Glossary - Common Terms
Click on a letter to locate terms beginning with that letter.
Accommodations – The term accommodations is used in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Accommodations refer to services or supports related to a student’s disability that allow full access to a given subject matter in order for the student to accurately demonstrate knowledge without requiring a fundamental alteration to a assignment or test’s standard expectation. Specifically in regard to testing procedures, accommodations are designed to ensure that an assessment measures the intended construct, not the child’s disability and may be used to affect the administration of tests, student response to test items, and how items are presented to the student on the test instrument.
Section 504 ensures that the child with a disability has equal access to an education. Unlike the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 does not require a school to provide an individualized educational program (IEP) that is designed to meet the child’s unique needs and provides the child with educational benefit. Under Section 504, fewer procedural safeguards are available to children with disabilities and their parents than under IDEA. Section 504 is a nondiscrimination statute making unlawful “exclusion from participation in, or being denied the benefits of, the services, programs or activities of a school district based solely on the basis of a disability” for any recipient of Federal funds. 504 accommodations are provided in regular education settings for children with impairments who do not otherwise qualify for an individualized education program (IEP). Other examples of 504 plan accommodations might include: providing a structured learning environment; repeating and simplifying instructions; modified texts and workbooks; modified nonacademic activities (e.g., physical education, recess, lunchtime); behavior management; modified schedules; modified testing procedures; adjunctive and accommodative equipment; reduced class size; classroom aides; and special education consultation and supports as needed. Children whose diagnosis qualifies for an IEP will have such accommodations itemized in the IEP. For more information on the distinction among the IDEA, Section 504 or the ADA, follow this link.
Alignment - Alignment refers to a strategy used to ensure that standards, training, technical assistance, monitoring and accountability, finance and consumer engagement approaches of various parts of the early care and education system are teaching common goals and moving in the same direction.
Assessment – Assessment is the practice of determining needs, capacities, and instructional goals for the purpose of furthering the educational, social, emotional and physical development of a child. Assessment is also defined as information gathering aimed at evaluating previous performance, describing current behavior, and predicting future behaviors. A comprehensive assessment synthesizes past records, evaluations, interviews with significant people, observations of current behavior, results of standardized tests, and other special procedures. Assessment differs from testing in that testing reflects performance at a particular time, whereas assessment requires clinical judgment to give meaning to the overall pattern and interrelationships among the various results.
At risk – Risk is the likelihood that an individual will develop a given condition in a given time period. At risk implies the presence of specific intrinsic or extrinsic individual characteristics (e.g., intrinsic — genetic susceptibility, age, sex, and weight; extrinsic — environmental exposures such as nutrition, housing, or toxic agents) that are associated with an increased probability of developing a condition or disease. To have risk factors does not necessarily imply a cause-and-effect relationship, simply a known higher probability for developing a disease or condition. This term is used in the federal law known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) to refer to child and youth eligibility for early intervention or special education services based on specific eligibility categories used by the states.
Blended Funding – Blended funding is a state level strategy that makes funding streams less categorical by removing, reducing or aligning requirements and regulations so that funds from more than one program are blended into a unified funding stream. View/download this PDF for more information on early childhood blended funding strategies in Maine.
Braided Funding – Braided funding refers to a strategy used at a program or community level for wrapping together separate categorical streams of funding to support seamless or unified services. Even when funding is braided, the managing program continues to track each individual funding stream and adheres to each funder’s specific requirements. View/download this PDF for more information on braided funding (PDF)
For more information on early childhood funding strategies in Maine view/download this PDF.
Challenging behavior – Any repeated pattern of behavior that interferes with or is at risk of interfering with optimal learning or engagement in pro-social interactions with peers and adults. For more information on challenging behavior visit the Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children’s website and the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning’s website.
Community settings – This phrase is used to describe a variety of private and public programs within communities. In the field of early childhood, community settings are usually considered to be programs where children spend part of their day when not with their parents such as licensed family child care homes, Head Start classrooms, nursery schools, and child care centers.
Culture – The term culture has a variety of meanings. It can be used to refer to the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations; the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; the characteristic features of everyday existence shared by people in a place or time; and the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.
Curriculum – Curriculum refers to an organized course of study with defined content, goals and objectives, and learning experiences. A variety of curriculum have been developed for use within center-based early childhood programs and are used to guide program philosophy, child and family outcomes, environmental design and learning experiences provided by staff.
