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Disabilities - Definitions


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.


Autism (sometimes called “classical autism”) is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).   Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests. Usually evident by age three, autism affects a child's ability to understand language, play, and relate to others.

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. Hearing impairment is defined by IDEA as "an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child's educational performance." Deafness is defined as "a hearing impairment that is so severe that the child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification."


Deaf-blindness 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.

Emotional Disturbance

According to the Code of Federal Regulations [Title 34, Section 300.7(b)(9)], emotional disturbance is 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.

Learning Disabilities

IDEA defines 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, and spell or to do mathematical calculations."

Mental Retardation

Mental retardation is a term used when a person has certain limitations in mental functioning and in skills such as communicating, taking care of him or herself, and social skills. These limitations will cause a child to learn and develop more slowly than a typical child. Children with mental retardation may take longer to learn to speak, walk, and take care of their personal needs such as dressing or eating. They are likely to have trouble learning in school. They will learn, but it will take them longer. There may be some things they cannot learn.

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.

Severe/Multiple Disabilities

People with severe disabilities are those who traditionally have been labeled 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.

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.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is defined within 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; 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 brain injuries induced by birth trauma.

Visually Impaired

Visual impairment is the consequence of a functional loss of vision. 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.

Source: http://www.onlineceus.com/resources/

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Special Populations

English Language Learners

The term English language learner (ELL), as used here, indicates a person who is in the process of acquiring English and has a first language other than English. Other terms commonly found in the literature include language minority students, limited English proficient (LEP), English as a second language (ESL), and culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD).


The term “giftedness” has become generally associated with a child whose potential in one or more areas of skill would place him or her in the top 2-5% of children of the same age. The areas of skill can be traditionally academic, or creative, intrapersonal etc. IDEA states, "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".

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IDEA 2004 – IDEA is an education act that provides federal financial assistance to State and local education agencies. This act and its mandates guarantee that special education and related services are provided to eligible individuals with disabilities in the age group 3 to 21 years.

ADA – The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination solely on the basis of disability in employment, public services, and accommodations.

FERPA – The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. Students have specific, protected rights regarding the release of such records and FERPA requires that institutions adhere strictly to these guidelines.

PERKINS – A federal Act whose purpose is to develop more fully the academic and career and technical skills of secondary and postsecondary education students who elect to enroll in career and technical education programs.

SECTION 504 – Section 504 is a tenet of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act (1974). It is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities, public and private, which receive federal financial assistance.

NCLB – The No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB) was signed in to law January 8, 2002.  It is the latest revision of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The overall purpose of the law is to ensure that each child in America is able to meet the high learning standards of the state where he or she lives.  The specific goals of the law, as spelled out in the Federal Register issued on March 6, 2002, are:

  • All students will reach high standards, at a minimum attaining proficiency or better in reading and mathematics by 2013-2014.
  • By 2013-2014, all students will be proficient in reading by the end of the third grade.
  • All limited English proficient students will become proficient in English.
  • By 2005-2006, all students will be taught by highly qualified teachers.
  • All students will be educated in learning environments that are safe, drug free and conducive to learning.
  • All students will graduate from high school.
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Resource Agencies in Texas

Texas Education Agency – Special Education Division - http://www.tea.state.tx.us/special.ed/
Texas Department of Aging & Disability Services (DADS) - http://www.dads.state.tx.us/services/index.html
Provides a comprehensive array of aging and disability services, supports and opportunities that are easily accessed in local communities.
Texas Division for Disability Determination Services (DDS) - http://www.dars.state.tx.us/services/dds.shtml
Makes disability determinations for Texans with severe disabilities who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance and/or Supplemental Security Income.
Texas School Health & Related Services - http://www.tea.state.tx.us/interagency/shars.html
Offers services including: assessment, audiology, counseling, school health services, medical services, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychological services, speech therapy and special transportation.
Texas Health Steps - http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/thsteps/default.shtm
The Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) service for comprehensive and preventive child health care for individuals younger than 21 years old.
Medicaid in Texas - http://www.hhsc.state.tx.us/medicaid/med_info.html
Information on services covered by the state Medicaid program, including medical and transportation services.
Children with Special Health Care Needs - http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/cshcn/default.shtm
Program that provides services to children with extraordinary medical needs, disabilities and chronic health conditions. The CSHCN Services Program's health care benefits include payments for medical care, family support services and related services not covered by Medicaid, CHIP or private insurance.
Social Security Administration (SSA) Dallas Region Office – http://www.ssa.gov/dallas/
Advises SSA customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas on how they may contact their local office to obtain information on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Texas Workforce Commission – http://www.twc.state.tx.us/
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) is the state government agency charged with overseeing and providing workforce development services to employers and job seekers of Texas. For employers, TWC offers recruiting, retention, training and retraining, and outplacement services as well as valuable information on labor law and labor market statistics. For job seekers, TWC offers career development information, job search resources, training programs, and, as appropriate, unemployment benefits.
Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities - http://www.txddc.state.tx.us/
The Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities is a 27-member board dedicated to ensuring that all Texans with developmental disabilities, about 411,500 individuals, have the opportunity to be independent, productive and valued members of their communities. Using a variety of methods, the Council works to ensure that the service delivery system provides comprehensive services and supports that meet people's needs, are easy to access and are cost effective.  They also work to improve people's understanding of disability issues.
The ARC of Texas - http://www.thearcoftexas.org/
The Arc of Texas is a nonprofit, volunteer organization in the state committed to creating opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to be included in their communities and to make the choices which affect their lives. The Arc supports families, advances public policies, provides training programs, and builds a statewide network of advocates.
Texas Parent to Parenthttp://web.archive.org/web/20070128014513/www.txp2p.org/ 
Texas Parent to Parent (P2P) is a nonprofit organization that was created by parents for families of children with disabilities, chronic illness and other special needs throughout the state of Texas. P2P offers families a place to access information and resources, a one-on-one match with a trained Supporting Parent Volunteer, someone to call or email for help figuring out the next step in a parent’s journey of raising a child with a disability or special need.

