Disability Categories: A Quick Guide

  • Following are the category names as used in Minnesota and a brief description of each. When a student is suspected of having a disability as defined below, the district conducts a comprehensive evaluation to determine whether or not the disability adversely affects the students educational performance and whether or not the eligibility criteria is met. The Minnesota Department of Education rules describing the eligibility criteria can be found on this link by scrolling down the page to find the specific disability categories. Additional information regarding these disabilities can be found on the Minnesota Department of Education Website.

    Autism Spectrum Disorder

    A developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’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 is not an educational disability if the child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance.


    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.

    Developmental Cognitive Disabilities

    Significantly below-average general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during childhood development, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Minnesota further delineates the disability in functional levels of mild/moderate and severe/profound.

    Developmental Delay (birth - age 6 only)

    Experiencing developmental delays, as specifically defined by the State Criteria and as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures, in the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development; Delays must indicate a specific need for special education and related services.

    Emotional/ Behavior Disorder

    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 child’s 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.
    • (E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school-related concerns.

    Hearing Impairment

    An impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child's educational performance, but that is not included under the definition of deafness only.

    Other Health Disability

    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 is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome; and adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

    Physical Impairment

    A severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by a congenital anomaly, impairments caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis), and impairments from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures).

    Severe Multiple Impairment

    More than one disability which creates multiple impairments (such as cognitive deficit-visual impairment or cognitive deficit-physical 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.

    Specific Learning Disability

    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. Specific learning disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of cognitive deficits, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage, or from inconsistent attendance patterns for instruction.

    Speech or Language Impairment

    A communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

    Traumatic Brain Injury

    An acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical traumatic force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Traumatic brain injury applies 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. Traumatic brain injury does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.

    Visual Impairment

    An impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.