Under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA,) states are responsible for meeting the special needs of eligible children with disabilities. To be eligible for Special Education you must meet the definition of one of the disability categories listed below:
- Autism: 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 engaging in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. Individuals with autism may also show extreme sensitivity or lack of sensitivity to sensory input like sights, sounds, touches, textures, tastes, and smells. The Autism category includes all of the Autism Spectrum Disorders, also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders. The term autism does not apply if the child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance, as defined in #5 below.
- Deaf-Blindness: A concomitant [simultaneous] 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.
- Deafness: A hearing impairment so severe that a child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
- Developmental Delay: The term developmental delay, as defined by each State, means a delay in one or more of the following areas: physical development; cognitive development; communication; social or emotional development; or adaptive [behavioral] development.
For children from birth to age three (under IDEA Part C) and children from ages three through nine (under IDEA Part B.) A nonspecific disability category that states may choose to use as an alternative to specific disability labels for identifying students up to age 9 needing special education.
- Emotional Disturbance: 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.
Often, children who are eligible for special education services under this category have a specific mental health diagnosis like depression, anxiety disorder, or oppositional defiant disorder, or schizophrenia but it is not necessary for a child to have a formal mental disorder diagnosis to meet this criteria. If a child's mood or behavior disturbance is so significant that it prevents him from learning, it may qualify and should be evaluated. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance.
- Hearing Impairment: An impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance but is not included under the definition of "deafness." While a child who is hearing impaired may be able to use sound as way to gather information with the help of hearing aids or other devices, deaf children cannot use hearing.
- Intellectual Disability: Defined as significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently [at the same time] with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child's educational performance. Intellectual functioning is measured by IQ testing, and a score of 70 or below is considered "significant sub-average." Adaptive functioning describes a person's mastery of everyday living skills. Children and youth with intellectual disabilities need specific instruction to learn many of these skills. Intellectual disabilities can range from mild to profound. The more severe the disability, the more educational supports the students will need. Note: the term "Intellectual Disability" is a new term in IDEA which has replaced the term "mental retardation." The definition of the term itself did not change and is what has just been shown above.
- Multiple Disabilities: Are concomitant [simultaneous] impairments (such as intellectual disability-blindness, intellectual disability - orthopedic impairment, etc.), the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in a special education program solely for one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf-blindness.
- Orthopedic Impairment: 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, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy), and impairments from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures).
- Other Health Impairment: Children and youth who havelimited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that—
(a) 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
(b) adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
- Specific Learning Disability: 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. The term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; of mental retardation; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.
- Speech or Language Impairment: A communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment that adversely affects a child's educational performance. Communication disorders do not describe cultural differences in language, such as accents or dialects.
- Traumatic Brain Injury: 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. The term applies to open or closed head injuries (i.e., car accidents, serious falls, child abuse) or 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; speech and social interactions. The term does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.
- Visual Impairment Including Blindness: Impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child's educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.