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Per IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), Special Education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, and includes related services.

Under IDEA’s legislation, all states receiving federal funding must:

  • Provide all students with disabilities between the ages of three and 21 with access to an appropriate and free public education

  • Identify, locate and evaluate children labeled with disabilities

  • Develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each child

  • Educate children with disabilities within their "least restrictive environment." This environment is ideally with their typically developing peers but is dependent on individual circumstances

  • Provide those students enrolled in early-intervention (EI) programs with a positive and effective transition into an appropriate preschool program

  • Provide special education services for those children enrolled in private schools

  • Ensure teachers are adequately qualified and certified to teach special education

  • Ensure that children with disabilities are not suspended or expelled at rates higher than their typically developing peers.




The Child has a disability
  • To qualify as a child with a disability and receive special education services and supports under IDEA, a child must first be assessed by the school district.  The results of the assessment will then be considered by a special education team.​

  • The child is not making effective progress in regular education due to the disability; and

  • The child requires either specially designed instruction or related service which is necessary to allow the child to access the general education curriculum.


A child between the ages of three and twenty-one, who have not attained a high school diploma, may be eligible for special education services in Massachusetts.

Related Service

Related Services include:
  • Speech-language pathology and audiology services

  • Interpreting services;

  • Psychological services

  • Physical and occupational therapy;

  • Recreation, including therapeutic recreation;

  • Early identification and assessment of disabilities in children;

  • Counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling;

  • Orientation and mobility services;

  • Medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes;

  • School health services and school nurse services; and

  • Social work services in schools.

§ 300.39 Special education.

(a) General.

(1) Special education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including -

(i) Instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and

(ii) Instruction in physical education.

(2) Special education includes each of the following, if the services otherwise meet the requirements of paragraph (a)(1) of this section -

(i) Speech-language pathology services, or any other related service, if the service is considered special education rather than a related service under State standards;

(ii) Travel training; and

(iii) Vocational education.

(b) Individual special education terms defined. The terms in this definition are defined as follows:

(1) At no cost means that all specially-designed instruction is provided without charge, but does not preclude incidental fees that are normally charged to nondisabled students or their parents as a part of the regular education program.

(2) Physical education means -

(i) The development of -

(A) Physical and motor fitness;

(B) Fundamental motor skills and patterns; and

(C) Skills in aquatics, dance, and individual and group games and sports (including intramural and lifetime sports); and

(ii) Includes special physical education, adapted physical education, movement education, and motor development.

(3) Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this part, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction -

(i) To address the unique needs of the child that result from the child's disability; and

(ii) To ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children.

(4) Travel training means providing instruction, as appropriate, to children with significant cognitive disabilities, and any other children with disabilities who require this instruction, to enable them to -

(i) Develop an awareness of the environment in which they live; and

(ii) Learn the skills necessary to move effectively and safely from place to place within that environment (e.g., in school, in the home, at work, and in the community).

(5) Vocational education means organized educational programs that are directly related to the preparation of individuals for paid or unpaid employment, or for additional preparation for a career not requiring a baccalaureate or advanced degree.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1401(29))

Disability Areas:

Disability shall mean one or more of the following impairments:
  1. Autism

    • A developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction. The term shall have the meaning given it in federal law at 34 CFR §300.8(c)(1).

  2. Developmental Delay

    • The learning capacity of a young child (3–9 years old) is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed and is exhibited by difficulties in one or more of the following areas: receptive and/or expressive language; cognitive abilities; physical functioning; social, emotional, or adaptive functioning; and/or self-help skills.

  3. Intellectual Impairment

    • The permanent capacity for performing cognitive tasks, functions, or problem-solving is significantly limited or impaired and is exhibited by more than one of the following: a slower rate of learning; disorganized patterns of learning; difficulty with adaptive behavior; and/or difficulty understanding abstract concepts. Such term shall include students with mental retardation.

  4. Sensory Impairment

    • The term shall include the following:

      • Hearing Impairment or Deaf

        • The capacity to hear, with amplification, is limited, impaired, or absent and results in one or more of the following: reduced performance in hearing acuity tasks; difficulty with oral communication; and/or difficulty in understanding auditorially-presented information in the education environment. The term includes students who are deaf and students who are hard-of-hearing.

      • Vision Impairment or Blind

        • The capacity to see, after correction, is limited, impaired, or absent and results in one or more of the following: reduced performance in visual acuity tasks; difficulty with written communication; and/or difficulty with understanding information presented visually in the education environment. The term includes students who are blind and students with limited vision.

      • Deafblind

        • Concomitant hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes severe communication and other developmental and educational needs.

  5. Neurological Impairment

    • The capacity of the nervous system is limited or impaired with difficulties exhibited in one or more of the following areas: the use of memory, the control and use of cognitive functioning, sensory and motor skills, speech, language, organizational skills, information processing, affect, social skills, or basic life functions. The term includes students who have received a traumatic brain injury.

  6. Emotional Impairment

    • As defined under federal law at 34 CFR §300.8(c)(4), the student exhibits one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects educational performance: an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors; an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers; inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances; a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems. The determination of disability shall not be made solely because the student's behavior violates the school's discipline code, because the student is involved with a state court or social service agency, or because the student is socially maladjusted unless the Team determines that the student has a serious emotional disturbance.

  7. Communication Impairment

    • The capacity to use expressive and/or receptive language is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed and is exhibited by difficulties in one or more of the following areas: speech, such as articulation and/or voice; conveying, understanding, or using spoken, written, or symbolic language. The term may include a student with impaired articulation, stuttering, language impairment, or voice impairment if such impairment adversely affects the student's educational performance.

  8. Physical Impairment

    • The physical capacity to move, coordinate actions, or perform physical activities is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed and is exhibited by difficulties in one or more of the following areas: physical and motor tasks; independent movement; performing basic life functions. The term shall include severe orthopedic impairments or impairments caused by congenital anomaly, cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures if such impairment adversely affects a student's educational performance.

  9. Health Impairment

    • A chronic or acute health problem such that the physiological capacity to function is significantly limited or impaired and results in one or more of the following: limited strength, vitality, or alertness including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli resulting in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment. The term shall include health impairments due to asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, and sickle cell anemia, if such health impairment adversely affects a student's educational performance.

  10. Specific Learning Disability

    • The term means 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 to do mathematical calculations. Use of the term shall meet all federal requirements given in federal law at 34 CFR §§300.8(c)(10) and 300.309.

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