Exceptional Education » Disability Categories

Disability Categories

Autism is a developmental disability, which significantly affects verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction that is generally evident prior to age three. The term Autism includes students that have been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder such as Autism, Pervasive Development Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) or Asperger's Syndrome. It may also include other pervasive developmental disorders such as Rett Syndrome, a childhood disintegrative disorder.  This disability must have a medical provider's input for verification of the disability. 

General Characteristics
  • Difficulty with social interactions (playing or relating to children and adults)
  • Lack of spontaneous seeking to share interests or achievements with others
  • Cannot start or maintain a conversation
  • May not respond to eye contact
  • Does not refer to self correctly
  • Shows little pretend or imaginative play
  • Engagement in repetitive activities (repeating phrase or story, performing the same motor task over and over)
  • Engagement in stereotyped movements
  • Resistant to environmental change or change in daily routines
  • Unusual responses to the environment (over sensitive to sight, hearing, touch, smell, and/or taste)
  • Varying levels of intelligence (Many children with autism have average or above average intelligence, some do not. Even within a child with autism, the intelligence levels can vary. He/she may be great at spatial relationships [puzzles, geometry, etc.], but not be able to read simple sight words.)
Deaf-Blindness refers to a concomitant hearing and visual impairment, the combination of which causes severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that cannot be accommodated in special education programs by just addressing one of the impairments. A child may be diagnosed with a degenerative condition or syndrome that may lead to deaf-blindness or a child may have severe multiple disabilities due to a generalized central nervous system dysfunction that may fall into this category. 

Deafness is defined as having a hearing impairment so severe that a child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing with or without amplification. The term deaf implies that a person has a very severe hearing loss and relies primarily on lip reading or sign language for communication. 

General Characteristics
  • Inability to communicate
  • Inability to perform on expected grade level
  • Delayed speech and language development
  • May misunderstand information presented
  • Difficulty understanding concepts that are not concrete; takes things literally.
Developmental Delay refers to children ages 3-9 that are experiencing delays in one or more of the following areas: physical, cognitive, communication, social or emotional, or adaptive behavior that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. 

Functional Delay is defined as a continuing significant disability in intellectual functioning and achievement which adversely affects the child’s ability to progress in the general education setting. Adaptive behavior measures in the home/community are not significantly impaired. 

General Characteristics
  • Impaired intellectual functioning-- two or more standard deviations below the mean
  • Academic achievement at or below the 4th percentile in two or more of the following areas: basic reading skills, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, mathematics problem solving, written expression
  • Home or school adaptive behavior scores that fall above the intellectually deficit range
Emotional disturbance is defined as a condition in which a child exhibits one or more of the following characteristics over an extended time and to a marked degree during which time informal assessments are being documented and interventions are being implemented. The term may include other mental health diagnoses.  But it does not apply to children that are socially-maladjusted; unless it is determined that they have an Emotional Disturbance. Social Maladjustment includes substance abuse-related behaviors, gang-related behaviors, oppositional-defiant behavior, and/or conduct behavior problems. 

General Characteristics
  • Inability to learn which cannot be explained by limited school experience, cultural differences, or intellectual, sensory, or health factors
  • Inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and school personnel
  • Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings when no major or unusual stressors are evident
  • A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression
  • The tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems
Hearing impairment is defined as impairment in hearing, whether it is considered permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. It does not include deafness. 

General Characteristics
  • Language and speech delay, different voice characteristics
  • Inability to communicate effectively
  • Inability to perform academically on a level commensurate with grade placement because of the hearing impairment
  • May misunderstand information presented
  • Difficulty understanding concepts that are not concrete; takes things literally.
Intellectual Disability is characterized by significantly impaired intellectual functioning as well as deficits in adaptive behavior which is manifested during the child’s developmental period. There is an adverse effect on the child’s educational performance in all areas due to problems of significant delays in thinking, communication, and daily living skills. 

General Characteristics
  • Requires more time and repetition to learn things
  • Immature for age
  • Failure to meet intellectual milestones
  • Lack of curiosity
  • Decreased learning ability
  • Continued infantile behavior
Intellectually gifted applies to a child whose intellectual abilities and potential for achievement are so outstanding that the child’s educational performance is adversely affected. The intellectually gifted student has such advanced abilities that differentiation in the classroom curriculum does not provide enough challenge for the student. 

