Disability Categories

In order to qualify for special education under the regulations that implement the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a child needs to be a child with a disability, meaning that the child has been evaluated as having a qualifying disability, and by reason thereof needs special education. [See 34 C.F.R. § 300.8(a)]

  • The child must have a qualifying disability as defined by the IDEA regulations;
  • The disability must have an adverse effect on the child’s educational performance;
  • The child must need specially designed instruction in order to access and make progress in the general education curriculum.

The disability categories under the IDEA are listed below:

Autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. (ii) Autism does not apply if a child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance, as defined in paragraph (c)(4) of this section. (iii) A child who manifests the characteristics of autism after age three could be identified as having autism if the criteria in paragraph (c)(1)(i) of this section are satisfied.[34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(1)]

Verification of Autism is typically provided by a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, neuropsychologist, school psychologist or medical doctor.

Deaf-blindness means concomitant hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness. [34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(2)]
Deafness means a hearing impairment that is so severe that the child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. [34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(3)]
Emotional Disturbance
Emotional disturbance means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance: (A) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors. (B) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers. (C) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances. (D) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression. (E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems. (ii) Emotional disturbance includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance under paragraph (c)(4)(i) of this section. [34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(4)]

Requires verification of a disorder by a psychiatrist, licensed psychologist, or a certified school psychologist. [A.A.C. R7-2-401(E)(6)(a)]

Hearing Impairment
Hearing impairment means an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance but that is not included under the definition of deafness in this section. [34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(5)]

Requires an audiological evaluation by an audiologist. [A.A.C. R7-2-401(E)(6)(b)]

Intellectual Disability
Intellectual Disability means significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. [34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(6)]

The term Intellectual Disability replaces the term mental retardation.

Multiple Disabilities
Multiple disabilities means concomitant impairments (such as [intellectual disability]-blindness or [intellectual disability]-orthopedic impairment), the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for one of the impairments. Multiple disabilities does not include deaf-blindness. [34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(7)]
Orthopedic Impairment
Orthopedic impairment means a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by a congenital anomaly, impairments caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis), and impairments from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures). [34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(8)]

Requires verification of a physical disability by a doctor of medicine. [A.A.C. R7-2-401(E)(6)(e)]

Other Health Impairment (OHI)
Other health impairment means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that— (i) Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome; and (ii) Adversely affects a child’s educational performance. [34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(9)]

Requires verification of a health impairment by a doctor of medicine. [A.A.C. R7-2-401(E)(6)(c)]

Specific Learning Disability (SLD)
Specific learning disability—(i) General. Specific learning disability 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 the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. (ii) Disorders not included. Specific learning disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of [intellectual disability], of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage. [34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(10)]
Speech or Language Impairment (SLI)
Speech or language impairment means a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. [34 C.F.R. 300.8(c)(11)]

Requires an evaluation by a certified speech-language therapist. [A.A.C. R7-2-401(E)(6)(f)] [34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c )(11)]

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Traumatic brain injury means an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Traumatic brain injury applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem-solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech. Traumatic brain injury does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma. [34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(12)]

Requires verification of the injury by a doctor of medicine. [A.A.C. R7-2-401(E)(6)(h)]

Visual Impairment (VI)
Visual impairment including blindness means an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness. [34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(13)]

Requires verification of a visual impairment by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. [A.A.C. R7-2-401(E)(6)(i)]



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