Module 1: Introduction to Special Education
Austin Community College





The student will:

•Analyze historical and cultural views of disabilities.

•Describe the 14 disability categories identified by IDEA.

•Generate a definition of "disability."

•Identify special education terms, models, and processes

•Identify developmental milestones and explain how disabilities may affect developmental processes.

•Describe medical conditions that affect individuals with disabilities.

•Identify types of assistive technology.

•Identify gifted and talented students with special needs.

•Identify controversies in special education.



Welcome to the world of Special Education!


Serving as a professional educator is arguably the most important contribution a person can offer in society today.  In particular, those who choose to serve students with special needs play a crucial role in improving the outcomes of individuals with disabilities.  This course is intended to be a guide in assisting you in acquiring basic understandings of special education processes and the nature and needs of students with disabilities.


"The hardest battle

is to be nobody but yourself

in a world that is doing its best, night and day

to make you like everyone else."


     E.E. Cummings





Using the information you will read in the links on the following pages along with your personal reflections, complete the activities for this training.  The readings and activities are chosen with the intent to prepare you both for the Special Education TExES Exam as well as your first year as a special education and/or classroom educator. Remember that all classrooms contain students with special needs, including gifted and talented children.


Keep in mind that the activities in this training will not provide you with all of the information that a beginning teacher needs in order to be successful.  Much of what special educators learn about teaching students with disabilities is learned from the students themselves!  So be patient with yourself as you experience the discomfort of being at the beginning of a learning curve.


The links to articles are resources that will help you in completing the activities in this course.  It is recommended that you read the articles as you work, letting the article titles guide your reading as you work through with the activities.  Some activities will specifically direct you to these readings, while others will direct you to "research" the topic. In these instances, a general web search with well-chosen key words that leads to browsing 3-4 links is considered sufficient research.


Begin your studies of special education by reading a brief legislative history of special education on the following page.  Note that this article provides information up to 2002; the IDEA law was reauthorized in 2007.  You will learn more about this reauthorization in Module 2 of this course.




Special Education Glossary


As you complete your research and assignments during Module I, periodically review this list of terms. 

 Special Ed Glossary

 Special Ed Acronyms

 Additional Resources

NICHCY. State Resource Offices in Texas



Practices & procedures that allow students with disabilities to learn

Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD)

In Texas, the name for the IEP Team made up of a student's parents and school staff who meet at least annually to: decide whether or not the student has an eligible disability, determine what special education and related services will be provided, and develop an individual education program (IEP).

Assistive Technology (AT)

Any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)

Written plan to address behavioral concerns impeding the child's learning or that of others

Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM)

A method teachers use to find out how students are progressing in basic academic areas such as math, reading, writing, and spelling.

Due process

A formal legal procedure used to solve disagreements regarding the education of students who receive special education supports and services


The collection of information to determine whether a child is a child with a disability, and to determine the educational needs of the child

Full and Individual Evaluation (FIE)

A comprehensive diagnostic study of a student

Full continuum of Services

Fully supported inclusion with modifications for the individual needs of the child

Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)

A process for collecting information that will help determine the underlying purpose or motivation of a student's challenging behavior

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Special education and related services that have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction and without charge

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

A written statement for each child with a disability that is developed, reviewed and revised by the ARD committee, of which parents are active members

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)

A written plan for infants and toddlers with disabilities, aged birth to three, and their families

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

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 not disabled


Integration of children in special education into conventional classes and school activities


A change in what the student is expected to learn that is different from the general education curriculum


One of the available options used for resolving disagreements about a child's identification, evaluation, educational placement and the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE). 

