The U.S. Department of Education currently classifies students in special education into one or more disability categories. Follow the links below to get the definition and learn more about incidence, characteristics, impact on learning, teaching strategies, and assistive technologies for each disability category. A list of organizations and resources is also provided.
The foundational premise of special education, that all children with disabilities have a right to a free and appropriate public education designed to meet the unique learning and developmental needs of the student, continues to stand firm since its formal beginning in 1975. During that time, special education has served millions of students with disabilities across the nation while evolving into its current state where students are overwhelmingly served in general education classrooms along with their nondisabled peers. It is for that reason that this module was developed, for general educators and special educators alike, as an introduction to the types of students served within special education.
Within this module, you will find descriptions of the thirteen disability categories recognized by federal legislation. Each disability section provides a basic definition, general characteristics of the disability group, and the impact of the disability on learning. The sections also provide an overview to basic teaching strategies for students with specific disabilities, a list of assistive technology devices that are unique to each disability, and a list of reliable organizations that may be used as resources. The intent of this module is to provide a general overview of special education as a whole and provide resources for general educators to conduct more in-depth research for the specific students that they teach.
Read Introduction to Special Education Public Policy
- Identify categories of disabilities as identified by the US Department of Education
- Identify characteristics unique to each of the thirteen disabilities presented
- Identify the impact of a disability on the learning process
- Describe basic teaching strategies for each category of disability as identified by the US Department of Education
- Identify and describe the possible forms of assistive technology that may be appropriate for each disability category
- Develop possible interventions and/or modifications that can be used to efficiently integrate students with these disabilities into the general education setting
- Investigate various resources to help general educators understand and accommodate students with disabilities
- Utilize services and resources provided by various disability-specific organizations
- Generalize information to case studies by making recommendations for students with special needs
Accommodations and Modifications for Classroom Teachers
Learn about Accommodations and Modifications for Classroom Teachers
Specific Learning Disabilities
Specific learning disabilities can be defined by a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language spoken or written.
Intellectual disabilities are not an inherent trait of any individual, but instead are characterized by a combination of deficits in both cognitive functioning and adaptive behavior.
As the term suggests, this disability category encompasses a variety of conditions that may impact a student's ability to learn and achieve success in an academic setting.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, formerly the Education of the Handicapped Act (P.L. 94-142), includes "hearing impairment" and "deafness" as two of the categories under which children with disabilities may be eligible for special education and related service programming.
Orthopedic impairment is defined as a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child's educational performance.
Autism is a developmental disability that can have a significant impact on a student's communication skills, social interactions, and academic performance.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) under federal law means an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects the student's educational performance.
Deaf-blindness under federal law 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.
Non-Categorical and Developmental Delay
"Developmental Delay" is the term that that IDEA uses for children aged three through nine years who have delays in physical, cognitive, communicative, social emotional, and/or adaptive development, and who, because of these delays, require special education. Texas has named this category "Non-Categorical Early Childhood".
Of these classifications, the two largest are specific learning disabilities (47.4%) and speech or language impairments (18.7%). Note also that there is not a specific category for students diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder; these students are grouped into the general category of other health impairment.