Disability Categories

Definitions of the 14 disability categories (Virginia Department of Education, 2019)

Autism: means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, which adversely affects a student’s educational performance. 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. Autism does not apply if a student’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disability. A student who manifests the characteristics of autism after age three could be identified as having autism if the criteria in this definition are satisfied.

Deaf-Blindness: means simultaneous hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that the student cannot be accommodated in special educational programs solely for students with deafness or students with blindness.

Deafness: means a hearing impairment that is so severe that the child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, which adversely affects the student’s educational performance.

Developmental Delay: means a disability affecting a child aged two (by September 30) to six, inclusive (age two up to age seven), who is experiencing developmental delays, as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures, in one or more of the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, adaptive development, or has an established physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in developmental delays.

Emotional Disability: 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 student’s educational performance:

  1. An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors
  2. An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers
  3. Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances
  4. A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression, or
  5. A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems. The term includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to students who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disability.

Hearing Impairment: means impairment in hearing, in one or both ears, with or without amplification, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a student’s educational performance but is not included under the definition of deafness.

Intellectual Disability: means significantly below-average general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior, and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a student’s educational performance (deficits in cognitive ability and adaptive behavior that are not primarily caused by visual or auditory deficits; motor deficits; emotional disability; learning disability; environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage; and/or limited English proficiency).

Multiple Disabilities: means simultaneous impairments (for example, intellectual disability with blindness or intellectual disability with an orthopedic impairment), 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 student’s educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by congenital anomaly (for example, club foot, absence of some member), impairments caused by disease (for example, poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis), and impairments from other causes (such as, cerebral palsy, amputations, fractures or burns that cause contractures, etc.).

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

  1. Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as a heart condition, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, nephritis, arthritis, asthma, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, epilepsy, lead poisoning, leukemia, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, and Tourette syndrome, and
  2. Adversely affects a student’s educational performance.

Specific Learning Disability: 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. The term includes 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 intellectual disabilities; of emotional disabilities; or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

Speech/Language Impairment: means a communication disorder such as stuttering disorder, impaired articulation, expressive language and/or receptive language impairment, or voice impairments that adversely affects a student’s educational performance.

Traumatic Brain Injury: an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability, psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects a student’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, psychosocial behavior, physical functions, information processing, speech, and sensory, perceptual, and/or motor abilities. The term does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.

Visual Impairment: means impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a student’s educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.