The following sections describe each exceptionality and links to information about the federal definitions, incidence and prevalence, characteristics, causes, and educational implications.
Mental retardation refers to individuals who have lower intellectual functioning and limitations in their daily living skills, which manifest during childhood. Individuals with mental retardation can function along a wide range of abilities. Most children with mental retardation have mild to moderate delays and can be educated in general education schools and classes. Other individuals with severe or profound mental retardation may require more custodial care. For general information:
Learning disabilities refers to significant difficulty in one or more curricular areas at school. For example, a student may have a reading disability, but have no problems with mathematics. Learning disabilities is a syndrome that describes students that have significant delays in their academic achievement but the cause is not easily identifiable. There are several different types of specific learning disabilities. These terms include: dyslexia (reading disabilities), discalcula (math disabilities), and disgraphia (writing disabilities). Some learning disabilities are mild while others are quite severe. Most students with learning disabilities are taught in general classroom settings.
Behavior disorders or emotional disturbances are conditions that adversely affect educational performance. These behavior problems must be significant and last for a period of time. Behavior disorders usually include problems with social relationships with peers and/or authority personnel. Either externalizing or internalizing behaviors may be considered an emotional disturbance. Externalizing disorders refer to actions where the student "misbehaves." These actions include aggressive actions such as conduct disorders or oppositional defiant behaviors. Internalizing disorders refer to behaviors that are self-inflicted including phobias, anxiety, depression, or suicide. Some disorders may be mild, while some can be quite severe such as schizophrenia. Many students with behavior disorders are taught in general classrooms while others may receive education in special classes or schools.
Communication disorders refer to problems with speech or language. Speech disorders include the motor skills of communication such as articulation, voice, and fluency. Language disorders include receptive and/or expressive language skills. Language includes several components such as: phonology (sound units), morphology (meaning units), semantics (word meaning), syntax (word order), and pragmatics (use of language). Any problems with one or more areas can interfere with good communication. The majority of students with communication disorders are taught in general classroom settings but receive intervention by a speech-language pathologist.
Attention Deficit Disorder (with or without Hyperactivity) is not identified as a separate category under IDEA. A student with severe AD/HD can receive special education services, if their disability significantly interferes with their educational performance but usually under the category of "other health impairment". Since AD/HD is the most commonly identified childhood disorder, this disability is included with high incidence exceptionalities. Most students with AD/HD are not included in special education but still may pose challenges to general education teachers. AD/HD describes a series of behaviors that are characterized by a student not being able to attend to what is going on in class. They may have trouble sitting for more than a few minutes and they usually have behavior problems as well.
Gifted and Talented students are identified as having significantly superior intelligence, abilities, or skills for their stage of development. Their exceptional behavior may occur in one curricular area or many. For example, one student may be advanced in mathematics and music, while another student may be a high achiever in all areas. The federal government does not fund gifted and talented services, so states determine what services they will provide. Most students who are gifted or talented are taught in general education classes, but several are provided alternative classes or additional interventions.