IEP

The 13 Disability Categories Under IDEA To Be Eligible for an IEP

Determining whether a child is eligible for special education, and what kind of services they need, can be complex. My goal with this article is to provide you with the clear, concise information you need to help you understand what kind of support a child needs and under which Federally defined eligibility category a child would qualify for special education. 

First, a student may be eligible for special education services if they have a disability or condition that prevents them from receiving a reasonable education without modification of the learning environment. 

Second, know that a medical diagnosis is NOT necessary to receive services. A diagnosis may help get the ball rolling, but it isn’t necessary. A request for a special education evaluation can be initiated by the school team and or the child’s parents/guardian. It’s important to note that it’s always best when home and school are on the same page but ultimately, the parent/guardian holds the right to approve moving forward with an evaluation or not.

There will typically be a meeting convened with parents and the school team to discuss concerns, answer questions, and decide what next steps are. Assuming everyone is on the same page, the school team will then perform an evaluation using a standard assessment to determine eligibility. 

Finally, once the evaluation is completed the child will be placed under one of 13 areas of qualification under IDEA to help determine exactly what services they will receive.

IDEA stands for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The IDEA outlines the rights of parents/guardians and the student in regards to the public school system. All children with disabilities are entitled to Free Appropriate Public Education, FAPE and in the Least Restrictive Environment, LRE possible. 

Below is a list of all 13 areas with their definitions and examples of common services provided for each.

Areas of Qualification

Autism

Autism is characterized by a very complex spectrum of symptoms, mostly presented through behaviors. A handful of common symptoms include absence of eye contact or expression of emotions (such as smiling), repetitive hand and body movements, an affinity for patterns (stacking and organizing objects), limited and specialized interests, lack of imaginative play, and disordered sleep.  

Symptoms of autism range from mild to very evident, and can begin as early as six months of age and are obvious to the trained eye by two or three years old. Many doctors now screen for autism as part of a child’s regular check-ups to begin interventions as early as possible.

Common special education services for children with autism include occupational, speech and language, and social skills therapies, structured teaching, and applied behavioral analysis (ABA). The goal of these services is to help increase motor skills, social interaction, imaginative play, and independence.

Blindness

A person is considered legally blind if their vision is 20/200 or less, and can’t be corrected to 20/20 with glasses or contacts. It can be caused by an issue with the eyes, or inside the vision centers of the brain. 

Blindness is sometimes combined with deafness and other disabilities.

Common special education services include learning to use assistive technology like magnifiers and telescopes, learning to read Braille, instruction in navigation and mobility, and help learning how to perform the activities of daily living. 

Deafness

Deafness is profound hearing impairment or hearing loss that prevents a child from being able to detect sounds. Childhood deafness often results in difficulty developing speech and social skills.

Deafness is sometimes combined with blindness and other disabilities.

Common special education services include engaging a sign language interpreter, ensuring your child has a clear line of sight to the board, instructing the teacher to enunciate clearly and make sure their face is fully visible when speaking, and using captioned videos in the classroom. 

Districts may also provide hearing loss assessments, help you obtain assistive technology, and provide a notetaker.

Emotional Disturbance

An emotional disturbance is any mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder that lasts six months or longer and inhibits a child’s ability to function normally. 

A few disorders that fall under this umbrella are anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorders.

Common special education services include an evaluation by a behavior specialist who can develop a behavior support plan, and a one-on-one aide who can help your child manage overwhelming feelings and situations through pre-determined strategies.

Hearing Impairment

Hearing impairment is different from deafness in that an affected child can detect some sounds, though their ability is limited. They may not be able to understand certain sounds or detect specific kinds of sounds, such as sounds that are very high or low pitched.

Hearing impairment also varies in severity, from mild to profound hearing loss.

Common special education services include engaging a sign language interpreter, ensuring your child has a clear line of sight to the board, instructing the teacher to enunciate clearly and make sure their face is fully visible when speaking, and using captioned videos in the classroom. 

Districts may also provide hearing loss assessments, provide your child with a notetaker, help you obtain assistive technology. 

Intellectual Disability

Intellectual disabilities are characterized by a child’s inability to understand new or complex information due to lower-than-average cognitive function. Children have difficulty learning and functioning at the level expected for their age. 

Common special education services include a wide range of teaching techniques and interventions because intellectual disabilities cover a wide range of abilities and needs. In addition to individualized academic support, schools may also provide additional support in communication, social skills, health and safety, and activities of daily living.

The specific services provided will depend on the child’s individual needs. 

