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The ABCs of Early Intervention

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When I meet a new family for the first time, the first thing I do is explain the ins and outs of the early intervention program. Occasionally (especially when things are hectic, I’m sorry to admit), I dive right in and forget to start at the beginning.

Parents new to special education lingo let me know I’m losing them pretty fast with some very specific non-verbal communication. Either their eyes glaze over in boredom, or they get that deer-in-the-headlights look that says, “I’m overwhelmed. What is happening here?” It’s an important reminder to educators like me to slow down and explain what we are saying.

In special education, everything has an acronym. Add a layer of early intervention, and things get even more messy. (Special education requires “prior written notice,” which is not to be confused with “written prior notice”—a requirement of early intervention in my state. Don’t even get me started on that one.) From eligibilities to services to the paperwork you sign, there’s a tricky nickname for everything. If you haven’t been given the key, it can be a tough code to crack.

RELATED: My Toddler Isn't Talking, Now What?

Though the jargon varies from state to state, here is a list of acronyms I use in early intervention on a regular basis. I hope it will help you sort out the “alphabet soup” of early childhood special education. As your child’s primary advocate, it’s important to speak up and ask your educators to explain information that you don’t understand.

Laws and Other Legal Terms

IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (this is the law that requires students with disabilities be educated, beginning at 2.5 years)

CAPTA: Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act

FERPA: Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

Eligibility Categories and Conditions

ASD: Autism Spectrum Disorders

DS: Down Syndrome

CP: Cerebral Palsy

ECDD: Early Childhood Developmentally Delayed

FAS: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

HI: Hearing Impairment

OHI: Other Health Impairment

PI: Physical Impairment

PDD: Pervasive Developmental Disorder

SLD: Specific Learning Disability

SLI: Speech and Language Impairment

TBI: Traumatic Brain Injury

VI: Visual Impairment


ABA: Applied Behavioral Analysis

CSHC: Children’s Special Health Care

ECSE: Early Childhood Special Education

SLP: Speech and Language Pathologist

OT: Occupational Therapy

PT: Physical Therapy


IEP: Individualized Education Plan

IFSP: Individualized Family Service Plan


ADLs: Activities of Daily Living

CST: Child Study Team

FBA: Functional Behavior Assessment

LRE: Least Restrictive Environment

RELATED: 10 Early Signs of Autism

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Your best resource for more information is your special educator. Or check out the NICHCY website for a complete list of commonly used acronyms.

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