Empowering parents and students with disabilities

Disabilities & Evaluation

Which disabilities are covered under IDEA and/or Section 504 and how do I know if my child has one?

First things first, I know the word ‘disability’ is a tough pill to swallow for parents when they first hear it. The truth is, it’s just a word. It’s just how the government defines a child who needs a little help in the world. It doesn’t mean your child is doomed to failure, it means they are going to receive the services they need to succeed. Removing the emotion and the stigma from the word is a great first step in this process.

If you’re reading this, it could be because your child is struggling in school. You’re wondering if there’s something “wrong” and whether or not your child might qualify for accommodations. The accommodations conversation is another post, as is a thorough explanation of the evaluation process. For this post, I’d just like to cover what each law considers a disability.

IDEA outlines 13 specific disabilities for which a child is entitled to special services. However, it is important to note that it is not enough to have one (or more) of the 13 disabilities, the disability must also be negatively impacting their performance in school. This can get kind of tricky, especially in the case of the 2E (twice exceptional) kids, who are gifted on top of having a disability. That’s probably also another post.

The 13 categories of disability for children ages 3-22 under IDEA are as follows:

  • Autism
  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other Health Impaired
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Speech or Language Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Visual Impairment

Some of those allow a little wiggle room. For example, “Specific Learning Disability,” which is defined 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.”

Another one that can be drilled down into is “Other Health Impaired.” This is defined as “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 is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome; and Adversely affects a child’s educational performance.” The state of Ohio goes on to break OHI down into 2 smaller categories, “Other Health Impaired-Major” and “Other Health Impaired-Minor.” OHI-Major would be children who use a ventilator, tube feedings, have a central IV line, and things of that nature.

Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act is a little broader on the definition of a disability.

The ED Section 504 regulation defines an “individual with handicaps” as any person who (i) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (ii) has a record of such an impairment, or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment. The regulation further defines a physical or mental impairment as (A) any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genitourinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine; or (B) any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.

What if you suspect your child has a disability that would qualify them for services under one of these laws? The first step is to ask the school to perform an evaluation. This is best done in writing, in case the paper trail is needed later. Sometimes, the school will even start the process by asking you for permission to evaluate your child. Either way, this is where you start. Once again it would be another post to start describing the evaluation process and go through all the possible scenarios of what could happen should they refuse or should they find your child does not have a disability. There are often remedies for those things, so don’t give up hope if your request isn’t honored right off the bat. It just might be time to call an advocate.


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