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Home: Special Education Information: Disability Definitions


  • Definition of ADHD
    Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) is a neurobiological disorder. Typically children with AD/HD have developmentally inappropriate behavior, including poor attention skills, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. These characteristics arise in early childhood, typically before age 7, are chronic, and last at least 6 months. Children with AD/HD may also experience problems in the areas of social skills and self esteem. (NICHCY Fact Sheet Number 19 (FS19), 1999).
    (Added: Wed Jul 25 2001)
  • Definition of Autism
    Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-NOS (not otherwise specified) are developmental disabilities that share many of the same characteristics. Usually evident by age three, autism and PDD-NOS are neurological disorders that affect a child's ability to communicate, understand language, play, and relate to others.
    (Added: Wed Jul 25 2001)
  • Definition of Deaf and Hard of Hearing
    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 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. While the term "hearing impairment" is often used generically to describe a wide range of hearing losses, including deafness, the regulations for IDEA define hearing loss and deafness separately.
    (Added: Wed Jul 25 2001)
  • Definition of Emotional Disturbance
    "...a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects 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 general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or (E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems." [Code of Federal Regulations, Title 34, Section 300.7(b)(9)]
    (Added: Thu Aug 09 2001)
  • Definition of Gifted
    Former U. S. Commissioner of Education Sidney P. Marland, Jr., in his August 1971 report to Congress, stated, "Gifted and talented children are those identified by professionally qualified persons who by virtue of outstanding abilities are capable of high performance."These are children who require differentiated educational programs and/or services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program in order to realize their contribution to self and society" (Marland, 1972). ERIC DIGEST #E476 ED 321 481 1990
    (Added: Thu Aug 09 2001)
  • Definition of Intellectual Disabilities
    People with intellectual disabilities (formally called mental retardation) are those who develop at a below average rate and experience difficulty in learning and social adjustment. The regulations for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provide the following technical definition for mental retardation.
    (Added: Thu Aug 09 2001)
  • Definition of Learning Disabilities
    The regulations for Public Law (P.L.) 101-476, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), define a learning disability as a "disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations."
    (Added: Thu Aug 09 2001)
  • Definition of Orthopedically/Otherwise Health Impaired
    Used in the special education context, physical disability or orthopedic impairment includes severe disabilities that adversely affect educational performance. There is a diverse range of disabilities in this category including such conditions as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, amputations or limb absences, and muscular dystrophy. The term special health impairment refers to a variety of health problems that dictate the need for special medical or educational services. Health impairments include convulsive disorders, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, sickle cell disease, hemophilia, asthma, rheumatic fever, cancer, AIDS, or any other chronic or acute health problem that limits strength, vitality, or alertness and adversely affects the student's educational development. ERIC Digest #459. ED314915 89
    (Added: Thu Aug 09 2001)
  • Definition of Severe/Multiple Disabilities
    Fact Sheet Number 10 (FS10), January 2001. People with severe disabilities are those who traditionally have been labelled as having severe to profound mental retardation. These people require ongoing, extensive support in more than one major life activity in order to participate in integrated community settings and enjoy the quality of life available to people with fewer or no disabilities. They frequently have additional disabilities, including movement difficulties, sensory losses, and behavior problems.
    (Added: Sun Oct 28 2001)
  • Definition of Speech and Language Disorders
    Speech and language disorders refer to problems in communication and related areas such as oral motor function. These delays and disorders range from simple sound substitutions to the inability to understand or use language or use the oral-motor mechanism for functional speech and feeding. Some causes of speech and language disorders include hearing loss, neurological disorders, brain injury, mental retardation, drug abuse, physical impairments such as cleft lip or palate, and vocal abuse or misuse. Frequently, however, the cause is unknown.
    (Added: Thu Aug 09 2001)
  • Definition of Traumatic Brain Injury
    Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is defined within the IDEA as 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 a child's educational performance. The term applies to open and closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgement; problem-solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech. The term does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or brain injuries induced by birth trauma.
    (Added: Thu Aug 09 2001)
  • Definition of Visually Impaired
    Visual impairment is the consequence of a functional loss of vision, rather than the eye disorder itself. Eye disorders which can lead to visual impairments can include retinal degeneration, albinism, cataracts, glaucoma, muscular problems that result in visual disturbances, corneal disorders, diabetic retinopathy, congenital disorders, and infection.
    (Added: Thu Aug 09 2001)