Special Education Disability Categories

The Special Education Categories site includes information, research, resources, and best practices on the following program areas: Autism, Deaf-Blindness, Deafness, Emotional Disturbance, Hearing Impairment, Intellectual Disability, Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impairment, Specific Learning Disability, Speech/Language Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Visual Impairment. (External Resources are also available.)

is a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child's educational performance. (A child who manifests the characteristics of autism after age 3 could be diagnosed as having autism if the other criteria of this Section are satisfied.) Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. The term does not apply if a child's educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance.

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.

  means a hearing impairment that is 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.

Emotional Disability
(includes schizophrenia but does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance) means a condition exhibiting one 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:

Hearing Impairments
means an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child's educational performance but that is not included under the definition of deafness.

Intellectual Disability
means significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child's educational performance.

Multiple Disabilities
means concomitant impairments (such as mental retardation-blindness, mental retardation-orthopedic impairment, etc.), 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
means a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child's educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by congenital anomaly (e.g., clubfoot, absence of some member, etc.), impairments caused by disease (e.g., Poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis, etc.), and impairments from other causes ( e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures).

Other Health Impairment
means having limited strength, vitality or alertness, including a heightened sensitivity to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment that

Specific Learning Disabilities
  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 an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations, including 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 mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage. [105 ILCS 5/14-1.03(a)]

In accordance with 23 Illinois Administrative Code 226.130, beginning with the 2010-2011 school year, Illinois districts are required to use a process that determines how a child responds to scientific, research-based interventions as part of the evaluation procedures to determine special education eligibility under the category of specific learning disability (SLD).  While this requirement is specific to SLD, districts also have the option of using such a process as part of the evaluation procedures for other disability categories. For more information on RtI, please visit Illinois’ Response to Intervention webpage.

The documents below address Illinois’ procedures and criteria for special education eligibility and entitlement decisions in an RtI framework.

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. Listed below are related sites for speech-language:

Traumatic Brain Injury
  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; psychosocial 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.

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.

External Special Education Resources

Bilingual/Bilingual Special Education

Barb Marler and Cristina Sanchez 847/803-3535
(approval courses, professional development, and technical assistance)

Lingua Health LLC

John Consalvi CCC-SLP 847-424-0100
(offers bilingual speech language pathology services)

Cross Cultural Interpreting Services

Jill Bunten, Director 773-751-4094
(offers professional interpreting services in over 35 languages)

Illinois State Board of Education /PBIS Network

Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports
Lucille Eber, Project Director, 708/482-4860

Illinois Service Resource Center (ISRC)

Cheri Sinnott - Main Office 847/559-0110
(deaf/behavior & emotional disorders training & technical assistance resources)


Ruth Henning (SASED) 630/778-4508
(Inclusive education training & technical assistance)

Project H.E.A.R.

Marcia Breese 217/479-4393
(Deaf/Hard of Hearing training & technical assistance Resources)

Project Reach / Philip J Rock Center

Tina Dorsey (Philip Rock Center) 630/790-2474
(Deaf-Blind technical assistance resources)

Section 504 and Office of Civil Rights