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Special Education Disability Categories

Guest Author - Anne Price

IDEIA Federal Disability Categories

While some states may break these some of these disabilities into separate categories the federal government lists these 11 categories in IDEA. The brief description is mine and is meant to be a general guide and should not be considered specific criteria for eligibility.

The disabilities are based on what is sometimes referred to as “educational diagnosis” as opposed to a “medical diagnosis”. This means that the criteria for special education may be different than diagnostic criteria for the medical or mental health profession. This is often confusing to parents and doctors, psychologists and others not familiar with the criteria necessary for special education.

1. Mental Retardation or MR: this usually refers to those students who have both a significantly lower IQ - (100 is average – MR is 69 or below) AND has significant delays in adaptive skills as indicated through an evaluation. Students are generally given some kind of an IQ test and a test that assesses their living skills, the Vineland is one test used, the Achenbach is also used. There are many different tests for adaptive skills these range from questionnaires to checklists to actual performance of the student. Please ask your school psychologist to explain this category to you.

2. Hearing Impairments (including deafness): this is fairly straight forward and describes those impairments that affect the students ability to hear the spoken word and other sounds.

3. Speech or Language impairments: this actually addresses two very distinct problems. First, speech impairments generally refer to impairments in the ability to produce language or sound required for language. This is often referred to articulation or “artic”. Other speech issues may include the movement of the tongue and mouth and throat muscles – oral motor skills. Speech and language pathologists are specialists in working with speech problems. The other area, language, refers to both expressive language (how students use language) and receptive language (how students understand language). These problems can impact students in many ways; from reading and writing to social and behavior skills. It is important to look at language when we have a student who is exhibiting social and behavior problems as well as problems in the academic areas. Speech and language pathologists are specialists in language (although students can have an oral expression or listening comprehension learning disability which are generally considered the same as language impairments).

4. Visual Impairments (including blindness): this category refers to those students who have impairments that limit their ability to see. Visual perception, visual tracking and other perception problems are not typically included under this category.

5. Serious Emotional Disturbance (hereinafter referred to as emotional disturbance'): This disability is unique in that it is basically the only disability that is placed squarely on the shoulders of the student or the parent. Parents and students are often blamed for this disability and the actual presence of this disability is dismissed if not denied. Students who qualify for special education under this category must meet specific criteria outlined in state law. The symptoms must be present for a period of time and be significantly impacting social, behavioral or emotional functioning. Social maladjustment and some mental health diagnoses may exclude the use of this category.

6. Autism: this disability can also include the Pervasive Developmental Delays or PDD’s associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – it important to note that this is an educational diagnosis and not necessarily a medical diagnosis. Autism generally affects communication, social interaction and behavioral (routines, specific and/or unusual interests, abnormal behavior such as flapping, spinning or swinging)

7. Traumatic brain injury or TBI: refers to injuries to the brain that occur after birth, usually caused by an accident, incident or sometimes by medical interventions for tumors, cancers or other illnesses.

8. Orthopedic Impairments (Physical Impairments): this refers to physical disabilities that may affect the student’s ability to be mobile, use arms, legs or hands. Many of these students require physical or occupational therapy in order to either benefit from their special education or to be involved in the general education environment. Cerebral Palsy and Muscular Dystrophy are just two disorders that are found under this category.

9. Other Health Impairments: this includes those health issues that significantly impact student functioning such as ADHD, swallowing difficulties, use of respirator or other medical equipment etc.

10. Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD): there are currently seven areas of learning disabilities: basic reading, reading comprehension, math calculation, math reasoning, written expression, oral expression and listening comprehension. Eligibility for learning disabilities is changing with IDEIA. Please watch this site for more information on Response to Intervention or Problem Solving Model for determining eligibility for special education.

11. Developmental delay: this is when a child between the ages of 3 and 9, exhibits developmental delays in one or more of the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development. There is specific criteria for determining whether or not the delay is significant, this usually has to do with how far behind their peers the student may be in his/he skill development. There are also specific rules around using this category between the ages of 6 and 9. Please contact your school district for more information on Developmental Delays.
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Content copyright © 2014 by Anne Price. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Anne Price. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Celestine A. Jones for details.

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