If it is determined that your child has a disability, then he or she may be entitled to services under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. While there are a number of differences between the two statutes, the primary difference between them is that Section 504 is intended to “level the playing field” for a student with a disability whereas Special Education is remedial in nature. As a parent of a child with a disability, it is important to become familiar with both statutes in order to ensure your child receives the most appropriate education and services to which they are entitled.
Other Health Impairment, also referred to as OHI, is one of the 13 disability categories included under IDEA or Special Education. This category includes various health problems, including Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder. In order to qualify for Special Education services under the classification of OHI, the health problem must adversely affect the child’s educational performance.
An Individualized Education Plan (more commonly referred to as an IEP) is a comprehensive, legally binding document created for a student who is found eligible for Special Education. The IEP describes the child’s disability, the impact the disability has on the child’s learning, necessary placement, services and accommodations required to address the child’s individual learning needs, and educational goals and objectives for the school year.
A learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects a broad range of academic and functional skills, including speaking, listening, organizing, reading, writing and math. A learning disability is diagnosed when a child’s achievement in one or more academic areas is substantially below those expected for the child’s chronological age. It is important to note that several factors must be considered before a learning disability can be identified as learning problems alone are insufficient in warranting a diagnosis.
Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD), also referred to as Nonverbal Learning Disability, is a developmental condition comprised of a cluster of skill deficits, including difficulties with spatial orientation, psychomotor coordination, adaptability, mental flexibility, executive function and organization, pragmatic language, social skills, and emotional stability. These deficits significantly interfere with both academic and life functioning. Contrary to initial assumptions, a child with NLD exhibits strengths in the verbal domains while their deficits lie within the nonverbal domains.
Dyslexia is a language-based learning disorder that interferes with reading, writing and spelling. Most individuals with dyslexia have been found to demonstrate weak phonological processing skills, which directly impacts their ability to decode words, to read fluently and to comprehend text. These difficulties may also be accompanied by weaknesses in spoken language and short-term memory. As a result of their reading difficulties, individuals with dyslexia often exhibit delays in vocabulary development and general knowledge.
Dysgraphia is a disorder of written expression. Students with dysgraphia may have difficulty with spelling, handwriting and putting thoughts down on paper. While young writers may present with difficulties with letter formation and spacing, older children may struggle to write legibly and to communicate their thoughts and ideas in writing.
Dyscalculia refers to difficulty learning and understanding mathematics. The cause for math difficulties varies from person to person as do the challenges they face. Young children with dyscalculia may have trouble learning, recognizing and remembering numbers while school-age children may present with difficulties in acquiring basic math facts and developing math problem-solving skills. Older children and young adults with dyscalculia often have trouble using mathematical applications to solve real life problems involving math, such as balancing a checkbook or budgeting.
Executive functioning refers to a set of cognitive processes involved in the regulation of thoughts and actions and goal-directed behaviors. Key areas of executive functioning include planning/prioritizing, organizing, task initiation, working memory, flexible thinking (shift), self-monitoring, inhibition/emotional control, and sustained focus/attention. Weaknesses in executive functioning may present as difficulties in following multi-step directions, remembering the sequence of activities, learning from mistakes, initiating and staying focused for the duration of a task, organizing time, space and materials, and maintaining emotional control. Poorly developed executive functioning skills are considered to be central to Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder as well as other conditions (i.e.: dyslexia and other learning disorders, autism spectrum disorders, mood disorders, traumatic brain injuries).
Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), also known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder, is a disorder that makes it difficult for an individual to accurately process auditory information. Students with APD may have difficulty comprehending what is said to them, understanding speech in noisy environments, following directions and responding to verbal prompts/questions, holding on to verbal information in immediate memory, and/or difficulty discriminating between similar-sounding speech sounds. While various professionals (i.e.: psycho-educational specialists, psychologists, speech and language pathologists) can administer various assessments to assess different aspects of auditory processing, it is important to note that this diagnosis can only be made by an audiologist who is specifically trained in assessing and diagnosing APD.
A weakness in expressive and receptive language skills may be identified through psycho-educational testing; however, a full speech and language evaluation completed by a Speech-Language Pathologist is necessary for a formal diagnosis related to an underlying language disorder. While a child with an expressive language disorder has difficulty producing spoken and/or written language, a child with a receptive language disorder has difficulty processing spoken and/or written language. School-age children with expressive language delays will likely struggle to respond both verbally and in writing and will require additional time to produce spoken and written language. There are several ways in which a receptive language disorder may impact a child’s performance in the classroom, but the most common difficulties include following directions, poor listening skills and problems differentiating between sounds. Children with weak receptive language skills need additional time to process what they hear as well as additional time to respond. It is important to realize that language disorders may also impact a child’s social and emotional functioning because of their difficulty communicating with and/or understanding others.