Present Level of Performance

A statement in the individualized education program (IEP) of the child's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, including how the child's disability affects the child's involvement and progress in the general education curriculum

Procedural Safeguards

A document that explains the parent's legal rights under state law and the IDEA to be involved in and make decisions about their child's education


An early intervention model for addressing the learning needs of all students through a continuum of services which provide: high quality instruction & intervention strategies aligned with individual student need; frequent monitoring of student progress; data-based school improvement; and the application of student response date to important educational decisions

Supplementary Aids and Services

Aids, services, and other supports that are provided in regular education classes or other education-related settings to enable children with disabilities to be educated with non-disabled children to the maximum extent appropriate

Transition Services

A coordinated set of activities that includes moving from one life stage to another

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR)

A set of services offered to individuals with disabilities designed to enable participants to attain skills, resources, and expectations needed to compete in the interview process, get a job, and keep a job


Related Special Education TExES Competencies:Standards 1, 4, 10



Competency 1 - The special education teacher understands and applies knowledge of the characteristics and needs of students with disabilities.


The beginning special education teacher:

 • Knows characteristics of individuals with different types of disabilities, including individuals with different levels of severity and multiple disabilities across eligibility categories, and analyzes the impact of various disabilities on learning and experience.

 • Knows how the developmental, academic, social, career and functional characteristics of individuals with disabilities relate to levels of support needed, and applies knowledge of human development and disabilities to plan and implement appropriate curriculum.

 • Knows theoretical explanations for behavioral disorders, and analyzes the varied characteristics of behavioral disorders and their effect on learning.

 • Knows the different ways that students with and without disabilities learn.

 • Applies knowledge of human development and the effects of various types of disabilities on developmental processes in order to identify the needs of individuals with and without disabilities.

 • Understands the effects of cultural and environmental influences (e.g., linguistic characteristics, socioeconomic issues, abuse/neglect, and substance abuse) on the child and family.

 • Understands normal, delayed, and disordered communication patterns, including non-symbolic communication, and the impact of language development on the academic and social skills of individuals with disabilities.

 • Knows aspects of medical conditions affecting individuals with disabilities, including the effects of various medications on behavior and functioning and the implications of medical complications for student support needs (e.g., seizure management, tube feeding, catheterization, cardiopulmonary resuscitation [CPR]).

 • Understands ways in which physical disabilities and health impairments relate to development and behavior, and knows the etiologies and effects of sensory disabilities and other conditions affecting individuals with disabilities.


Competency 4 - The special education teacher understands and applies knowledge of procedures for managing the teaching and learning environment, including procedures related to the use of assistive technology.


The beginning special education teacher:

• Applies procedures for ensuring a safe, positive, and supportive learning environment in which diversities are valued, and knows how to address common environmental and personal barriers that hinder accessibility for and acceptance of individuals with disabilities.

 • Knows how to use instructional time efficiently and effectively for individuals with disabilities.

 • Knows how to design, structure, and manage daily routines, including transition time, for students in a variety of educational settings, and applies procedures for monitoring behavior changes across activities and settings.

 • Applies knowledge of basic classroom management theories, methods, and techniques for individuals with disabilities, research-based best practices for effective management of teaching and learning, and management procedures that are appropriate to individual needs.

 • Identifies ways in which technology can assist in managing the teaching and learning environment to meet the needs of individual students.

 • Knows various types of assistive technologies, devices, services, and resources and their role in facilitating students' educational achievement, communication, positioning, mobility, and active participation in educational activities and routines.

 • Knows how to make informed decisions about types and levels of assistive technologies, devices, and services for students with various needs, collect and analyze information about a student's environment and curriculum to identify and monitor assistive technology needs, and support the use of assistive technologies, devices, and services.

 • Applies procedures for participating in the selection and implementation of assistive technologies, devices, and services for students with various needs.

 • Applies procedures for coordinating activities of related services personnel and directing the activities of paraprofessionals, aides, volunteers, and peer tutors.

 • Under the direction of related services personnel, applies knowledge of appropriate body mechanics to ensure student and teacher safety in transfer, lifting, positioning, and seating.


Competency 10 - The special education teacher understands the philosophical, historical, and legal foundations of special education.


