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What is Special Education?

Special education is individualized instruction that is designed to meet the needs of a child with a disability, at no cost to the parent.  This instruction could include academic instruction (reading, writing, math, spelling, science, social studies, study assistance), but it could also include speech/language, physical therapy, or occupational therapy.

As part of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal government has identified 13 disabilities that may qualify for special education services.


Below are the disabilities as well as a definitions from IDEA.


1.  Autism

 Autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age 3 that adversely affects a student’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. The term does not apply if a child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the student has an emotional disturbance defined in number 4.  A child who manifests the characteristics of “autism” after age 3 could be diagnosed as having “autism” if the criteria above are satisfied.


2. Mental Retardation

Mental retardation means significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a student’s educational performance


3. Learning Disability

Specific Learning Disability is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which manifests itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage.


4. Emotional Disturbance

Emotional disturbance is a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:

A. An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.

B. An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers

C. Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances

D. A generally pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression

E. A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

The term includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance.


5.  Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury means an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both that adversely affect educational performance. The term includes open or closed head injuries or brain injuries from certain medical conditions resulting in mild, moderate or severe impairments in one or more areas, including cognition, language, memory, attention, reasoning, abstract thinking, judgment, problem solving, sensory, perceptual and motor abilities, psychosocial behavior, physical functions, information processing, and speech. The term does not include injuries that are congenital or caused by birth trauma.


6. Visual Impairment

Visual impairment including blindness means an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.

Legally blind: An individual with a visual acuity of 20/200 or less even with correction or has a field loss of 20 degrees or more.

 Low Vision: A person who is still severely impaired after correction, but whom may increase functioning through the use of optical aide, nonoptical aids, environmental modifications and/or techniques.


7.  Hearing Impairment

Hearing impairment means an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects the child’s educational performance but that is not included under the definition of deafness in number 8.


8. Deafness

Deafness means a hearing impairment that is so severe that the child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.


9. Deafblindness

Deaf-blindness means concomitant hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness.


10. Speech or Language Impairment

Speech or language impairment means a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance


11. Other Health Impairment

Other health impairment means having limited strength, vitality or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment that:

A.  Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as, asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever and sickle cell anemia and;

B.  Adversely affects a child’s educational performance


12.  Orthopedic Impairment

Orthopedic impairment means a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by congenital anomaly (e.g., clubfoot, absence of some member, etc.), impairments caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis, etc.), and impairments from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputation, and fractures or burns which cause contractures).


13. Multiple Disabilities

Multiple disabilities means concomitant impairments (such as mental retardation-blindness, mental retardation-orthopedic impairment, etc.), the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in a special education program solely for one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf-blindness.