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Special education is filled with dozens of content specific phrases and acronyms. Below are some of the key terms that you may encounter when working with a child with a disability as well as their application to the competitive community. Though this is not an all-encompassing list, it is a resource that can be referenced as needed. All of the definitions below are from Vanderbilt University’s Iris Center. For those interested in a deeper dive into special education terminology, the Iris Center Glossary is an excellent resource to explore.

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Term Definition Application to Coaching
Individualized Education Program (IEP) A written plan, required by the IDEA and used to delineate an individual student’s current level of development and learning goals, as well as to specify any accommodations, modifications, and related services that a student might need to attend school and maximize learning. Because an IEP indicates both accommodations and direct instruction, students with an IEP will have a case manager. This teacher likely works with the student on a weekly basis and would be a resource when trying to figure out how a student’s accommodations should be implemented.
504 Plan A plan that specifies the accommodations and modifications necessary for a student with a disability to attend school with peers; named for Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, ensuring that children with disabilities have equal access to public education; students with 504 plans do not meet the eligibility requirements for special education under the IDEA. 504 plans are typically put in place for a student who needs accommodation but not direct instruction. This can range from a purely medical need, such as carrying an epipen because of a peanut allergy, or it may address the needs of another health impairment, such as a student with ADHD needing to be seated close to instruction. Someone in the school should be in charge of reviewing, updating, and implementing 504 plans and can be a useful resource to determining how the accommodations translate to extracurriculars.
Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) One of the IDEA’s six guiding principles; it requires that students with disabilities be educated with their peers to the greatest appropriate extent. This may not be a term that comes up every day but it is the foundation behind all special education services. There is a long history of educational communities isolating or institutionalizing students with disabilities. More modern pedagogy (and supporting legislation) aims to balance providing students with the specialized instruction and accommodations they need while keeping them in the same environment as their peers to the greatest extent possible.
Accommodations An adaptation or change to educational environments and practices designed to help students overcome the challenges presented by their disabilities and to allow them to access the same instructional opportunities as students without disabilities. An accommodation does not change the expectations for learning or reduce the requirements of the task. Accommodations in the world of speech and debate could be anything from securing an elevator key or ADA accessible rooms to allowing a student to bring food or medication to regulate blood sugar. Though the dozens of potential accommodations will vary based on the student and the type of disability, the key takeaway is that an accommodation allows a student to access the space without changing the expectations or reducing the requirements of participation.
Modifications Any of a number of services or supports that allow a student to access the general education curriculum but in a way that fundamentally alters the content or curricular expectations in question. Examples of modifications that could be seen in speech and debate may be allowing a student to use notes when delivering a speech, shortening the expected speech time, or lengthening prep time. Because modifications fundamentally alter the rules or expectations, these are not required in competitive environments but could be utilized to allow a student to participate during practice.