Special Education in Texas: The Difference between Diagnosis and Disability

Diagnosis vs. DisabilityThis is a confusing point of Special Education for many teachers and parents. Students may be diagnosed by a doctor outside of school as having a certain diagnosis, however students may only qualify for Special Education services if they fall under one of the disability categories set forth by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. Moreover, each state has the ability to define those categories as they see fit, as long as they retain the key elements of IDEA.

The federal law (IDEA) uses the following terms to define a “child with a disability”:

  • Autism,
  • Deaf-blindness,
  • Deafness,
  • Emotional disturbance,
  • A hearing impairment,
  • Intellectual Disability,
  • An orthopedic impairment,
  • Other health impairment,
  • A specific learning disability,
  • A speech or language impairment,
  • Traumatic brain injury,
  • A visual impairment including blindness, or
  • Multiple disabilities.

Texas uses the following list of disability categories to determine if a student (aged 3-21) is eligible for special education and related services:

  • Auditory Impairment (AI)
  • Autism (AU)
  • Deaf-Blindness (DB)
  • Emotional Disturbance (ED)
  • Intellectual Disability (ID) (formerly called Mental Retardation)
  • Multiple Disabilities (MD)
  • Orthopedic Impairment (OI)
  • Other Health Impairment (OHI)
  • Learning Disability (LD)
  • Speech Impairment (SI)
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Visual Impairment (VI)
  • Non-Categorical Early Childhood (NCEC)

Disability is determined through evaluation by a licensed school psychologist, and accepted by a committee that includes the student’s parent or legal guardian during the initial Admission, Review and Dismissal committee meeting. If a child doesn’t qualify for Special Education services, they may still be eligible for services to be provided under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to ensure that their individual educational needs are met as adequately as those of non-disabled students.

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