• Tiffany T. Lam

13 Eligibility Categories for Special Education

One of the most common myths I still hear about today is that special education is something that only the children with the most severe behaviors or disorders receive. The stigma that surrounds special education is still there. People still imagine a child in a wheelchair who needs other people to help them, or a child who self-injures. But these types of behaviors or disorders aren't the only ones that may be eligible for special education.

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), referred to as IDEA Law, there are 13 eligibility categories in special education. That means that if, after a special education evaluation, your child meets the criteria for any of these 13 categories, and the disability impacts their learning, then they are eligible for special education services.

So what are the 13 eligibility categories?

  1. Specific Learning Disability (SLD) - This refers to a disability that impacts a child's ability to understand or use language in a spoken or written format. SLD can manifest as difficulty with listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, and/or doing math calculations. Children with Dyslexia may be eligible under this category. This is the most common eligibility category within special education. Approximately 33% of children receiving services are eligible under SLD.

  2. Other Health Impairment (OHI) - This refers to a disability that impacts a child's strength, vitality, or alertness. Children with chronic or acute health problems, such as diabetes or epilepsy, may be eligible under this category. A common disability under this category is ADD/ADHD.

  3. Autism (ASD) - This refers to a developmental disability impacting communication, social interactions, repetitive/stereotyped movements, transition & change, and sensory processing. Children do NOT have to have a formal diagnosis to be eligible for services under the category of Autism. Any child manifesting symptoms associated with Autism may be eligible if the team agrees to eligibility.

  4. Speech or Language Impairment (SLI) - This refers to a communication disorder, including stuttering, articulation disorders, language processing impairments, and/or voice impairments. Many young children become eligible for special education under this category.

  5. Emotional Disturbance (ED) - This is a condition in which a child displays one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time:

  6. Inability to learn not explained by intellectual, sensory, or health reasons.

  7. Unable to form relationships with family, peers, and teachers.

  8. Display inappropriate behaviors or feelings under normal circumstances.

  9. Generally low mood or depression.

  10. Develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school issues.

  11. Intellectual Disability (ID) - This is a developmental disability in which a child has significantly low IQ and has deficits in adaptive skills (skills needed to live independently). ID is one of the most common developmental disabilities, and it is estimated that about 7% of students receiving special education services have some form of ID.

  12. Visual Impairment - This refers to a condition that affects a child's vision, that even with correction, impacts learning. Visual impairment includes full or partial blindness, as well as congenital defects, eye diseases, and impairments caused by eye injuries.

  13. Hearing Impairment - This refers to a condition that affects a child's hearing and is not the same as deafness. A child who is hearing impaired may still be able to process sound but may require amplification or other modifications to the environment to learn successfully.

  14. Deafness - This eligibility category is defined as a hearing impairment so severe that a child isn't able to process linguistic information, even with amplification. A child who is deaf may not be verbal but communicates via Sign Language.

  15. Deaf-Blindness - This refers to a condition in which both hearing and visual impairments impact ability to take in auditory and visual information, and the needs are not able to be met with education services solely for deafness or blindness.

  16. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) - This refers to a condition in which a child's behavioral or psychosocial functioning is impaired due to a brain injury caused by external forces. TBIs can be caused by open or closed head injuries and typically impacts one or more of the following: cognition, language, memory, attention, reasoning, abstract thinking, judgment, problem solving, psychosocial behavior, physical functions, speech, information processing, and sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities.

  17. Orthopedic Impairment - This refers to a bone-, joint-, or muscle-related impairment caused by congenital anomalies (e.g., bone tuberculosis) and other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy).

  18. Multiple Disabilities - This refers to a child having simultaneous impairments impacting them. For example, a child may have both an intellectual disability and hearing impairments, or cerebral palsy and autism. Deafblindness is not included in this eligibility category.

If you're wondering if your child may require special education to access learning but you aren't sure where to start, I can help. Contact me for a free 20-minute consultation to get started.

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