Can an IEP List More than One Disability?

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I was told that only one disability can be documented in the IEP. My son has an IEP for ADHD. He also has a sleep disorder. After our high school started block scheduling this year, my son missed so many of his first two classes that he fell far behind. He had to go to part time status.

The school refused to provide any support for him saying it wasn’t in his IEP.

I wanted to add it to the IEP. I provided the school with all the doctors information and notes documenting the condition. I was told that only one disability can be documented in the IEP.

Answerof course. The IEP is required to meet all the child’s needs. Many children with special needs have more than one disability. The IEP should document all the child’s disabilities.

Can a child be blind and in a wheelchair?

Can a child have a specific learning disability, a severe visual impairment, an orthopedic impairment – and ADHD?

The IEP is an individualized program based on your child’s unique needs. The special ed statute (IDEA) and regulations do not say that a child’s IEP can be limited to only one disability or need.

The law is clear — a child does not need to have a “label” to be eligible for an IEP and special education services. 

Before getting into a battle with the school, you need to a better understanding of the law, your child’s rights and your rights. You represent your child’s interests. You need to know what the law says and how to find answers to your questions in the IDEA statute and regulations.

School personnel’s knowledge about the law and rights under special education laws is often based on what they were told in a training program or by “word of mouth.” Like parents, very few educators question what they are told. Very few school staff have read the law.

If you don’t have a copy of IDEA 2004 and the regulations, get one now!

You can download most of these documents from the Wrightslaw site. Click here for an overview of the IDEA statute.

You’ll find answers to your questions in the law – IDEA, in the federal and state special education regulations, and the Commentary to the Special Education Regulations. In the Commentary, the Education Department explains why they decided to change or not change a regulation. The Commentary often clarifies the “plain meaning” of a term

  1. 1) My child is diagnosed with Autism and school as mentioned Autism as Primary Diagnosis in his IEP and providing the services. School is pushing to add ‘ intellectual disability’ in his IEP as he has met the criteria when he was evaluated.

    we are not comfortable in adding intellectual disability as secondary diagnosis. Is it necessary/Must for the school to mention intellectual disability as secondary diagnosis in his IEP without impacting his services.

    • Not adding the intellectual disability category will close the door to many services once your child leaves school. You would be doing a disservice to your child.

  2. My son has an outside ( from a psychologist) diagnosis of autism. He qualifies for an IEP under ED. I have asked the school if we can add both to his IEP in case he needs different accommodations in the future. I was told ED and autism can’t both be on the IEP. Is this true? The school put ED and didn’t do an ADOS screening for autism because they believe his behaviors are due to ED and not autism.

    • I suggest asking them to show where in federal or state rules that a child cannot have both of these disabilities. You can request that the district pay for an independent evaluation, &/or a behavior specialist to assist in determining the cause, & appropriate strategies for dealing with the behaviors. Your state parent training and information project, can assist you.

    • No okay so basically we live in Minnesota and I myself as a student is listed as ASD/EBD meaning I have both autism and emotional disturbance or Minnesota term emotional behavioral disorder I also have a friend who is both ASD/DCD so over here that’s false and my friend has a cousin who is both ED and visually impaired cuz he’s color blind so no That shouldn’t be the case If you don’t like the school took it off your kids IEP I would recommend just switching or if he’s setting 1 move him to 504

  3. does a secondary disability need to continue to be addressed on the IEP if it has been for years and has improved.

    • A person having several disabilities happens frequently. If someone says that a person cannot have these two disabilities, I would ask to see the basis for that opinion.

  4. In my child’s IEP draft they are comparing his growth to other children in the resource room. For example they are saying he is at 3rd grade reading level but his other classmates in the resource room are 4th grade and 5th grade. It does not sound right to do that. He should be compared to others that are meeting the standards to be in 6th grade. It”s like saying it’s okay to be a 6th grader with 3rd grade skills because his classmates in the resource room are not much different. Please help. How can I get this taken out of his IEP?