The beginning special education teacher:

• Knows the historical foundations of special education, major contributors to the literature, major legislation relevant to knowledge and practice in the education of individuals with disabilities, and current issues and trends in special education.

 • Applies knowledge of models, theories, and philosophies that provide the basis for special education practice.

 • Applies current educational terminology and definitions regarding individuals with disabilities, including professionally accepted classification systems and current incidence and prevalence figures.

 • Analyzes issues relating to definition and identification procedures for individuals with disabilities, including individuals from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds.

 • Understands factors that influence the overrepresentation of culturally and/or linguistically diverse students in programs for individuals with disabilities.

 • Recognizes various perspectives (e.g., medical, psychological, behavioral, educational) regarding definitions and etiologies of disabilities.

 • Understands cultural variations in beliefs, traditions, and values and their effects on the relationships among child, family, and school.

 • Applies knowledge of the continuum of placement and services for individuals with disabilities.

The History and Culture of Special Education


Link to IDEA for the latest history and reauthorization (reviewed 2010).

The History and Reauthorization of IDEA


Special Ed Laws, Rules, Regulations

 If your child is in special education, you'll want to learn about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) - past, present, and future!


By Brett Schaeffer

If your child has a learning disability (LD) or other disability, and is eligible for special education services, you'll want to be familiar with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, also known as IDEA. By law, Congress must re-authorize this legislation every five years. When it was reauthorized back in 2004, it came under scrutiny - and was in the news - once again. Let's take a look at how IDEA first came about.

Access: Opening the Door to Special Services

Imagine it's 1967 and you're back in second grade - the same grade your son is in now. Like your son you're a whiz at math, but you struggle mightily when reading a story or writing a simple sentence.

Unlike your son, though, you wouldn't have had the benefit of any special education services. In 1967, if you were attending a public school, such services didn't exist for kids who would today be identified with learning disabilities. You would've likely suffered through a difficult education experience, struggling to advance to the next grade.

Not until 1969, with the passage of the Children with Specific Learning Disabilities Act (included in Education of the Handicapped Act of 1970, Public Law 91-230, Part G), did federal law mandate support services for students with learning disabilities. Even then it took six years for Congress to pass the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) in 1975. That law officially recognized "specific learning disability" (SLD) as a category eligible for special education funding and service.

Under the law, later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a specific learning disability was defined as "...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 do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia." (Code of Federal Regulations §300.7(c)(10))

That definition still stands today, and children with learning disabilities comprise nearly half of the 6.3 million students in special education programs throughout the country.

According to the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, 2.9 million students with LD, ages 3 to 21, were served under IDEA during the 2000-01 school year. That's more than three times the number of students served during the 1976-77 school year.

Assuring Access to the General Curriculum

With access to special education services mostly solved, parents and LD advocates changed focus in the late 1980s and early 1990s. More students with LD were being identified and were receiving special education services. Too often, though, those students were not being taught the school's general curriculum. This shortcoming was addressed with the 1997 reauthorization of IDEA when an emphasis on access to the general curriculum was added to the statute.

This change "reminds everyone that the expectation is that every child - including LD kids - is going to participate in the same curriculum and have the same academic objectives," says Linda Lewis, coordinator of federal policy and programs for the College of Education at the University of Oregon. Lewis is also a member of the National Center for Learning Disabilities' Professional Advisory Board.

 Identification: The Sooner the Better

In recent years, parents and LD advocates have again shifted their attention. As concerns over access to the general curriculum are resolved, questions over the identification of learning disabilities have grown.

For the 2003 round of IDEA reauthorization, school officials, special education experts, and policymakers across the country said revising the eligibility criteria was a top priority.

The steady increase in the number of students identified with LD is certainly a main reason for the attention. Experts noted, however, that the LD identification process has been flawed for some time.

