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Throwback Thursday: Words, Acronyms and Phrases Used in the World of Disabilities

This first posted in 2009. I updated the old version.

Whenever I've entered a new environment, such as college, a new job or PTA (parent-teacher association), a knowledge of a new language was needed. I'm not talking about Spanish, French or any other foreign language. I mean plain old English with a lot of acronyms and confusing words. 

People accustomed to terms used in an industry or organization typically sling them around, rarely giving any thought to how newcomers might feel. You may feel out of place, even isolated and stupid. I know I have.

Here’s a list of  W.A.P.s (Words, Acronyms and Phrases) I have come across over the past several years with the definition, in my own words. 

Assistive Technology – This includes all the computer equipment, special devices and technical aides that may be used to assist your child in communicating with others.

DD – Developmentally Disabled or Delayed. A lot of kids are lumped into this category as a diagnosis when none can be found.

Early Intervention – Children from birth to three years old who qualify based on disability receive services through the county. These services may be free or based on a sliding scale, depending on where you live.

IDD - Intellectually and Developmentally Delayed. Similar to DD, above. 

IEP – Individual Education Plan. Once a child with special needs reaches three years old, the school system handles services. An IEP is a legal document developed by the parents and school to guide the child’s education.

IFSP – Individual Family Service Plan. While your child is in the Early Intervention program, they will have an IFSP, a document guiding the services your child and family receive.

Inclusion – In the school system, there are several types of classrooms in which children can participate. Inclusion usually defines a class that has both typically developing children and children with disabilities. The teacher and/or assistant will be trained to teach this kind of classroom.

Main Stream – This is the same as Inclusion, but the term “Inclusion” is the updated word to use.

Medicaid – Based on the financial need of the family, this is government-funded health insurance for children and adults who qualify.

MR – Mentally Retarded. This phrase is rarely used because it became a slur, a way to insult people. 

OT – Occupational Therapist. These professionals work with fine motor skills in fingers and hands, arms and upper body. Their focus may be on eating, drinking and writing.

PT – Physical Therapist. These professionals work with gross motor skills in legs, torso and upper body. The focus may be on crawling, sitting and walking.

Self-Contained – In the school system, a classroom filled with children with various disabilities is self-contained.

SLP – Speech-Language Pathologist. These professionals work with helping people to communicate by talking, sign language, using pictures and/or a communication device.

SSI – Social Security Income. This is government-funded assistance to be used for an individual’s needs. It's based on the family's finances and the disability of the individual before the child is 18 years old. Once the individual is 18, only the finances of the person with the disability are considered.
This list is a starting point for a family trying to figure it all out. And when I am at a meeting and some crazy word enters the discussion, I now say, “What does that mean?”

What W.A.P.s would you add to this list? Please include them in the comments section.


  1. Extensions or whatever they are calling it today.

  2. Differently abled


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