  5. What if the primary disability changes? In my case I have a hard of hearing student who is in D/HH SPED, but he is also VI (visually impaired). His VI is degenerative. Now he is in a classroom that has goals set for a student better suited for D/HH

    • No, they can’t. ED implies that a student has learning difficulties that can’t be explained by intellectual/cognitive, sensory, and health factors. If they are SLD then their learning difficulties are explained through intellectual/cognitive factors.

      • This is not true. A student can definitely have depression and dyslexia, for example. The IEP team needs to prove that the learning difficulties are NOT primarily due to cognitive, sensory, or health factors, but a student can be struggling with a SLD and significant mental health difficulties. The team needs to present significant evidence for both, and then determine if the student requires specialized academic instruction because of those disabilities.

        • Hi Laura, I agree. Special ed encourages us to think about kids as having unique needs. Schools design programs for categories. This labeling/category business encourages people to ask “what box (AKA predetermined placement) can we stuff this kid into?” Not “what does this child need to meet their unique needs?”

  6. My child’s IEP wasn’t finalized, yet the principle of the school said he had to go into the special education class room starting the following day after the IEP meeting was held, but he still isn’t getting all his services that was agreed upon on the IEP. No, I haven’t signed the IEP because it isn’t completed. Beside this he is getting hurt and getting into fights almost every day in this 12:1 classroom. It’s the end of the school year and no one seems to want to do anything. What can I do according to the law?

    • You can learn about your dispute resolution rights, and the district and state processes for resolving your concerns. You can find this on the website, or thru your state parent training and information center, or disability rights project. Why getting special-ed tech right takes teamwork. Why getting special-ed tech right takes teamwork

  7. I am writing here because I do not see how to open a new question. I would like to post a question over school refusal to list more than one disability on my daughter’s IEP even though she is receiving accommodations for the other disability. How can I post a question on this forum so that I can elaborate on the situation? Thank you.

    • Jennifer,

      I don’t know how to start a new thread but I wanted to address your concerns. The IEP is to list everything your daughter needs. If she has for example ADD, Autism, and ODD they should all be listed on the IEP. I would request in writing for an IEP meeting meeting to address your concerns. You might also want to contact you local parenting training center. Hope this helps and best of luck to you.

  8. The school district’s (in NJ) lawyer told me during an IEP meeting that the Multiply Disabled Classification doesn’t apply to my son. He has a diagnosis of ADHD and Dyslexia/Dysgraphia. Does anyone know what NJ statute covers this?

    • It is probably because his disability can be accommodated in one setting. The extended time on tests, help with focusing, notes, and most accommodations for those disabilities overlap. If he had adhd and an emotional or physical impairment that he needed a separate placement or classroom for, then the multiple disabilities label would be used to accommodate both his disabilities. New Jersey does use the multiple disabilities label more often than other states, but the label usually is reserved for students with more severe disabilities that cannot be accommodated in one setting.

      • He has both and has RR ELA, not GE. He also receives 1 on 1 instruction using Wilson and Linda Mood Bell. He has other modifications that accommodate both, but he has been diagnosed with a double deficit Dyslexia characterized by inconsistent phonological processing and orthographic representations along with Dysgraphia. So, I don’t understand their reluctance to change his IEP to Multiply Disabled or OHI and SLD. Do they receive less funding if choosing other than OHI?

        • Usually multiple disabilities is used for students with a intellectual disability & some physical disability, eg. blindness, deafness. States can handle funding differently, so it is possible that in your state it does.

          • The NJ Statute reads: “Multiply disabled” corresponds to “multiply handicapped” and “multiple disabilities,” and means the presence of two or more disabling conditions, the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in a program designed solely to address one of the impairments.
            Multiple disabilities includes cognitively impaired-blindness, cognitively impaired-orthopedic impairment, etc. The existence of two disabling conditions alone shall not serve as a basis for a classification of multiply disabled. Eligibility for speech-language services as defined in this section shall not be one of the disabling conditions for classification based on the definition of “multiply disabled.” Multiply disabled does not include deaf-blindness.

          • …cont’d… If a child has ADHD categorized as OHI and Dyslexia & Dysgraphia categorized as SLD, how do choose the classification? Both equally interfere with his education. Although some accommodations are the same for both, but each disability requires different services. How do you ensure your child receive appropriate accommodations and services for both if not classified correctly as Multiply Disabled?