Disability – The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines a “Child with a disability” as a child ages three through 21 who has been evaluated and diagnosed as having “mental retardation, 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.” P.46756 Children, ages three through age nine under Part B of the act depending on state policies can also be determined to have a developmental delay “as defined by the State and as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures, in one or more of the following areas: Physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development.” (Pg. 46756.)
Under the IDEA, the definition of an infant or toddler with a disability is defined as “an individual under three years of age who needs early intervention services because the individual— (1) Is experiencing developmental delays, as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures in one or more of the areas of cognitive development, physical development, communication development, social or emotional development, and adaptive development; or (2) Has a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in developmental delay; and (3) May also include, at a State’s discretion— (1) At-risk infants and toddlers;”. (Pg. 46759). Download/view the Department of Educations’ rules and regulations PDF for more information on definitions under the IDEA here (PDF) or visit The National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center’s website for Part C Eligibility here.
In Maine, the Office of Special Services is responsible for the state’s oversight and support for the delivery of all special education services provided in Maine under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The department’s state rules for special education and eligibility criteria are contained in the 05-071 Chapter 101 Maine Unified Special Education Regulation Birth to Age Twenty (PDF).
Disability may be described as a developmental disability. Federal legislation defines a developmental disability in the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act Amendments of 2000 (PL 106-402) as “a severe, chronic disability of a person 5 years of age or older, which is attributable to a mental or physical impairment or combination of mental and physical impairments; is manifested before the person attains age 22; is likely to continue indefinitely; results in substantial functional limitations in three or more areas of major life activity: 1) self-care, 2) receptive and expressive language, 3) learning, 4) mobility, 5) self-direction, 6) capacity for independent living, and 7) economic self-sufficiency; and reflects the person’s need for a combination and sequence of special, interdisciplinary, or generic care, treatment, or other services that are of lifelong or extended duration and are individually planned and coordinated.” The federal definition also states that developmental disability can also be applied to infants and young children from birth to age 5 “who have substantial developmental delay or specific congenital or acquired conditions with a high probability of resulting in developmental disabilities if services are not provided.” Individual states may expand and modify the definition to more fully meet the needs of their citizens. For more information on the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act Amendments of 2000 (PDF) you can download the file here.
Early Care and Education – Early Care and Education is an umbrella term used for the different types of programs families access for services such as family child care, preschools, informal care, Head Start, Pre-K classrooms and other early childhood programs.
Early Intervention – Early Intervention can refer to more than one program or activity to support children’s growth and development as early as possible and can be described as specialized services provided to young children who are considered to be at risk for developmental delay. This term is used specifically to refer to the Part C section of the federal law known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA). IDEA provides states and territories with specific requirements for providing early intervention services to infants and toddlers with or at risk for disabilities. For more information on the federal IDEA Part C Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with disabilities visit NECTAC.org.
In Maine, early intervention services for infants and toddlers are provided by the Maine Department of Education Child Development Services program. For more information about Child Development Services and their implementation of the federal law visit the Maine.gov site.
Eligibility – Many federal and state funded programs have unique policies and requirements that are used as criteria to determine child and family participation. Sometimes eligibility for a program is based on family income. Assessment tools and processes are often used to determine a child’s eligibility for specialized developmental services or programs.
Family – A group of individuals related by blood, adoption, or marriage; in systems theory, a special group of individuals related to each other through reciprocal affections and loyalties. Admission to a family occurs through birth, marriage or domestic partnership, or adoption, and members exit only by death. A family differs from other social groups in three important ways. A family has 1) a shared and relatively predictable cycle of life experiences, 2) permanency of membership, and 3) the paramount importance of the affectional ties of attachment, loyalty, and positive regard. Thus, even in the absence of biological or legal ties, people may consider themselves and be considered a family based on their mutual support, involvement, and affection for each other.
FAPE- Free Appropriate Public Education – FAPE is a legal requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that provides eligible children with the right to a free, appropriate public education. The purpose of the IDEA is “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to “ meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living…”. For more information on the FAPE requirements see pp. 46762 – 46763 in the Part B Regulations (PDF) here.
In Maine, early childhood special education and related services are provided by the Maine Department of Education Child Development Services program. Read more information about Child Development Services and their implementation of the federal law here.