Multiple Disabilities

Children can sometimes have a combination of disabilities that require support from several areas of special education. For instance, a child may have blindness and anxiety disorder, or hearing impairment and an orthopedic impairment.

Common special education services include combining services across programs to ensure the child receives the support they need to access their education. 

The specific services provided will depend on the child’s individual needs.

Orthopedic Impairment

Orthopedic impairments are physical disabilities caused by genetic factors, the result of a severe disease, or as a symptom of an intellectual disability. Orthopedic impairments can limit a child’s ability to care for themselves, communicate, or learn social skills.  

Common special education services include a class schedule that limits the need for the child to navigate long distances between classes, classroom seating near the door, and access to the school’s elevator. 

Other services include speech and language therapy and assistive technology that helps the child communicate.

Other Health Impaired

Other health impairments include any condition or disorder that limits a child’s stamina, vitality, and ability to thrive in an educational setting. A few of these disorders include ADD, ADHD, Tourette syndrome, asthma, epilepsy, heart conditions, and hemophilia. 

Common special education services include combining services across programs to ensure your child receives the support they need to access their education. 

The specific services provided will depend on the child’s individual needs. For instance, if the child has ADHD, they may receive extra time on tests, breaks during long tasks to move around, changes in the classroom to limit distraction, and help with organizational skills.

Specific Learning Disability

Specific learning disabilities prevent or make it very difficult for children to process specific information, such as reading, writing, and solving math problems. These specific disorders are called dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia, respectively. 

They may present in a child alone, or in combination with each other. The level of severity for each disorder may also vary. 

Common special education services include assistive technology, such as speech-to-text technology for those with dyslexia or dysgraphia. Dysgraphic students may also receive typed copies of classroom notes, a specific kind of pen or pencil, and worksheets with raised lines to help them learn to write neatly.  Accommodations for students with dyscalculia include hands-on counting tools and specially designed worksheets to help them navigate math problems.

Students with each disability may also receive extra time to complete assignments.

Speech or Language Impairment

These impairments include difficulty speaking or understanding spoken language. Common speech and language impairments include stuttering, inability to control voice volume, and difficulty forming certain mouth sounds. 

Students with speech or language impairment may also have trouble understanding verbal and written instructions.

Common special education services include an assessment by a speech and language specialist, usually followed by speech and language therapy. In the classroom, students may be given extra time to complete assignments and individual attention from the classroom teacher.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injuries are caused by a severe impact or blow to the head. The resulting damage to the brain interrupts normal brain functions, which may impair physical and cognitive ability. 

Common special education services include collaboration among the school, parents, and medical professionals to create a custom education plan for your child. Accommodations and modifications will largely depend on your child’s physical and cognitive abilities. 

If your child requires the care of a home-health nurse to attend school safely, the school must accommodate this need.

Visual Impairment

A person is considered visually impaired if their vision measures 20/40 or less, and can’t be corrected to 20/20 with glasses or contacts. Visual impairment can be problems with the eyes, or an issue with the brain’s visual centers.

Common special education services include learning to use assistive technology like magnifiers and telescopes, learning to read Braille or access to materials in large print, instruction in navigation and mobility, and help learning how to perform the activities of daily living.

What If the Child is Uncategorized?

If the child is between the ages of three and nine and can’t be positively placed under one of the areas of qualification, they may be categorized as having a developmental delay.

This means that, while it’s obvious the child needs support, their exact qualification is difficult to pin down. In these cases, the services the child receives will be tailored to the difficulties they’re having in the classroom. 

After the age of 9, the child will need to be reassessed to place them under a specific area of qualification. 

Regardless of where the child is placed, or what kinds of services they need, educators and parents alike should always work together to ensure their needs are met. All children deserve access to the interventions they need to thrive in the classroom.

Contact Us

I understand how confusing this all can be! I’ve been a special education teacher and a special education program specialist in the public school system for over a decade! Please feel free to reach out to me through the comment box below or email me! I’m here to help!

About the author

Emily Cummings

I am a mom of two crazy, amazing, independent, little feminists. They bring so much light to my life and a lot less sleep. Since becoming a mother and increasingly in the last year, I have witnessed parents struggling to connect with their child's special education team with no success. I have become more aware of the gaps in our public school system and how parents may benefit from empowerment and advocacy tools.

My work experiences range from a juvenile detention center to an autism specialist in the Issaquah School District and a special education teacher in a self-contained program in the Lake Washington School District. My master's in teaching focused on special education and behavioral disorders from Seattle Pacific University. I completed my BCBA coursework from Montana State University.

Leave a Comment