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Useful Websites

ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder

This publication provides general information about ADHD.

For Parents-
Provides information about the symptoms and causes of ADHD and details tips for parents of children with ADHD.



Provides a wealth of information about all aspects of Autism and Autism spectrum disorders.

For Parents-
Produced by the Autism Society of America, this site provides information on numerous issues that families face with autism.

In Texas-
This site lists a state resources, workshops, and regional contacts for individuals in Texas.


Deaf and Hard of Hearing

This resource provides diverse information related to deafness and hearing related topics.

Provides links to numerous sites that address various aspects of hearing disorders and deafness.

For Parents-
This article produced by the American Society of Deaf Children address what a parent should do in the event that they believe their child may be deaf or hard of hearing.

In Texas-
This website produced by the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services details the services the office provides. http://www.dars.state.tx.us/dhhs/index.shtml

Emotional Disturbance

This PDF provides an overview of emotional, behavioral, or mental disorders that are defined as an emotional disturbance.


English Language Learners

Overview- This is the website for the Office of English Language Acquisition, part of the U.S. Department of Education. It addresses current programs and initiatives and also includes current contacts, reports, and resources.

For Parents- Declaration of Rights for Parents of English Language Learners Under No Child Left Behind

In Texas- This website developed by the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Langue Instruction Educational Programs addresses several facets of ELLs in Texas including demographics, education policies, and federally funded programs.


Gifted and Talented

This fact sheet developed by the National Association for Gifted Children provides an overview of ‘gifted’ and provides links to sites for more detailed information.

For Parents-
ABCs of Gifted includes an immense amount of parent-friendly information regarding parenting a gifted and talented child.

In Texas
Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented site addresses GT resources for educators, parents, and students.


Learning Disabilities

Overview –
LD OnLine seeks to help children and adults reach their full potential by providing accurate and up-to-date information and advice about learning disabilities and ADHD - http://www.ldonline.org/index.php

For Parents –
A wealth of information on understanding learning disabilities, negotiating the special education process and helping the child and themselves: - http://www.ldaamerica.org/aboutld/parents/index.asp

In Texas -

  1. Provides comprehensive diagnostic educational evaluations for ages 4-18, college students, and adults; parent and educator resources; teacher training; and adult services: http://www.thelearningcenterofnt.org/
  2. Organizations, Schools, and LD Professionals in Texas listed alphabetically by title: http://www.ldresources.org/index.php?state=tx&full=1


Mental Retardation

A fact sheet that provides basic information and statistics about mental retardation

For Parents
A parent friendly resource that addresses ways that parents can obtain more information about mental retardation and how to best support their child.

In Texas
This page of links transports the user to a vast array of websites that addresses mental retardation and appropriate resources.


Orthopedically/ Otherwise Health Impaired


  1. The article addresses the definition of orthopedic impairments, special considerations in assessing students with physical disabilities, and educational considerations that can assist these individuals.
  2. An article  that addresses the various conditions that can be classified as OHI

For Parents
A parent-focused site that provides information about other health impairments.


Severe/Multiple Disabilities

This fact sheet provides basic information on severe/multiple disabilities


Speech and Language Disorders

A basic fact sheet that addresses the characteristics and future implications for individuals with speech and language disorders.

For Parents-
This resource addresses the development of hearing and talking in children and how parents can best help their children.


Traumatic Brain Injury

Addresses the basic aspects of  traumatic brain injury

For Parents-
This fact sheet produced by NICHCY addresses several aspects of TBI and includes a tip section that specifically addresses parents of children with TBI.

In Texas-
Provides an overview of the TBI services that are offered in Texas through the Texas Department of State Health Services.


Visually Impaired

Presents an overview of visual impairment and the associated educational implications

For Parents-
Lists parent resources and books that have been approved by the National Federation for the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.

In Texas-
This state resource provides information about state-offered services and tips for living with blindness or visual impairment


Special Issues

Ranchers, farmers with disabilities –
National Agrability Project - http://www.agrabilityproject.org/purpose.cfm
In Texas - http://txagrability.tamu.edu/ 

Emergency Preparedness –
National -

For individuals with disabilities - http://www.dol.gov/odep/programs/emergency.htm

In Texas - http://texashelp.tamu.edu/

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