          • The IEP team should be developing supports based on a child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. As Chuck and Lauren mentioned above, funding or placement may drive the classification decision, but classification shouldn’t ultimately drive the supports.

            I am working with a middle school child that has a severe visual impairment and autism. His classification is Visual Impairment, but he receives SLP services to address social communication difficulties, and OT that supports both diagnoses too. Best of all, he attends his local school with his friends and peers.

            I think IDEA legislation as well as OSEP encourages a more person centered and a less “one size fits all” approach too.

          • IEP teams are required to identify all of a child’s needs regardless of the label they are given or what is the primary, and secondary disability. That is the obligation that requires the school to address all or your child’s needs & provide the appropriate services, accommodations, etc.

  9. Just because your child has a intellectual disability doesn’t mean they’ll put it on the title or category as the school district im in change her ID category to other impaired and won’t even recognize the fact that she has intellectual disability. They actually say 16 years of testubg is wrong. You can see it all over in the IEP with the IQ scores in adaptive scores but refuse to say the word intellectual disability because of accountability. They dropped language and speech without me even noticing when she got into high school which auditory processing disorder causes speech, language and adaptive skills to go along with the IQ extremely causes her not to understand the world around her. You really need to take a whole year off and do nothing and read about Sped Ed tricks.

    • If the school district has classified your child as ID and served them in an ID setting but now says she is not ID, you need to demand compensatory services for having your child placed in an inappropriate program. Did they do a new psychoeducational evaluation before they changed her category? If they did, request an IEE saying you disagree with the results and if they did not, ask why not. What health impairment do they think she has?

  10. What’s the compare and contrast of an IEP stating other health impaired versus intellectual disabled? School is wanting to change it to other health impaired…

    • Other health impairment means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that—

      (i) Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome; and

      (ii) Adversely affects a child’s educational performance. [§300.8(c)(9)]

      My answer comes from the state and parenting training center. is the exact place where I found some information. Why does the school want to change the IEP OHI? Have you told them you do not want it changed? You are your child’s advocate and you are part of the IEP team that means you have the final say in what goes into your child’s IEP.

      Under IDEA, a child who has an “other health impairment” is very likely to be eligible for special services to help the child address his or her educational, developmental, and functional needs resulting from the disability. This is where I found the information on other health impairment.

      • The regs also say, a child must not be determined with OHI if the determinant factor for that determination is intellectual disabilities. I would ask why they are wanting the change the category and what that will mean for his services. Also, if he is not really ID, I would ask for compensatory services if has been served in an ID classroom.

  11. Are there any special considerations in the design of an IEP for a student with multiple disabilities compared to an IEP for a student with one disability in math and English language arts that are supported by research-based instructional strategies? How do you keep a student’s interest in curriculum while meeting their academic level needs ? Explain

  12. My 14 year old son has Autism AND neurofibromatosis ( a neurological disease that can cause learning disabilties) I freely admit that I am a pain in the a** parent because I really believe that no one else will fight for him as hard as I do. I was told he didnt qualify for a parapro, so I insist on having some type of meeting with the school every 6 to 9 weeks. I have an official IEP meeting at least twice a school year and other times I just meet with one or two teachers at a time. I am willing to support the school anyway I can, but I try to make it clear that my role is as an advocate for MY child. I also make random visits to both the school and district education office to ask questions.

  13. how do I get the school to change the primary eligibility category to the secondary? My son has DS, so ID is the first and Hearing Impairment is secondary. I want my son to go to the school of the deaf to learn ASL as they do such a poor job in neighborhood school, but school of deaf will only take HI as primary. Who decides what is primary and what is secondary?

    • My school district changed the classification to meet the needs of the appropriate residential placement.

    • Idiots and funding.. Did you see HI as primary in a written doc.or info.given verbally? Priority is that your son needs consistent competent instruction to learn ASL so he can effectively communicate for himself and with others who are fluent in ASL including a daily video log of his progress for you to monitor ensuring he receives kind, fair treatment and is responding positively. How frustrating it must be for both of you! God Will make a way and it will be way better!! Many Prayers:)!! Primary, secondary, I call it discrimination and it’s not fair or right for any person or school to deny a student access to specific, competent quality education they need to live their lives! You will find the best for your Son:)!!

