The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (P. L. 101-476) identified specific categories of disabilities under which children may be eligible for special education and related services. As defined by IDEA, the term “child with a disability” means a child with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities; and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.

Children thought to have a disability are evaluated by a multi-disciplinary team. If the evaluation team determines the child requires special education and related services because of disabilities, then states and local school districts must provide a free, appropriate public education for that child. The new IDEA (P. L. 105-17) strongly supports including students with disabilities in the general education classroom and curriculum, with accommodations when necessary; “…to be involved and progress in the general curriculum…and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities; and … to be educated and participate with other children with disabilities and non-disabled children…” [Section 614(d)(1)(A)(iii)]. Schools may place children with disabilities in separate classrooms or schools only when supports and services are not enough to help the child learn in a regular classroom.

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