The process used in many states prior to the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA is officially known as the discrepancy model. It measures the discrepancy between a child's academic performance and his intellectual ability. A significant discrepancy, according to this method, typically indicates LD. Critics have called this the "wait-to-fail" model, because it requires a child to fall behind his peers before being identified with LD.

What should be occurring, according to leading expert in reading research Dr. Reid Lyon, is early screening and intervention for all children. Lyon, Chief of Child Development and Behavior at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, says there is strong evidence for investing in early identification and prevention programs.

Lyon and other experts say early screening and intervention can:

"A learning disability is harder to establish than, say, a vision impairment. It's a much longer problem-solving process," says Linda Lewis. The sooner that process begins - whether in pre-school or kindergarten - the better, she says.

In other words, imagine yourself in second grade in 2003. You have had trouble reading, but under the discrepancy model your reading disorder might not have been identified until you reached the third or fourth grade. That kind of delayed identification might, in fact, have prevented you from ever catching up to your classmates.

On the other hand, if you had been screened for a reading disorder when you were in kindergarten and had received specialized instruction - as experts such as Lyon are suggesting - you might not have needed special services or testing accommodations.

For more on identification and intervention of developmental disorders go to

 Some disabilities are nonverbal

 Next, scan this Report to Congress to see charts, graphs, and categories of information on SPED students.

 Twenty-Eighth Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act


Please match the questions to the answers in the quiz me. (worth 1 point each) 

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Special Education Qualification


According to IDEA, a child qualifies for special education if: the child is a child with a disability and demonstrates an educational need.  This is determined by drawing on a variety of sources.

 Procedures for determining eligibility and educational need.

  1. In interpreting evaluation data for the purpose of determining if a child is a child with a disability under section 300.8, and the educational needs of the child, each public agency must:
    1.  draw upon information from a variety of sources including aptitude and achievement tests, parent input, and teacher recommendations, as well as information about the child's physical condition, social or cultural background, and adaptive behavior and
    2. Ensure that information obtained from all of the sources is documented and carefully considered

 Additional procedures must be followed to identify a student as a student with a learning disability and include:

1.    Application of a process of interventions; if the student does not respond to these interventions, they may qualify as a student with a learning disability

2.     Application of an alternative research-based procedure to determine if a learning disability is present


This special procedure is referred to as "Response to Intervention" or "RTI."


What is Response to Intervention—RTI?

RTI is an approach, new to IDEA 2004, for sorting out whether a struggling child really is a "child with a disability" as defined by IDEA or just needs more intensive regular education strategies to succeed in school.

RTI usually consists of 3 stages or levels of assistance. When a child is identified as struggling to learn—usually through system wide screening tests or through a teacher's observation or testing—RTI may be used to see how the child responds to deliberate research-based interventions and other direct supports. If the child fails to learn adequately in the first level of help, then he or she moves to Level 2, and so on, where the help (or, in the lingo, the intervention) becomes more intensive. Progress is closely monitored, so the school will know if the child is learning or improving. If the child is not responding to the intervention, then he or she may be referred for evaluation under IDEA to determine eligibility for special education and related services.

 What is RTI?

 From: Commissioner's Rules Guidance, Texas Administrative Code (TAC) 89.1040 Eligibility Criteria ( )


 Please answer the multiple choice question in the quiz me. (worth 3 points)


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What is a Disability?

 Section 504

 Understanding the Differences Between IDEA and Section 504 (of the ADA)


 Please respond to the True/False statements in the quiz me below. (worth 1 point each)

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Accommodations and Modifications



Accommodations for Students with LD


NICHCY. Supports, Modifications, Adaptations


Protecting Students with Disabilities: Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities


A.     The Basics of Special Education Process under IDEA in 10 Steps


Understanding the Special Education Process


Special Education Step-by-Step


For each of the following steps in the special education process, note key concepts and/or terms associated with each step that must happen within the school year. This information is important to you as a beginning special educator and as a resource for parents. Please complete the ordering activity. (worth 8 points)  (When you select the correct choice in the sequence, you will hear a chime.)