  14. Grandson is non-verbal, austic 5 yr old, attends county school in VA. Dr said he also has adh., school says hes not, want add adhd to iep, how can they over rule a specialist? We need help!

  15. My son has an IEP and is labeled with ADHD and SLD. He has also been recently labeled with DMDD. I am beside myself with him. He is suppose to graduate this year and is so scared he is self sabotaging himself so he does not. I need help and I don’t know where to turn.

  16. My 8 year old 2nd grader was given an IEP last March under OHI for ADHD and Anxiety. She was in danger of retention but had not gone through tier 3 rTi to classify as learning disabled. Now their is sufficient data to qualify. Today a secondary classification of SLD was added. I am okay with this because her IEP has achievable goals and appropriate accommodations. I could fight for it to be primary but the school is doing an excellent job with her IEP.

  17. I am fighting the school system from all levels. My son has ADHD and I kept him out of Special Ed for years. He went to middle school and they are fighting me to put him in special ed. Problem is they want ED label how can I fight that? I said no to reevaluation because of ED, four doctor notes that say he isn’t. School says he is and no testing has been done. This school is very nasty to deal with. Instead of helping they are hurting. How can they diagnose ED when you have doctors saying no? He has good grades but they fight me since he had the label of ADHD. Very frustrated even after getting a new lawyer. It seems lawyers while getting paid still don’t want to protect the child like they should. What to do?????

  18. I am fighting the school to understand our daughter’s situation. She has Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis. VERY different disabilities, but the school only wants to acknowledge the Ds and keep saying they have no obligation to accommodate her needs as far as Cf goes because it is not educational. Her immune system is poor and they won’t address the strict infection control that she needs. I keep sending her to school and in two weeks we are in the hospital. Her lung function goes away and never comes back.

    As used in 34 C.F.R. Part 300 Sec. 300.7 “ ‘ A child with a disability’ means a child evaluated in accordance with Sec. 300.530-300.536 as having…multiple disabilities…and who because of those impairments need special education and related services.

    Needs special education AND related services

  19. My son has a current IEP. However, he has a medical condition. Does his IEP cover the medical condition and it’s accommodations? The second question I have is, he is being further tested for Highly Functioning Autism and I need to change his IEP and how soon can I do that so he doesn’t shut down in school?

  20. My son does have ADHD and Disorder of Written expression on his IEP, however the School would not put his PDD-NOS diagnosis on the IEP. It is however stated that he has been diagnosed with this on his IEP, but not coded specifiacally on the IEP (only because I would not let up the fact that they did not have this on the IEP). They told me that it would not change any of the help he is already getting, as they have included all his needs on the IEP – which is true.

  21. My 9 year old daughter had an iep in place till her reevaluation in a new school in a new county. She has an orthopedic imparement. A spinal cord, t4 injury which has disabled her waist down. Though I do not think she was at the level of independence, the new school dismissed her old iep and said that based on her grades she being above grade level she is not eligible for an iep and hence put her on a504 plan. Even though we were told it would not effect her pt in schoool or her goals, everything was removed. My question is based on the level of how smart my daughter is can she be removed from an iep even though her injury is still an orthopedic imparement and she does still need supervision because of her autonomia dysflexia?

  22. My son is 15 and has an IEP. We recently had a meeting and after 3/4 of meeting I asked the attendees/teachers if they understand that my son has Cerebral Palsey. There jaws dropped or they answered…no. I even asked if they know what CP is and some were unsure. After years of having IEPs and discussing my sons physical disabilities it was not clear in his IEP that he has CP. Shouldn’t this be a part of the IEP? I have been meeting resistance and feeling misunderstood.

  23. My child has a 504 plan in place, can i get that changed to I.E.P ? I was told that I.E.P are only for children with disablities. He has ADD, is that a disablitie and can they have I.E.P in place.

  24. The District gave us a very hard time about including more then one disability on our son’s IEP. We went through due process and settled in conference with the judge. The District finally agreed to handwrite the second disability in the IEP. We have yet to see the final draft.

