What are the Disability Categories Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in Connecticut?
By Connecticut Special Education & Certified Child Advocate, Attorney Jeffrey L. Forte, Esq. | Forte Law Group LLC
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), public school districts are required to provide special education and related services to “eligible students” with disabilities. There are three main requirements, or “prima facia” elements, to qualify an eligible student as having a disability under the IDEA: age, disability, and impact access to education.
First, there is the student’s age. A student must be between the ages of 3 through 22. In the recent A.R. v. Connecticut State Board of Education decision, an eligible student is entitled to receive special education and related services up to and including to their 22nd birthday date. See the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) guidance on IDEA eligibility extended until age 22.
Second, there is a qualifying disability. Eligible students are students that have been found to have a qualifying disability within 1 or more of the qualifying disability categories. All the qualifying disability categories are more fully explained below.
Impact Access to Education
Third, the student’s recognized disability “must impact their access to education.” This means the student’s disability must prevent or impede the student’s ability or that of others to receive meaningful benefit from a neurotypical mainstream education program and that the student requires an individualized educational program that is uniquely designed to meet the student’s specific needs.
For purposes of this article, the qualifying disability categories that are used within the state of Connecticut will be discussed and analyzed.
Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) Guidance
In Connecticut, special education guidelines and eligibility worksheets can be found on the CSDE website, located here. Note this is just guidance. Many of the state’s forms have not been updated in years. The reader is encouraged to ask your local school district or school team for their specific special education eligibility forms, guidance, and worksheets. You can access the CSDE’s Special Education Procedures and Practices Manual here to gain a better understanding of the special education referral process.
Connecticut Special Education Eligibility Categories
There are 13 primary special education eligibility categories under the IDEA within the state of Connecticut, plus 2 additional sub-categories. Each qualifying disability category is discussed below.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that significantly affects verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction (or social pragmatics). Autism can also potentially impact a student’s behavior and may also include:
- Engaging in repetitive activities or stereotyped movements.
- Engaging in vocal stereotypy.
- Resistance to changes in environment or daily routines.
- Sensitivity to sensory stimulations.
A child who shows the characteristics of autism after the age of 3 could be diagnosed as having autism if the criteria above is satisfied by a qualified clinician. Here is the link to the CSDE’s Autism Eligibility Worksheet, as well as the state’s Guidelines for Identification and Education of Children and Youth with Autism.
Deafness-Blindness (DB) means concomitant or simultaneous 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.
Developmental Delay (DD) applies to any child with a disability between the ages of 3 to 5 years old in the state of Connecticut. The term developmental delay means a delay in one or more of the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, communication, social or emotional development, or adaptive [behavioral] development.
To qualify for special education services under the developmental delay category, a child must have a delay of 2 standard deviations in one area or a delay of 1.5 standard deviations below the mean in 2 areas of development, as measured by a standardized test.
Emotional Disturbance (ED) means a condition of exhibiting 1 or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:
- An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
- An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
- Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
- A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
- A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.
Here is the link to the CSDE Emotional Disturbance Eligibility Worksheet, as well as the state’s Guidelines for Identifying and Educating Students with Emotional Disturbance.
Hearing Impairment (HI) is defined as any child who has a hearing impairment so severe that the child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
Intellectual Disability (ID) means significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently (at the same time) with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Here is the link to the CSDE Intellectual Disability Eligibility Worksheet, as well as the state’s Guidelines for Identifying Children with Intellectual Disability.
Multiple Disabilities (MD) means concomitant [simultaneous] impairments (such as intellectual disability-blindness, intellectual disability orthopedic impairment), the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf-blindness.
Orthopedic Impairment (OI) means a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by a congenital anomaly, impairments caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis), and impairments from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures). Simply put, orthopedic impairments involve physical disabilities which could affect the academic process.
Specific Learning Disability
Specific Learning Disability (SLD) means 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. The term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; of intellectual disability; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.
There are 8 specific academic domains of SLP. They are:
- Oral Expression
- Listening Comprehension
- Written Expression
- Basic Reading Skills
- Reading Fluency Skills
- Reading Comprehension
- Mathematics Calculation
- Mathematics Problem Solving
Here is the link to the CSDE Specific Learning Disability Eligibility Worksheet, as well as the state’s Guidelines for Identifying Children with Learning Disabilities.
Specific Learning Disability/Dyslexia
Dyslexia has a separate, sub-category identified as Specific Learning Disability (SLD)/Dyslexia in Connecticut. For a child to be identified as “SLD/Dyslexia,” the child must first meet the overall eligibility requirements for SLD and then meet the more specific requirements for Dyslexia as follows:
Dyslexia is included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004) as a specific learning disability (SLD). Dyslexia impacts reading, specifically decoding and accurate and/or fluent word recognition and spelling. Dyslexia is neurobiological in origin and is unexpected and/or inconsistent with a student’s other abilities despite the provision of appropriate instruction. Dyslexia results from a significant deficit in phonological processing (i.e., a persistent difficulty in the awareness of and ability to manipulate the individual sounds of spoken language).
Typically, students with dyslexia have strengths and cognitive abilities in areas such as reasoning, critical thinking, concept formation, problem-solving, vocabulary, listening comprehension, and social communication (e.g., conversation). Early identification and appropriate instruction targeting the underlying phonological processing deficits that characterize dyslexia minimize its educational impact. Here is the link to the CSDE Guidance on SLD/Dyslexia.
Speech or Language Impairment
Speech or Language Impairment means a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Here is the link for the CSDE Eligibility Worksheet for Speech or Language Impairment as well as the state’s Guidelines for SLP Programs.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) 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 a child’s educational performance. The term applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; 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 to brain injuries induced by birth trauma. Here is the link for the CSDE Guidance on Traumatic Brain Injuries and Concussions.
Visual Impairment means an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness. For more information on special education eligibility for Visual Impairment or Blindness, see the CSDE Guidance on Services for the Blind.
Other Health Impairment
Other Health Impairment (OHI) 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— (a) 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 (b) adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
Unfortunately, the CSDE does not specifically provide an eligibility worksheet on OHI. However, the Hartford Public School District has an eligibility worksheet that is often referred to within other school districts that can be found here to determine OHI special education eligibility.
Other Health Impairment – ADD/ADHD
ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) is a sub-category of OHI and has been added so that a student with OHI – ADD/ADHD can be distinguished and identified from OHI students with other health related challenges that are reported in this disability category. For a child to be identified as ADD/ADHD, the child must first meet the overall eligibility requirements for OHI and then, meet the more specific requirements for ADD/ADHD.
Unfortunately, as stated above, the CSDE does not specifically provide an eligibility worksheet on OHI-ADD/ADHD. However, the Hartford Public School District has an OHI eligibility worksheet that is often referred to within other school districts. For more information on ADHD, see the CSDE Task Force Report on ADHD.
If you feel that your child is or may be entitled to more special educational services or has not been identified as having an eligible disability under the IDEA, feel free to contact us at Forte Law Group for an initial legal consultation and or visit us at www.fortelawgroup.com for more information.