For a student to qualify for special education services, they must exhibit a disability that falls within one of the available thirteen (13) disability categories as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These thirteen IEP eligibility categories include;

  • Autism
  • Deaf-Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Other Health Impairment
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Speech and Language Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Visual Impairment

For a child to be eligible under one of these thirteen IEP eligibility categories, their assessments must show and support a finding that the child has a deficit related to one of these eligibility categories. For example, a psycho-educational assessment that includes a testing modality that identifies the student as a child that is exhibiting autistic like tendencies, or autism, will support a finding that the child is eligible for special education services under the eligibility category of autism. 

This process is called determining eligibility. Eligibility for special education services is determined by a group of qualified professionals, which usually consists of the IEP team members. These professionals often include the school psychologist, a speech and language pathologist, an occupational therapist, a school mental health counselor, teachers, the principals and/or vice principal and the parents. It is through testing a child in these various areas that the team will decide which of the thirteen eligibility categories a student might qualify for an IEP under.

When determining eligibility for an IEP, the team must draw upon a variety of resources and testing modalities. The team cannot use a singular source for making their decision regarding eligibility for an IEP. In addition, the information from these sources must be properly documented, verified and carefully considered.

Each of the thirteen eligibility categories have criteria that must be met for the student to be eligible for an IEP under that particular eligibility category. The following are examples of the type of criteria used for some of the more common eligibility categories.

For Autism, a child must exhibit a delay or disability that is related to communication or social interaction or characteristics that lend themselves to engaging in repetitive activities, difficulty with environmental transitions, resistance to change or sensitivity to sensory stimuli.

Children with an emotional disturbance must exhibit an inability to learn that is not connected to a cognitive deficit, or an inability engage socially or sustain relationships with peers and/or teachers, experience inappropriate behaviors or feelings that are outside of those a student would ordinarily experience in a given situation or general and pervasive mood of depression or unhappiness or a tendency toward physical fears and/or anxiety related to school and school related activities.

An intellectual disability must evidence a cognitive deficit identified by particular intelligence testing, which is present in combination with delayed adaptive behavior skills.

Other Health Impairment is when a child exhibits limited strength, vitality or alertness within their environment. It can also include a heightened awareness to stimuli in their environment. The most common disability that falls within this eligibility category is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. 

One of the more complicated thirteen eligibility categories is Specific Learning Disability. A specific learning disability has a very precise definition which is, “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, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.” When deciding of specific learning disability, a team cannot simply decide that a specific learning disability does not exist because there is no severe discrepancy between a child’s intellectual ability and their school work performance. 

While these examples do not include a description of every available eligibility category, it is our intention to give parents and caregivers a brief understanding of what tend to be the most common of the thirteen eligibility categories.

Determining a student’s eligibility for special education services can take some time. But overall, the District should complete their assessments and the team should decide regarding IEP eligibility, within approximately 60 days of parent’s providing the team with consent to assess. Once eligibility is determined by the IEP team and the parents, it is time for the IEP to be drafted and reviewed by everyone. When the IEP has been reviewed and agreed to, the team and the parents will sign the IEP and services will begin.