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Eligibility Categories for Special Education

If your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability or other educational need, they may be eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP is a document that outlines the specific goals and accommodations that will be put in place to support your child's learning.



In order to be eligible for an IEP, your child must meet certain criteria. In the United States, the criteria are outlined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). According to IDEA, children are eligible for an IEP if they have one or more of the following disabilities:

  • Autism: a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. It is typically diagnosed in early childhood and can cause a wide range of symptoms, including difficulty with social interaction, difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication, repetitive behaviors, and challenges with sensory processing. Children with autism may be eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) if their condition impacts their ability to learn and participate in educational activities.


  • Specific learning disability (SLD): a neurological disorder that affects a person's ability to process and interpret information, leading to difficulty with learning and academic achievement. Learning disabilities can affect a person's ability to read, write, listen, speak, and perform mathematical calculations. They can also impact a person's memory, attention, and organizational skills. Learning disabilities are typically identified in school-aged children and may continue into adulthood.


  • Emotional disturbance (ED): a term used to describe a condition that affects a child's ability to learn and/or participate in educational activities due to behaviors or emotions that are significantly different from what is expected for their age. Children with emotional disturbance may have difficulty regulating their emotions, may exhibit extreme behaviors, and may struggle with social interactions and relationships. They may also experience depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions.


  • Intellectual disability (ID): a term used to describe a condition that affects a person's cognitive functioning and adaptive behavior. It is typically diagnosed in childhood and can cause difficulties with communication, social skills, and daily living skills. Children with intellectual disability may have difficulty learning and retaining new information, and may struggle with problem-solving and decision-making.



  • Orthopedic impairment (OI): a condition that affects a person's musculoskeletal system, including bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetic conditions, trauma, and infection. Children with orthopedic impairments may have difficulty with mobility, fine motor skills, and gross motor skills. They may require assistive devices, such as wheelchairs or crutches, to participate in daily activities and educational programs.


  • Other health impairment (OHI): a term used to describe a condition that affects a child's ability to learn and/or participate in educational activities due to chronic or acute health problems. This category includes conditions such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and cancer, among others. Children with other health impairments may require accommodations, such as medication administration, modified physical education, or access to a nurse, in order to fully participate in their educational program.


  • Speech or language impairment (SLI): a condition that affects a person's ability to communicate effectively. It can include difficulties with producing and/or understanding spoken language, as well as challenges with reading and writing. Children with speech or language impairments may have difficulty expressing themselves, following instructions, and participating in social interactions. They may also struggle with reading comprehension and written expression.


  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI): is a type of injury that occurs when an external force, such as a blow to the head or an object penetrating the brain, causes damage to the brain. TBI can range in severity from mild to severe, and can affect a person's cognitive abilities, physical abilities, and emotional well-being. Children with TBI may experience a range of symptoms, including headache, dizziness, fatigue, memory problems, and difficulty with concentration. They may also have difficulty with communication, problem-solving, and social skills.



  • Hearing impairment: a condition that affects a person's ability to hear and understand spoken language. It can range in severity from mild to profound, and can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, illness, and injury. Children with hearing impairments may have difficulty with communication, language development, and academic achievement. They may require accommodations such as amplification devices, sign language interpretation, or captioning in order to fully participate in their educational program.


  • Deafness: a severe or profound hearing impairment that affects a person's ability to hear and understand spoken language. Children who are deaf may use spoken language with the help of hearing aids, cochlear implants, or other amplification devices, or they may communicate using sign language.


  • Visual impairment (including blindness): a term used to describe a condition that affects a person's ability to see and process visual information. It can range in severity from mild to severe, and can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, illness, and injury. Children with visual impairments may have difficulty with activities such as reading, writing, and participating in physical education. They may require accommodations such as large print materials, Braille, or audio recordings in order to fully participate in their educational program.


  • Deaf-blindness: a condition that affects a person's ability to see and hear. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, illness, and injury. Children who are deaf-blind may use spoken language with the help of hearing aids, cochlear implants, or other amplification devices, or they may communicate using sign language. They may also require accommodations such as large print materials, Braille, or audio recordings in order to fully participate in their educational program.


  • Multiple disabilities: A combination of two or more disabilities that affects an individual's ability to learn and function.




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