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Special Education/Special Education services determination


I live in Texas and was wondering what the difference is between a "specific learning disability" and a "disability"? The IDEA 2004 law talks a lot about identifying a specific learning disability and states specific criteria for a diagnosis. However, it lists "emotional disturbance" as a disability (but not one that creates a diagnosis of specific learning disability. My question is the law saying that someone with a Specific learning disability automatically qualifies for special education services, but one that does not meet the criteria as a "specific learning disability" can be denied special education services if the school doesn't believe the child needs them? Also, do special accommodations automatically mean special education? Thank you for helping with this clarification.

The term Specific Learning Disability is one of the 13 categories of disability within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, IDEA.  Specific Learning disability typically called SLD is the only category of disability that only exists if your are a student in school.  It is a school specific disability, therefore only exists within the confines of IDEA.  Each of the 13 categories have specific eligibility requirements and each state has specific procedures to ensure they stay in compliance with the law.  

Technically being diagnosed with any disability category does not, in itself, guarantee special education services.  In order to be eligible for special education services you must answer 3 questions as yes...1) Does the child have a disability, 2)Does that disability impact the child's education, and 3) Does the child need specially designed instruction (IDEA definition of special education)?  So, yes, if there is evidence that a child doesn't need specially designed instruction or special education, then they can deny services in spite of the disability existing, but that is not limited only to SLD.  

Accommodations have to be a part of the IEP, but in order to be special education eligible the child must need specially designed instruction.  Accommodations are NOT specially defined instruction, so if a child has an IEP that only defines accommodations the district is inappropriately serving a child who obviously doesn't need specially designed instruction.  In that case, the child should be exited from special education and given accommodations through Section 504 of the rehabilitation of the handicapped act (civil rights for disabled persons), which requires schools to provide reasonable accommodations for a disabled child to ensure that he or she is not discriminated against because of the disability.  Section 504 has NO provisions for the delivery of specially designed instruction.

In all reality, however, some schools keep special education eligible students on IEPs and provide only accommodations, calling it Inclusive service...but without specially designed instruction based on the unique needs of the child that is not compliant with the law.  

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Dr. Norm Bishop


I have spent nealy 40 years in the area of Special Education. I have had the pleasure of teaching pre-school, elementary, middle, high school and college levels, as well as, served in school district administration buildings in classroom/legal support positions. I have also spent some time working in a State Department of Education Exceptional Student Services Office and am now currently Division Head and Director of Institutional Research at Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Kentucky. I also teach special education classes on campus. I have also taught full time teacher preparation at Northern Arizona University on the Tucson Campus, Seattle Pacific University, and at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming. In addition to that I have taught adjunct at Seattle Pacific University, City University in Seattle, Ashford University, and Grand Canyon University.


I have experienced directly special education legal issues, process and procedure, and have taught at all levels in every special education category except gifted. My major expertise is diagnostic prescriptive teaching, literacy as it relates to disabilities, technology in special education, and Educational Leadership. My greatest passion in the field is building new programs, implementing and doing the research to see how they work. My Dissertation and principle research interest is in the area of inclusive education, primarily co-teaching of students with disabilities in the general education classroom.

Council for Exceptional Children, Association for the Supervision of Curriculum, National Reading Council.

Teaching Exceptional Children, Published computer assisted instruction, titled PAL, Special Education Basics, college Textbook, Teaching with Precision, college Textbook, Various devotionals at the website,

I have a B.A. in Secondary Education, a Masters in Special Education (cross categorical), administrative certification, and a second B.A. in Elementary Education. I completed my doctorate in Educational Leadership at Northern Arizona University.

Awards and Honors
Best Summer Program in the Nation (Honorable Mention, when I was Teaching) Multiple local awards

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