The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—formerly known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act—is a federal statute that requires a free and appropriate public school education for eligible students ages 3–21. Eligible students are those identified by a team of professionals as having a disability that adversely affects academic performance, requiring special education and related services. IDEA is located in the United States Code at 20 U.S.C. §1400.
Among students who receive special education services under IDEA, the category of disabilities with the largest reported percentage of students is specific learning disabilities. A specific learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using spoken or written language that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.
Thirty-three percent of all students who received special education services had specific learning disabilities; 19 percent had speech or language impairments; and 15 percent had other health impairments—including having limited strength, vitality, or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems such as a heart condition, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, nephritis, asthma, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, epilepsy, lead poisoning, leukemia, or diabetes.
Students with autism, developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, and emotional disturbances each accounted for between 5 and 11 percent of students served under IDEA. Students with multiple disabilities, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, traumatic brain injuries, and deafness/blindness each accounted for 2 percent or less of those served under IDEA.