Glossary of Disabilities


Students with autism are those who have a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age 3, which 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. A child 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 they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness.


A student with deafness means that they have 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 child's educational performance.

Developmental Delay/Preschool (or School Age)

Developmental Delay means a disability affecting a child ages two by September 30 through six, inclusive:

  1. 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, or adaptive development, or who has an established physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in developmental delay.
  2. The delay(s) is not primarily a result of cultural factors, environmental or economic disadvantage, or limited English proficiency.
  3. The presence of one or more documented characteristics of the delay has an adverse effect on educational performance and makes it necessary for the student to have specially designed instruction to access and make progress in the general educational activities for this age group.

Children, ages 5 through 6 as of September 30 of the current school year, may also be included as developmentally delayed if there is a significant developmental delay and the primary disabling condition cannot clearly be identified. However, developmental delay cannot be used as the eligible category under IDEA after the child is 7 years or older.

Students of the same ages, 2-5 years, with any other distinguishable disability such as a hearing impairment, intellectual disability, orthopedic or health impairment, speech/language impairment, emotional disability, learning disability, or multiple disabilities may be considered to be preschoolers with disabilities and may be served in the early childhood special education program.

Emotional Disability

Students whose conditions cause them to exhibit one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects educational performance, are classified as having an emotional disability:

an inability to learn, which 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; and a tendency to develop fears or physical symptoms associated with personal or school problems.

The term "emotional disturbance" includes students who have schizophrenia. The term does not include students who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disability as noted.

Hearing Impairment

Students with a hearing impairment, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child's educational performance but is not included in the definition of "deafness" are considered to have a hearing impairment.

Students with a hearing loss so severe as to impair the processing of information through hearing with or without amplification, and that adversely affects educational performance, are classified as being deaf.

Intellectual Disability

Students with an intellectual disability have significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period that adversely affects the child's educational performance.

Multiple Disabilities

These students have more than one disability or simultaneous impairments (such as intellectual disability and blindness, or intellectual disability and orthopedic impairment), the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs designed solely for students with one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf-blindness.

Orthopedic Impairment

Students with a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects educational performance are served under this category. The term includes 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).

Other Health Impairments

Students meet the criteria as having other health impairments when they have limited strength, vitality or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, which results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, which is due to chronic or acute health problems. This disability category includes such health conditions 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 that adversely affect a student's educational performance.

Specific Learning Disability

Students determined to have a learning disability demonstrate a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include students who have 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.

Dyslexia is distinguished from other learning disabilities due to its weakness occurring at the phonological level. Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Speech/Language Impairment

Students who have speech or language impairment have a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, expressive or receptive language impairment, or voice impairment that adversely affects a student’s educational performance.

A speech disorder may be characterized by an inability to:

    produce speech sounds (articulation);
    use appropriate speech rhythm (stuttering);
    control vocal production (voice);
    use words and meanings appropriately in social contexts (pragmatics);
    use grammatical patterns appropriately;
    use the rules of the speech sound system.

Virginia Beach City Public Schools uses the Virginia Department of Education Speech/Language Guidelines in determining eligibility under IDEA and the Regulations Governing Special Education Programs for Children with Disabilities in Virginia.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Students with traumatic brain injury have acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physic force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects 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; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech. The term does not apply to injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.

Visual Impairment including Blindness

Students determined to have a visual impairment or blindness have an impairment in vision, even with correction (such as glasses or contact lenses), that adversely affects educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.