The department’s state rules for special education and eligibility criteria are contained in the 05-071 Chapter 101 Maine Unified Special Education Regulation Birth to Age Twenty (PDF), which can be downloaded/viewed here.
Framework – A framework is a conceptual structure of ideas.
Inclusive – The term inclusive is used to mean including. In the fields of early intervention, early childhood and special education the term inclusive is often used to describe schools, community settings and programs that provide services and supports to children with disabilities along with their typically developing peers.
Resources on early childhood inclusion are available at the following sites:
- University of Maine Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies
- The Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center
- National Professional Development Center on Inclusion
- SpecialQuest Birth to Five
IEP – Individualized Education Program – A written statement for a child with a disability that is developed, reviewed and revised in accordance with specific criteria described in the regulations of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The education program, based upon the child’s individual needs, is developed at an individualized education program (IEP) meeting, whose members should include a representative of the local school system, the child’s teacher, one or both of the child’s parents, a professional who participated in or is knowledgeable about the evaluation, the child (when appropriate), and anyone else the parent would like to have involved. For more information about the legal requirements for developing and implementing an IEP visit these web sites:
- US Department of Education’s Topical Brief, Regulations and Training Materials on IEP’s
- A training curriculum, a product of NICHY the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities.
- In Maine, early childhood special education and related services are provided by the Maine Department of Education Child Development Services program.
- The department’s state rules for special education and eligibility criteria are contained in the 05-071 Chapter 101 Maine Unified Special Education Regulation Birth to Age Twenty (PDF)
IFSP – Individualized Family Service Plan – The IFSP is a legal requirement for children birth through age two who are eligible for services through the Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities (Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). States may also use the IFSP for eligible preschool children depending on their state policies. For children birth to three years, a statement of child and family needs, outcomes to be achieved, and a plan of services necessary to meet these needs, including frequency, intensity, location, method of delivery, and payment arrangements.
In Maine, early intervention services for infants and toddlers are provided by the Maine Department of Education Child Development Services program. For more information about Child Development Services and their implementation of the federal law visit the website.
LRE – Least Restrictive Environment — The term Least Restrictive Environment is a legal requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for children and youth ages three to 21. Public agencies must ensure that “ 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 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 supports cannot be achieved satisfactorily.” (pp. 46764 – 46765).
For resources on Early Childhood Inclusion visit the following sites:
- University of Maine Center for Inclusion and Disability Studies
- NECTAC Natural Environments and Inclusion
- National Professional Development Center on Inclusion
- SpecialQuest Birth to Five
Linguistic – of or relating to language or linguistics; the study of human speech including the units, nature, structure, and modification of language.
Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) – An MOA is a cooperative agreement and is a document written between parties to cooperatively work together on an agreed upon project or meet an agreed upon objective. The purpose of an MOA is to have a written understanding of the agreement between parties. A MOA can also be used as a document outlining the cooperative terms of two entities to work in partnership on certain listed projects, or as a general partnership. The agreed responsibilities of the partners will be listed and the benefits of each party will be listed. As a part of the agreement there is usually a list of binding terms that makes the partnership a cohesive unit and often there is an obligation of funds attached to certain terms in the agreement.
Modifications – Changes made in the regular education curriculum or program for a student with a disability. A modification changes the expectations or standard results of the curriculum.
Natural environment – The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that early intervention services for infants and toddlers “to the maximum extent appropriate, are provided in natural environments, including the home, and community settings in which children without disabilities participate.”; The law states that “the provision of early intervention services for any infant or toddler with a disability occurs in a setting other than a natural environment that is most appropriate, as determined by the parent and the individualized family service plan team, only when early intervention cannot be achieved satisfactorily for the infant or toddler in a natural environment”.
In Maine, early intervention services for infants and toddlers are provided by the Maine Department of Education Child Development Services program. For more information about Child Development Services and their implementation of the federal law visit Maine.gov.