  25. My child has autism (Aspergers). She is also gifted. Her IEP encompasses her GIEP SDIs and goals as well as the ones she has because she’s autistic. She was identified by her school as gifted in 4th grade and as having Aspergers in 8th.

  26. Actually, we do not list the ETR disability category on the IEP except in cases of medical diagnosis (autism, ADHD, diabetes). The goals need to be addressed regardless of disability category.

  27. 3. Listing disability labels in the IEP: There are primary and secondary disabilities. The primary disability would be considered the qualifying factor. The IEP may not list every disability, but should address the negative impact they may have on student learning/progress and list the accommodations/modifications needed to create FAPE.

  28. There have been several comments and questions I would like to respond to:
    1. There have been several mentions of medical diagnosis regarding IEPs. If the medical issue does not impact their ability to learn or progress academically, then they may not qualify for an IEP (see Dr. Pamela’s response). A 504 plan may be the better option. (Schools generally avoid 504 plans because there is no funding attached to them to pay for services, but they are required to provide them by law.) Students on 504 plans may receive services from special education.

  29. My son was DX with Tourette’s in kindergarten. He also has ODD, IED, ADHD. The school refused to put anything besides emotionally disturbed on his IEP. I fought them for 5 yrs on this and finally he worked his way into a mainstream class. While in 4th grade he was diagnosed with Asperger’s, the SCHOOL phsycologist told me ‘it does not matter what his doctor says, he does not meet the criteria for asperger’s/autism.’ What does that mean? A psychologist that works at a school can over ride a psychiatrist that has been watching and testing him. He is now home school and gets no social therapy because our new district refuses to even test him for an IEP.

  30. I recently attended the Atlanta seminar. Mr. Wright made a comment about why school districts do not like to list SLD as a primary. Does an I.E.P. with OHI limit my child’s opportunities to attend college?

  31. My childs school will not list his diabetes as a disability on or within his IEP. I have asked them to several times. I need help. Can you afford me any info, please. We are in Arizona.

  32. Stacy – Yes in a nutshell. School’s are not supposed to determine services by one method of testing only. My son got a 1.9 discrepancy score which technically meant he could not be in special ed. We got outside testing at the school’s expense and the tester recommended he stay in special ed based on all issues not just the discrepency score. We had to threaten due process and the school continued to provide services. If you have a professional who believes your child needs speech services the school has to consider what your professional has to say.

  33. I am a HS Ex Ed teacher and the mother of 3 ADHD boys. My nine year old was testing in the spring of 2010, but didn’t qualify because no discrepancy was found. His dr. sent us for further testing and using new testing he will qualify for written expression. He also shows weaknessess in auditory processing. Can I request speech services as well? To qualify for actual speech services, school psychometrist says he must have a 70 in that area. Unfortunately, he does not.

  34. On my daughter’s IEP is says Multiple for the disability that are documented on her IEP! Can they do that or it easier to that way since she has a lot of disabilities! I have learned a lot from coming to one of you conferences in Kentucky. I was so happy to go since now I am helping families with their child’s IEPs! Keep up the great work you guys do to help families out that we don’t know what is right and what is wrong when we come up against the schools!

  35. I’ve been repeatedly told, & repeatedly stated by district rep – only one category can be used. Never sat well with me since many of my child’s needs were repeatedly ignored. Often taking each new teacher 3/4 of the year to gain a clear view of (note NOT necessarily an “understanding of”) less visible needs.
    My child losing out, remaining without FAPE, parents educated in advocacy, fighting a losing battle. Impact on family life/harmony is severe. All too consuming time and energy spent, (plus added frustration) of trying to have needs recognized, appropriately assessed, and appropriately supported.
    Greatest difficulty is the “scripted” development of IEP from within the district and what they have available when. IEP does not accurately reflect my child, needs, needed supports.

  36. When dealing with the Department of Education you need to know your child disabilities. they may not have an complete understand of what that disability is and not a willingness to learn.

    It may take you two years to get what you need in the IEP as it did me. I had help with the dept of civil rights. They can follow up on recommendations and let the school know you are well to fight if that what it takes.

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