs a person's ability to read. These individuals typically read at levels significantly lower than expected despite having normal intelligence. Although the disorder varies from person to person, common characteristics among people with dyslexia are difficulty with phonological processing (the manipulation of sounds) and/or rapid visual-verbal responding.

exceptional pupil - a pupil whose behavioural, communication,
intellectual, physical or multiple exceptionalities are such
that he or she is in need of a special education program or

expressive language disorder - some children have problems expressing themselves in speech. This is referred to as a developmental expressive language disorder. A child who often calls objects by the wrong names, has an expressive language disorder. An expressive language disorder can take other forms. A 4-year-old who speaks only in two-word phrases and a 6-year-old who can't answer simple questions also have an expressive language disability.

IDEA - the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (USA) - H.R. 5 became Public Law 105-17 when the bill was signed by former President Clinton on June 4, 1997. "To be competitive in today's global society, everyone must reach his or her full potential. IDEA '97, administered by the Office of Special Education Programs, is working toward this future for students with disabilities everywhere."

IEP - an Individual Education Plan for an exceptional pupil
outlining how the pupil's identified needs will be met.

language - any means of conveying or communicating ideas; specifically, human speech; the expression of ideas by the voice; sounds, expressive of thought, articulated by the organs of the throat and mouth. Language is used to communicate the thoughts of one person to another through the organs of hearing. Articulate sounds are represented to the eye by letters, marks, or characters, which form words.

language processing - the ability to understand what another person says or means

learning disability - (definition from the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada)."A number of disorders which may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding or use of verbal or nonverbal information. These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average abilities essential for thinking and/or reasoning. As such, learning disabilities are distinct from global intellectual deficiency.

Learning disabilities result from impairments in one or more processes related to perceiving, thinking, remembering or learning. These include, but are not limited to: language processing; phonological processing; visual spatial processing; processing speed; memory and attention; and executive functions (e.g. planning and decision-making)."

For success, individuals with learning disabilities require early identification and timely specialized assessments and interventions involving home, school, community and workplace settings.

"other" learning disabilities - The DSM also lists additional categories, such as "motor skills disorders" and "specific
developmental disorders not otherwise specified." These diagnoses include delays in acquiring language, academic, and motor skills that can affect the ability to learn, but do not
meet the criteria for a specific learning disability. Also included are coordination disorders that can lead to poor penmanship, as well as certain spelling and memory disorders.

phonological awareness - the understanding that language is made up of individual sounds (phonemes) which are put together to form the words we write and speak. This is a fundamental precursor to reading. Children who have difficulty with phonological awareness will often be unable to recognize or isolate the individual sounds in a word, recognize similarities between words (as in rhyming words), or be able to identify the number of sounds in a word. These deficits can affect all areas of language including reading, writing, and understanding of spoken language.

phonological processing disorder- phonology is the sound system of language. Children who have phonological processing disorders have not learned the rules for how sounds fit together to make words, and use certain processes to simplify words. Phonological processing disorders are related to language. Children with phonological processing disorders are frequently unintelligible. These children are at a very high risk for later reading and learning disabilities.

receptive language disorder -- trouble understanding certain aspects of speech, even though hearing is fine. It may be a toddler who doesn't respond to his name, a preschooler who hands you a bell when you asked for a ball, or the worker who consistently can't follow simple directions. They cannot make sense of certain sounds, words, or sentences they hear. They may even seem inattentive. These people have a receptive language disorder. Because using and understanding speech are strongly related, many people with receptive language disorders also have an expressive language disability. Some misuse of sounds, words, or grammar is a normal part of learning to speak for a preschooler.

spatial relation - refers to the position of objects in space. It also refers to the ability to accurately perceive objects in space with reference to other objects. Reading and math are two subjects where accurate perception and understanding of spatial relationships are very important. Both of these subjects rely heavily on the use of symbols (letters, numbers, punctuation, math signs).

special education program - a planned program for an
exceptional pupil, based on meeting the pupil's identified
needs. It can be delivered in a regular classroom, a special
class or on a withdrawal basis. It does not mean a location.
In its written form it is usually called the IEP.

specific language impairment (SLI) - SLI is a language disorder. This means that the child has difficulty understanding and using words in sentences. Both receptive and expressive skills are typically affected.

One of the hallmarks of SLI is a delay or deficit in the use of function morphemes (e.g., the, a, is) and other grammatical morphology (e.g., plural -s, past tense -ed). They omit function morphemes from their speech long after age-matched children with typical language development show consistent production of these elements.

visual discrimination - the ability to differentiate objects based on their individual characteristics. Visual discrimination is vital in the recognition of common objects and symbols. Attributes which children use to identify different objects include: color, form, shape, pattem, size, and position. Visual discrimination also refers to the ability to recognize an object as distinct from its surrounding environment.

visual spatial processing - to understand an object, or a picture of an object, that we are looking at, we must use the information provided by vision to access the representation of that object in the semantic system. A visual processing, or perceptual, disorder refers to a hindered ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes. This is different from problems involving sight or sharpness of vision. Difficulties with visual processing affect how visual information is interpreted, or processed by the brain.