Parent – The term parent is defined by Webster as one that begets or brings forth offspring or a person who brings up and cares for another. The term parent is defined legally in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act regulations as: “a biological or adoptive parent of a child; a foster parent, unless State law, regulations, or contractual obligations with a State or local entity prohibit a foster parent from acting as a parent; guardian generally authorized to act as the child’s parent, or authorized to make educational decisions for the child unless the child is a ward of the State; an individual acting in the place of a biological or adoptive parent (including a grandparent, stepparent, or other relative) with whom the child lives, or an individual who is legally responsible for the child’s welfare; or a surrogate parent who has been appointed.” (Pg. 46760). View/download the final regulations PDF from idea.ed.gov. (PDF)
Professional Development – Professional development refers to facilitated teaching and learning experiences that are transactional and designed to support the acquisition of professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions as well as the application of this knowledge in practice. The key components of professional development include: (a) the characteristics and contexts of the learners (i.e., the “who” of professional development, including the characteristics and contexts of the learners and the children and families they serve); (b) content (i.e., the “what” of professional development; what professionals should know and be able to do; generally defined by professional competencies, standards, and credentials); and (c) the organization and facilitation of learning experiences (i.e., the “how” of professional development; the approaches, models, or methods used to support self-directed, experientially-oriented learning that is highly relevant to practice). View/download more information on professional development from the National Professional Development Center on Inclusion (PDF).
Quality – The term quality refers to a degree of excellence in a program and can be represented by commonly agreed upon standards of practice. Quality can be used to refer to desired program characteristics and outcomes. For example, a quality early childhood program should offer engaging, appropriate activities in settings that facilitate healthy growth and development.
Related Services – Related services is the term defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for those services a child with a disability needs in order to benefit from special education. The IDEA specifically defines related services as “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.” (Pg. 46760).
Sector – The term sector is used to describe a distinct subset of a society, industry or economy whose components have similar characteristics. Sector can also be used to describe different groups or stakeholders.
Special Education – The term Special Education is defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as “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 (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.” pp. 46761-46762.
In Maine, early childhood special education and related services are provided by the Maine Department of Education Child Development Services program. For more information about Child Development Services and their implementation of the federal law visit Maine.gov.
Specially Designed Instruction – This term is defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) within the requirements for special education. The regulations define specially designed instruction as “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.” (Pg. 46762). Download/view more information on Specially Designed Instruction from idea.ed.gov (PDF).
Special Needs – A child who requires special services and supports to progress or participate. The term special needs is sometimes used interchangeably with terms such as disability or developmental delay. The Children with Special Health Care Needs (CSHCN) program defines special needs as a programmatic designation denoting children who have or are at increased risk for a chronic physical, developmental, behavioral, or emotional condition and who also require health and related services of a type or amount beyond that typically required.
Strengths Based – The concept of strengths based intervention with children and their families is a key principle of family centered services. It means identifying activities the child and family like to do which build on their strengths and interests rather than designing activities for a child that focus simply on skill deficits or that are not functional or enjoyable. This conceptual framework for working with families is individualized to reflect the child’s and family members’ preferences, learning styles and cultural beliefs. Intervention would focus on caregivers’ ability to promote the child’s participation in naturally occurring, developmentally appropriate activities with peers and family members. For more information on strengths based intervention download Enhancing Services in Natural Environments (PDF).
Systems — In general the term “system” refers to a systems approach. A systems approach is a strategy of coordinating different stakeholder groups (sectors: i.e. agencies, providers, parents, policy makers, etc) around an integrated vision for early childhood that provides a framework (organization of goals and objectives, roles and responsibilities, and group operations) to work in concert to produce a set of articulated results/outcomes.
Technical assistance – Technical assistance if often referred to as TA. “TA is a systematic process within a dynamic context that enables a goal-focused, strategy oriented, accountable organization to transfer knowledge to clients for the purpose of their growth, change and improvement. “Based on this definition TA embodies a planned and coherent enterprise with the major expectation of promoting systems change and increasing organizational capacity” (Trohanis, 2001). For more information see Linking Learning to Performance (PDF).
Typically developing – The term typically developing is used to describe infants and young children who demonstrate growth and behavior that is typical or normal for a child of the same age.
Universal Design – Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to teaching, learning, curriculum development and assessment that uses new technologies to respond to a variety of individual learner differences. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) defines universal design using the same definition as the Assistive Technology Act of 1998. The term ‘universal design’ means a concept or philosophy for designing and delivering products and services that are usable by people with the widest possible range of functional capabilities, which include products and services that are directly accessible (without requiring assistive technologies) and products and services that are interoperable with assistive technologies.”