General Characteristics
  • Advanced ability to make judgments
  • Highly alert
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • High aptitude for critical thinking
  • High level of creativity
  • Self-motivated
  • Strong vocabulary and verbal skills
  • Develops creative solutions to social and environmental problems
  • Inquires to the how’s and why’s of things
  • Draws inferences at an early age
  • Demonstrates intense focusing strategies
  • Prefers to socialize with adults and/or older peers
Multiple Disabilities refers to concomitant impairments such as intellectually disabled-deafness, intellectually disabled-orthopedic impairment of which the combination causes severe educational needs that cannot be accommodated by addressing only one of the impairments. 

General Characteristics
  • Low cognitive ability
  • Often needs assistance in daily activities or tasks (eating, toileting, mobility)
  • Goals primarily non-academic (life skills)
A child that demonstrates limited strength, vitality or alertness, and/or a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli because of chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and/or Tourette’s Syndrome and is in need of specifically designed instruction is considered a child with OHI. 

General Characteristics
  • Difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • Fails to give close attention to details
  • Difficulty sustaining attention
  • Difficulty with following instructions
  • Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained effort such as schoolwork
  • Easily distracted
  • Difficulty awaiting turn—often blurts out answers
  • Excessive absenteeism related to health issues
  • Impaired cognitive functioning due to medications
Orthopedic impairment refers to a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The impairment may be caused by a congenital anomaly such as club foot or absence of some member; a disease such as polio or bone tuberculosis; and other causes such as cerebral palsy, amputations, and/or fractures and burns that cause contractures. 

General Characteristics
  • Hard to control limbs
  • Involuntary movements
  • May need assistance with toileting, eating and general life skills
  • Motor difficulties in mobility, writing, and sitting
  • May need assistance to remove or accommodate barriers 
  • May need assistance for the student to be as independent as possible
  • May need for communicators to adapt positions such as speaking to the student at eye level (one example: sit down beside the student if he/she is in a wheelchair)
The term 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, which may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.
General Characteristics
  • Usually average to above average intelligence
  • Distractible
  • Erratic and/or fluctuating academic performance in reading fluency, reading comprehension, math calculation, math problem solving, or written expression
  • Reasoning difficulty
  • Problems with spatial relationships
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Easily frustrated
A speech and language impairment implies that there is a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, and/or a voice impairment that adversely affects the child’s educational performance. 

General Characteristics
  • Receptive Language Delay
  • Expressive Language Delay
  • Poor auditory processing skills
  • Sound Production Errors
  • Hard for others to understand
  • Fluency problems
  • Difficult time conveying messages
Traumatic Brain Injury occurs when there is an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force that results in either total or partial damage or a psychosocial impairment or both. The term refers to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more of the following areas: cognition, language, memory, attention, reasoning, abstract thinking, judgment, problem-solving, sensory abilities, perceptual abilities, motor abilities, psychosocial behavior, physical functions, information processing, and speech. The term does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative or those induced by birth trauma. 

General Characteristics
  • Speech, vision, hearing, and other sensory impairments
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of coordination
  • Spasticity of muscles
  • Paralysis
  • Seizure Disorder
  • Problems with attention or concentration
  • Mood swings
  • Verbal or physical aggression
  • Impulsivity
  • Inter- and intra- personal problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Inability to initiate, organize,  or complete tasks
  • Poor judgment and perception skills
  • Inability to acquire and/or retain new information
  • Inability to process information
  • Inability to sequence, generalize, or plan
  • Long-term and short-term memory problems
  • Inability to perceive, evaluate, or use social cues appropriately
  • Inability to cope with over-stimulation
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Inability to demonstrate age-appropriate behavior
  • Limited self-esteem and self-control
  • Shows signs of restlessness, limited motivation, and limited initiation
  • Problems relating to others
Visual Impairment is defined as impairment in vision (even with correction) that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. This term includes both partial sight and blindness. 

General Characteristics
  • May tire easily
  • May need assistance in moving from place to place
  • May need enlarged or color contrast font in reading materials
  • Unusual blinking patterns
  • Delayed fine and gross motor skills
  • Light sensitivity
  • Inability to understand facial expressions or respond appropriately to expressions