 Hyperlink to Ordering Activity 



B. Models of Special Education

  A series of education models are listed below followed by a link including the model. Please study each education model.

Inclusion and Pullout

Discrepancy Model's_Teacher_to_Identify_and_Address_Math_Disabilities

3 Tiered Model

Response to Intervention


Please match the models with their description in the quiz me below. (worth 10 points)


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  C.  Disabilities


IDEA identifies 14 disability categories that students must fit in order to receive SPED services.

IDEA's Disability Categories


See link: Using the list of 14 disability categories identified by IDEA, describe the key features of each disability category.  Information on each individual disability (18) can be found here: You may use this chart and take the appropriate space with 8 or 9 point font. Orthopedic Impairments -


According to IDEA, "A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written..."  [§300.8(c)(10)(i)]

…That may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to: listen, write, think, spell, speak, do mathematical calculations, read, and write

 …including conditions such as: perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia

 …and does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; mental retardation; emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.


Considering the Meaning of "Adversely Affects" - You may have noticed that the phrase "adversely affects educational performance" appears in most of the disability definitions. This does not mean, however, that a child must be failing in school to receive special education and related services. According to IDEA, states must make a free appropriate public education available to "any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even if the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade, and is advancing from grade to grade." [§300.101(c)(1)]


In the quiz me you will find questions on 14 disabilities. Please answer the multiple choice questions in the quiz me. (worth 2 points each)  

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Medical Conditions Associated with Disabilities


Match the condition that is associated with the listed disorder in the quiz me. (worth 5 points)


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 Behavior Disorder, Cognitive Disabilities, Orthopedic Impairments, and Assistive Technology


After studying the powerpoint, choose the characteristics which best describe the disorders listed in the quiz group. (worth 5 points)

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D. Cognitive Disabilities


Cognitive Disabilities


After researching cognitive disabilities please answer the questions in the quiz me. (worth 2 points each)


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 E. Assistive Technology


What is Assistive Technology?


Facts About Assistive Technology and the IEP


Help for Young Learners: How To Choose AT?


Research the topic of assistive technologies.  Complete the ordering activity on solutions to support a child's participation identifying assistive technology in the quiz me. (worth 6 points)



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F. Gifted and Talented Students with Special Needs


Gifted but Learning Disabled: A Puzzling Paradox


Gifted Children with Learning Disabilities: A Review of the Issues


ADHD and Children Who Are Gifted


 After reading about gifted and talented students with special needs please answer the question in the quiz me. (worth 2 points) 

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G. Language Development


Speech and Language Milestone Chart


Early Identification of Speech-Language Delays and Disorders


General Information About Speech and Language Disorders


Late Blooming or Language Problem?


The Relationship Between Language and Learning Disabilities


Nonverbal Learning Disorders


Thinking with Language, Images, and Strategies


Auditory Processing Disorder in Children


Complete the multiple choice questions on communication patterns in the quiz me below. (worth 4 points)


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H.   Special Ed Placements/Full Continuum of Services


After reading about "a full continuum of services" please answer the true/false question in the quiz me. (worth 2 pts)

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1.     Controversies in Special Education


Activity 6: In your research on issues of controversy in special education, use the following questions to guide your research.  The following document is a good place to start – Special Education Teachers Guide at


Special Education Dispute Resolution Processes


 There are 7 questions listed in the quiz me. Please answer 2 of the questions and give your reason for agreeing or disagreeing with your answer. (worth 10 pts)


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Professional Responsibilities/Confidentiality


FERPA and Confidentiality



Shared Agreement for charter schools


All educators need to know and understand their professional responsibilities. However, teachers working with special education students have a higher bar for working with parents, students, staff, and administrators, particularly regarding confidentiality. Study the examples to see what issues typically create problems for everyone in the SPED process.



End of Module 1 - Apply for certificate of completion.You must have a grade of at least 70 points to receive your professional development hours.