The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to provide special education services to eligible students.
IDEA covers 13 disability categories.
Not every student who struggles in school qualifies.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to provide
to eligible students. But not every child who struggles in school qualifies. To be covered, a child’s school performance must be “adversely affected” by a disability in one of the 13 categories below.
1. Specific learning disability (SLD)
The umbrella term “SLD” covers a specific group of learning challenges. These conditions affect a child’s ability to read, write, listen, speak, reason, or do math. Here’s what could fall in this category:
SLD is the most common category under IDEA. In 2018, 34 percent of students who qualified did so under this category.
2. Other health impairment
The umbrella term “other health impairment” covers conditions that limit a child’s strength, energy, or alertness. One example is
ADHD, which impacts attention and
3. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
ASD is a developmental disability. It covers a wide range of symptoms, but it mainly affects a child’s social and communication skills. It can also impact behavior.
4. Emotional disturbance
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Various mental health issues can fall under the “emotional disturbance” category. They may include
anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and
depression. (Some of these may also be covered under “other health impairment.”)
5. Speech or language impairment
This category covers difficulties with
speech or language. A common example is stuttering. Other examples are trouble pronouncing words or making sounds with the voice. It also covers language problems that make it hard for kids to understand words or express themselves.
6. Visual impairment, including blindness
A child who has eyesight problems is considered to have a visual impairment. This category includes both partial sight and blindness. If eyewear can correct a vision problem, then it doesn’t qualify.
Kids with a diagnosis of deafness fall under this category. These are kids who can’t hear most or all sounds, even with a hearing aid.
8. Hearing impairment
The term “hearing impairment” refers to a hearing loss not covered by the definition of deafness. This type of loss can change over time. Being hard of hearing is
not the same thing as having trouble with auditory or language processing.
Kids with a diagnosis of deaf-blindness have both severe hearing and vision loss. Their communication and other needs are so unique that programs for just the deaf or blind can’t meet them.
10. Orthopedic impairment
An orthopedic impairment is when kids lack function or ability in their bodies. An example is cerebral palsy.
11. Intellectual disability
Kids with this type of disability have below-average intellectual ability. They may also have poor communication, self-care, and social skills. Down syndrome is one example of an intellectual disability.
12. Traumatic brain injury
This is a brain injury caused by an accident or some kind of physical force.
13. Multiple disabilities
A child with multiple disabilities has more than one condition covered by IDEA. Having multiple issues creates educational needs that can’t be met in a program designed for any one disability.