The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to provide special education services to eligible students. To be eligible to receive special education services, the child must be identified in one of the 13 categories of disabilities and their school performance must be adversely affected.

To learn more about the eligibility requirements for each disability, click on a category below:

A student with Autism is one who has 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 does not apply if a child's educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance, as defined in paragraph.

  • Students with pervasive developmental disorders are included under this category.


A student who is deaf or hard of hearing is one who has been determined to meet the criteria for deafness or for students who are deaf or hard of hearing:

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

  • Hearing impairment means 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.

  • The evaluation data reviewed by the multidisciplinary team in connection with the determination of a student's eligibility based on being deaf or hard of hearing must include an otological examination performed by an otolaryngologist or by a licensed medical doctor, with documentation that an otolaryngologist is not reasonably available, and an audiological evaluation performed by a licensed audiologist. The evaluation data must include a description of the implications of the hearing loss for the student's hearing in a variety of circumstances with or without recommended amplification.


Deafblindness is the "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 programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness.” In Texas, a student may meet the criteria as a student with deafblindness in any of the following four ways:

(A) Meets the eligibility criteria for auditory impairment and visual impairment.

(B) Meets the eligibility criteria for a student with a visual impairment and has a suspected hearing loss that cannot be demonstrated conclusively, but a speech/language therapist, a certified speech and language therapist, or a licensed speech-language pathologist indicates there is no speech at an age when speech would normally be expected.

(C) Has documented hearing and visual losses that, if considered individually, may not meet the requirements for auditory impairment or visual impairment, but the combination of such losses adversely affects the student's educational performance.

(D) Has a documented medical diagnosis of a progressive medical condition that will result in concomitant hearing and visual losses that, without special education intervention, will adversely affect the student's educational performance.

Meeting eligibility in one of these ways requires both hearing and vision professionals to attend ARD meetings.


A student with an Emotional disturbance is one whom has 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:

  • An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.

  • An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.

  • Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.

  • A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.

  • A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

Emotional disturbance includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance.


A student with an intellectual disability is one who has been determined to have significantly sub-average intellectual functioning as measured by a standardized, individually administered test of cognitive ability in which the overall test score is at least two standard deviations below the mean, when taking into consideration the standard error of measurement of the test; and concurrently exhibits deficits in at least two of the following areas of adaptive behavior: communication, self-care, home living, social/interpersonal skills, use of community resources, self-direction, functional academic skills, work, leisure, health, and safety.


A child with a learning disability does not achieve adequately for the child’s age or meet state-approved grade-level standards in oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation or mathematics problem solving when provided appropriate instruction. Adequate achievement is indicated by performance on multiple measures such as in-class tests; grade average over time (e.g. six weeks, semester), norm or criterion-referenced tests; statewide assessments; or a process based on a child’s response to scientific research-based intervention, yet does not make progress upon provision of such interventions and exhibits a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance and/or achievement.


A child with multiple disabilities has concomitant disabilities (for example: an intellectual disability-blindness or intellectual disability-orthopedic impairment). The disabilities are expected to continue indefinitely and severely impair performance in two or more of the following areas: psychomotor skills; self-care skills; communication; social and emotional development or cognition.


A child between the ages of 3-5 who is evaluated as having an intellectual disability, emotional disturbance, a specific learning disability, or autism may be described as non-categorical early childhood (NCEC).


A student with an orthopedic impairment is one who has been determined to meet the criteria for orthopedic impairment by the multidisciplinary team that collects or reviews evaluation data in connection with the determination of a student's eligibility based on an orthopedic impairment must include a licensed physician.


A student with other health impairment is one who has been determined to meet the criteria 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's Disorder as stated in 34 CFR, §300.8(c)(9).


A student with a Speech or language impairment is one who has a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment.

Speech impairments include:

  • Articulation: where the child produces sounds incorrectly

  • Fluency: where a child’s flow of speech is disrupted by sounds, syllables and words that are repeated, prolonged or avoided or where they may be silent blocks, inappropriate inhalation, exhalation or phonation patterns

  • Voice: where the child’s voice has an abnormal quality to its pitch, resonance or loudness

Language impairments where the child has problems expressing needs, ideas or information and or/in understanding what others say


A student with traumatic brain injury is one who has been determined to meet the criteria due to an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects a child's educational performance:

  • Applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas:

    • Cognition

    • Language

    • Memory

    • Attention

    • Reasoning

    • Abstract thinking

    • Judgment

    • Problem-solving

    • Sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities

    • Psychosocial behavior

    • Physical functions

    • Information processing

    • Speech

  • Traumatic brain injury does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma as stated in Sec. 300.8 (c) (12)


(A) A student with a visual impairment is one who has been determined to meet the criteria for visual impairment. The visual loss should be stated in exact measures of visual field and corrected visual acuity at a distance and at close range in each eye in a report by a licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist. The report should also include prognosis whenever possible. If exact measures cannot be obtained, the eye specialist must so state and provide best estimates.

A student with a visual impairment is one who has been determined by a licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist to have no vision or to have a serious visual loss after correction; or to have a progressive medical condition that will result in no vision or a serious visual loss after correction and has been determined by the following evaluations to have a need for special services:

  (I) a Functional Vision Evaluation by a professional certified in the education of students with visual impairments or a certified orientation and mobility instructor. The evaluation must include the performance of tasks in a variety of environments requiring the use of both near and distance vision and recommendations concerning the need for a clinical low vision evaluation and an orientation and mobility evaluation; and

  (II) a Learning Media Assessment by a professional certified in the education of students with visual impairments. The learning media assessment must include recommendations concerning which specific visual, tactual, and/or auditory learning media are appropriate for the student and whether or not there is a need for ongoing evaluation in this area.

(B) A student with a visual impairment is functionally blind if, based on the preceding evaluations, the student will use tactual media (which includes Braille) as a primary tool for learning to be able to communicate in both reading and writing at the same level of proficiency as other students of comparable ability.