Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are designed to help students get the supports and services that they need to be able to learn and grow. But what qualifies a child for an IEP?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) identifies 13 categories of disabilities that will qualify a child for an IEP.
Understanding those categories makes it easier to identify a child in need of support and write an appropriate IEP.
Categories of Disabilities That Qualify for an IEP
The IDEA provides federal guidelines for the categories of disabilities that are recognized as areas where a child may need additional assistance in education. While not all students who fall within those categories may have an IEP, the IDEA generally recognizes them as potential candidates for an individualized plan for their education.
The 13 categories recognized by the IDEA are:
According to IDEA Sec. 300. 8 (c) (1), “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.”
While deafness and blindness both appear separately in the list of categories of disabilities, deaf-blindness is defined as “concomitant hearing and visual impairments.”
Section 300. 8 (c) (3) of IDEA identifies deafness as “a hearing impairment that is so severe that the child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification.”
IDEA explains that an emotional disturbance can include a variety of traits and behaviors. They include but are not limited to unhappiness, depression, schizophrenia, and developing physical symptoms related to fears of school or home life.
Although similar to deafness, a hearing impairment is defined as “an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.” This is slightly different from deafness but holds just as much weight in terms of the student needing special supports.
An 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” according to Section 300. 8 (c) (6) of IDEA law.
This means that the student has two or more disabilities at one time. It could be an intellectual disability and deafness for example or any combination of defined disabilities.
Any severe orthopedic impairment that impacts a child’s ability to learn could be considered under this disability. This category includes children with cerebral palsy and amputations as well as others.
Other Health Impairments
IDEA recognizes that not all conditions that impact a child’s learning fall neatly into specific categories. The Other Health Impairments category makes sure that students with acute or chronic conditions get the services that they need as well. ADD/ADHD, leukemia, diabetes, and epilepsy fall under this category.
Specific Learning Disability
A specific learning disability can appear as a broad category, but IDEA law defines it as “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.” There are often discussions about whether dyslexia is specifically recognized under IDEA law, but it is clearly included in Section 300. 8 (c) (10).
Speech or Language Impairment
A speech or language impairment is defined as “a communication disorder” that impacts a child’s ability to learn.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
A traumatic brain injury is one that is “an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force.”
This category of disability includes blindness that impedes a child’s ability to learn. It includes both partial and full sight blindness.
Understanding the different categories of disabilities makes it easier to understand why a student qualifies and helps ensure that he or she can get the help that is needed.