How does my child qualify for special education and related services?

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    Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or "IDEA," children qualify for special education and related services if they have one or more of the following disabilities and, as a result, need such services: (1) mental retardation; (2) hearing impairments, including deafness; (3) speech or language impairments; (4) visual impairments, including blindness; (5) emotional disturbance; (6) orthopedic impairments, or physical disabilities; (7) autism, including pervasive developmental disorders; (8) traumatic brain injury; (9) other health impairment; (10) specific learning disabilities; (11) deaf-blindness. Children with more than one of the foregoing disabilities could qualify for special education and related services as having (12) multiple disabilities.

    The legal definitions of these disabilities, which the public schools are required to apply under the IDEA, may differ from those used in medical or clinical practice. The legal definitions, moreover, could apply to children with disabilities that have very different medical or clinical disorders. A child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, for example, could qualify for special education and related services as a child with "other health impairments," "emotional disturbance," or "specific learning disabilities" if the child meets the eligibility criteria under one or more of these disability categories and if the child needs special education and related services as a result.

    Under Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, some school age children with disabilities who do not meet the eligibility criteria outlined above might nevertheless be eligible for special protections and for adaptations and accommodations in instruction, facilities, and activities. Children are entitled to such protections, adaptations, and accommodations if they have a mental or physical disability that substantially limits or prohibits participation in or access to an aspect of the school program.