Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)- This 1990 Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. The ADA also establishes requirements for telecommunications relay services. Five federal agencies and departments enforce the ADA- the Department of Labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Transportation, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Department of Justice. For more information, check out The ADA’s Website.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)- A group of diagnoses characterized by delay and impairment in several areas including social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication and by self-stimulation (“stimming”) and stereotyped interests and behavior. This diagnosis includes autism, autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, and Asperger Syndrome. It is a medical diagnosis and should only be reached by a doctor. For a more exhaustive list of symptoms see Treatment, Symptoms, and Other helpful Information.

Extended School Year Services (ESY)- Some students would lose the skills they’ve acquired over the course of the school year without reinforcement and continued instruction over the summer and thus extended classes are offered. This is a highly litigated and often confusing part of the IDEA. Officially, ESY are services provided to a student with a disability, at no cost to the parents, in line with the student’s IEP beyond the normal school year. A large part of this is determined by the student’s regression over breaks, but several factors are used. For more information about the factors used to determine whether a child qualifies for ESY, check out this thorough analysis provided by about.com.

Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)- One of the premier tenants of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) it is also one of the most misunderstood and misapplied. FAPE is a mandate within the IDEA that school districts provide both general education and specialized educational services. One of the most important tenants of this law is that disabled students must receive services free of charge as they are provided to children without disabilities. For specific examples of what FAPE does and does not cover see: Myths and Facts about FAPE

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)- The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that governs how public schools, states, and other applicable public agencies provide services such as early intervention education, special education and related services to children with special needs. There are often references to its predecessor, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act that arose out of a variety of cases in the federal court. The IDEA itself is very complicated and contains a variety of different provisions and considerations. The primary three discussed in literature are Individual Education Plan (IEP), Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). A thorough discussion of the IDEA and specific points in practice is available at the American Psychological Association’s Website: Individuals With Disabilities Education Act for More Information.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)- An IEP is a document created for a child diagnosed with a  disability or otherwise documented special need that defines the specific objectives of that specific child. The IEP is designed to be a roadmap on how to treat the child for the best results given the opinion of educators and doctors alike. The document should be very specific to the needs of the child and include how the child learns best, what mainstream classes are available to the child and what goals the child should be working toward that year. As long as the student qualifies for special needs education, the IEP must be regularly maintained, consistently evaluated and utilized in the treatment of the child. For more specific requirements of an IEP, please refer to Kid’s Health.

IEP Meeting- The IDEA provides that an IEP meeting will take place at least once a year to address the goals, objectives and progress of a student with an IEP. The parents will push for certain programs, the school will push for certain programs and somewhere in the middle an agreement will be made. Focusing on the needs of the student rather than the expectations of a parent or the resources of the school is a good way to start. It is important to know that the schools are not required to “maximize potentional” of a student, but rather to provide a “Free and Appropriate Education” in the “Least Restrictive Environment.” Where there is a “meaningful educational benefit” most courts have found the IDEA sufficient. For more information check out these articles on maximizing potential success for IEP meetings and avoiding common pitfalls.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)- Wherever possible, students with disabilities are to be educated alongside their mainstreamed classmates. This is one of the most common areas of misunderstanding. Many people think that a child is to have as many individualized and specialized classes as possible, but this provision in many ways seeks to have students with disabilities treated as normally as possible. The aim is accommodation not isolation, elimination or separation. For more information about enforcement of LRE, check out this link.