How Does a Diagnosis of Disability Affect My Child’s Eligibility For Special Education?

Many parents are aware of their child’s diagnosis (or the symptoms of the diagnosis), but perhaps have never formally received a diagnosis for their child from a physician. Why is a diagnosis important? A child must have a diagnosis that fits within 13 categories of disability in order for that child to be eligible for special education services.

I’ve created a handy chart that links a diagnosis to the category under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which is the first step in determining eligibility for special education.

You can download the chart here:

IDEA Disability Categories

Please also feel free to share this information with parents of kids with disabilities.

2 thoughts on “How Does a Diagnosis of Disability Affect My Child’s Eligibility For Special Education?”

  1. My son was given 3 different IDEA disability categories and I honestly am confused because he has been diagnosed with ADHD,ODD, Anxiety, Specific Learning Disability in Basic Reading, Written Expression and Math. He also was having behavioral issues and with the category Specific Learning Disability they would not do a FBA/BIP. They told me they would change his category to Other Health Impairment and then they did one. Does the categories determine the services that will/would be given?

    1. No. Eligibility categories under IDEA only indicate that the child is eligible for special education and related services. I use the analogy of a room with 13 doors. Eligibility gets you through one of those doors, but does not dictate what services are provided once the child is through the door – especially if the child would be eligible under multiple categories. Some categories lend themselves to suggested services, e.g. deafness or a physical disability like Muscular Dystrophy. But eligibility does not determine either evaluations or services that should be performed. The test is if the IEP Team suspects a disability (even one that is not listed as an eligibility category), the school district must test / evaluate for that disability to see if it affects school performance (academics, behavior, or any other aspect that impacts education). Services must be designed and placed into the IEP that address ALL of a student’s disabilities and needs. For categories like Autism, Other Health Impairment, and to some extent Specific Learning Disability, the IEP Team should determine the services necessary to help the child REGARDLESS of the eligibility category.

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