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Federal Disability Categories for Special Education

Federal Disability Categories for Special Education
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  • 0:00 Students With Disabilities
  • 1:10 Categories for Special…
  • 6:14 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Disabled students face unique challenges and may require special accommodations for education depending on their needs. This lesson will explore the different categories designated by federal disability guidelines for special education.

Students With Disabilities

Do you or someone you know have a disability? Depending on the unique needs of a person with a disability, he or she may need special accommodations. Accommodations are programs, devices, or methods used to meet the special needs of those with disabilities. Examples include special education programs or devices such as hearing aids for the hearing impaired.

Accommodations are an important aspect of educating students with disabilities and, by law, must be provided by schools at no charge to the student. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA) is a revised version of the original Education of the Handicapped Act of 1974 (EHA), which mandated that special needs students are entitled to receive a free and appropriate education. In other words, accommodations will be provided in schools depending on the unique needs of the student.

Now that we understand the laws surrounding the education of special needs students, let's take a closer look at the 13 disability categories established by the federal government for special education using example students.

Categories for Special Education

Special education is provided free of charge to students who qualify. There are specific categories designated for special education depending on the unique needs of the student.

One of these categories is autism. Bo is a second grade student with autism, a neurological and developmental disability. He is not a great communicator, has poor eye contact, and struggles to socialize with other students. While language is not his strong suit, he does very well with numbers and tends to get lost for hours in math problems. Bo frequently acts out in class when his regular routine is disrupted. Most autistic students, like Bo, need special accommodations to thrive in an educational setting. Special education for students with autism might include applied behavioral analysis, speech therapy, or occupational therapy.

Another of the 13 categories is deaf-blindness. Anna is a fifth grade student who has visual impairment, or blindness, and hearing impairment, or deafness. Her communication skills are extremely limited due to her disabilities. She is also restricted in terms of mobility and independence. The traditional classroom is filled with sights and sounds. That will not work for Anna. She will require significant accommodations and increased teaching staff to meet her educational needs.

Another disability category is deafness. Sammy is a deaf tenth grade student. She has very little hearing ability yet still remains at the top of her class. She thrives in class due to special accommodations such as a sign language interpreter. Sign language interpreters use hand motions to translate speech for the hearing impaired.

Another disability category for special education is emotional disturbance. Joe is a seventh grader with an emotional disturbance. He can't focus in class and struggles with his schoolwork and with social relationships. He has frequent mood swings and does not deal with setbacks easily. Sometimes, he acts out and tries to harm himself or others. Students like Joe who are designated as disabled with emotional disturbance may not succeed in a traditional classroom. They need extra attention and options for special education. These types of students might benefit from smaller class sizes that utilize behavior management strategies.

Hearing impairment is another disability category. Nadine is a hearing impaired first grader. She can hear some sounds in the classroom but struggles with certain pitches and volumes. Without accommodations like a hearing aid, Nadine's opportunities for educational success might be limited.

Another of the 13 categories is intellectual disability. Cory is in the eleventh grade. However, Cory's academic level is that of a fourth grader. He seems a lot younger than he is and struggles to care for himself. Cory's intellectual disability requires special education to support his unique developmental and academic delays.

A student with multiple disabilities might also need special accommodations. Jordan is a third grader with several issues. He suffers from an intellectual disability and an emotional disturbance and he has limited vision. Jordan would likely struggle to succeed in a traditional classroom setting. He qualifies for special education under the multiple disabilities category.

Another of the disability categories is orthopedic impairment, or impairment that affects the musculoskeletal system. Molly is a fifth grade student who has no legs. She has limited mobility as a result of her disability and requires a motorized wheelchair to move around. This accommodation may be provided to Molly in an effort to meet her special educational needs.

Other health impairment is another one of the 13 categories. Jamie is a ninth grade student with epilepsy, or a condition that can cause frequent seizures and requires close monitoring and medication. Jamie's disability could worsen without accommodations and might limit her opportunity for academic success.

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