Special Education Categories

Special education services may only be provided to students when a student meets the "two prong test of eligibility."  The two prong test of eligibility means that: (1) the child "meets the definition" of one of the categories of exceptionality and, (2) as a result of that exceptionality, needs special education and related services (see KAR 91-40).  Another way to say this is that a child must meet eligibility criteria, and show a need for assistance in that area.  Once an IEP team determines that the child meets the two prong test of eligibility, special education services will begin to be planned and later implemented for that child.  The question remains, "What are the categories of exceptionality?"

You may have heard that IDEA defines 13 unique disability types, but be careful how you count them; that number could vary a little.  I believe that the actual IDEA legislation is the source of the problem.  In one section of the law (300.8a1) the text clearly states, "hearing impairment (including deafness)", yet in a few paragraphs later (300.8c3, 300.8c5) you'll see a separate legal definition for "deafness" and "hearing impairment".  Strangely enough, a "visual impairment (including blindness)" is not separated into two definitions (see 300.8c13); one might expect that "visual impairments" would be separate from "blindness" following the previous logic.  To further complicate the matter, the law also allows states the option (300.8b) of providing "Developmental Delay" disability services, but does not require it; the individual states are left to determine if they will provide DD services.  You probably now understand why counting 13 categories is not an exact science.

Although Kansas and federal laws divide the categories differently, Kansas does maintain compliance with federal guidelines (the difference is largely due to the classification of Kansas' "Sensory Impairments").  I personally feel that the Kansas guidelines are easier to understand than the federal legislation because of this grouping of the sensory disorders into one category.  You'll also note that the federal list does not require special education services for "Giftedness", yet Kansas does so.  As a bonus piece of trivia, Kansas uses the term "exceptionality" in place of the federally used "disability" because of the possible provision of special education services for gifted students (which is certainly not a disability.)

For easy reference, below is a comparison chart listing the different eligibility categories for special education in Kansas compared to the federal requirements. 

Kansas Exceptionality Categories:
  1. Intellectual Disability (Mental Retardation)
  2. Sensory Impairments
    1. Hearing Impairments (including deafness)
    2. Visual Impairments (including blindness)
    3. Deaf-Blindness (combination)
  3. Speech or Language Impairment
  4. Orthopedic Impairments
  5. Autism
  6. Traumatic Brain Injury
  7. Emotional Disturbance
  8. Other Health Impairment
  9. Specific Learning Disability
  10. Multiple Disabilities
  11. Developmental Delay (only for ages 3-9, inclusive)
  12. Giftedness

Federal Disability Categories:

  1. Mental Retardation (Intellectual Disability)
  2. Deaf-Blindness
  3. Deafness
  4. Speech or Language Impairment
  5. Autism
  6. Traumatic Brain Injury
  7. Emotional Disturbance
  8. Other Health Impairment
  9. Specific Learning Disability
  10. Multiple Disabilities
  11. Hearing Impairment
  12. Orthopedic Impairment
  13. Visual Impairment

  14. Developmental Delay (Optional Use)