Intellectual Disability Eligibility

  • Guiding Principles

    As with any eligibility decision, the question of eligibility for special education under the category of Intellectual Disability is an important one. Special education can provide much needed supports and insight for students with disabilities. At the same time, the identification for special education can impact the ways a student experiences school, and the mindset of the learner and those around them.

    Identifying a child with a disability is always a complex personal process, full of emotion and expectations. Students, families and school staff may experience a variety of personal responses throughout the eligibility process. This is particularly true for a student being considered for an eligibility of Intellectual Disability. It is important for the school team to be aware of parent and student concerns throughout the process. As always, we want to highlight student strengths.

    A special education eligibility (particularly Intellectual Disability) does not determine the child’s future. Instead, identification for special education helps us all understand the child better, and opens up possibilities for supports, services and protections.

    Definition of Intellectual Disability: A student with an Intellectual Disability experiences significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior (generally measured as two or more standard deviations below the mean).

    We know that language can be powerful. Our language affects our beliefs and our beliefs affect our language. When considering an eligibility of Intellectual Disability, it is important to be sensitive to the language we use. Previous generations (and previous versions of special education law) used a term for Intellectual Disability that is considered offensive and derogatory by many today. As we talk with students, families and staff, we will strive to be culturally and linguistically sensitive in our choice of words to describe students.

    As with any eligibility, we know that professional judgment and team discussion are important in the decision making process.

    Procedural Guidance

     Criteria for Eligibility for Intellectual Disability (as defined by OAR 581-015-2155)

    All 4 of the following criteria must be met for a child to be found eligible for Intellectual Disability:

    1. The child’s intelligence test score is 2 or more standard deviations below the mean. The intelligence test should be an individually administered standardized test, administered by a licensed school psychologist, a psychologist licensed by the state board of psychological examiners or other qualified individual assigned by the school district.  
    2. The child has deficits in adaptive behavior that are commensurate with the child’s intellectual functioning. The overall score on an adaptive behavior scale should be commensurate with the score on the intelligence test. However, sub-test scores should be analyzed along with the composite score, considering the principle of convergent validity.
      1. Different sources of adaptive behavior information must be considered across different reporters (teachers, parents); multiple settings (in-school and out-of-school); and using different methods to collect information (review of records, interviews, observations, assessments)
      2. As with any other eligibility, a single score should never be the sole basis for confirming or rejecting the possible existence of a disability.  
    3. The child’s developmental level or educational achievement is significantly below age or grade norms.
      1. The OAR’s do not define “significantly below age or grade norms.” For a child in early primary school, this may be 2-3 years below grade level. For a middle school or high school student, 2-3 years below grade level would not be considered sufficient for identification for Intellectual Disability.
      2. A Developmental History can be very useful in identifying developmental levels
    4. The child’s developmental or educational challenges are not primarily the result of sensory disabilities (hearing, vision) or other physical factors (orthopedic impairment)


    Other assessments to consider:

    • Any additional assessments necessary to determine the impact of the suspected disability on the child’s educational performance for a school age child; or on the child’s developmental progress for a preschool child
    • Any additional evaluations or assessments necessary to identify the child’s educational needs


    In the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Intellectual Disability is listed with the disability code #10




    Intellectual Disability Eligibility Flow Chart - This Flow Chart is from the Connecticut Department of Education - It is a resource for thinking about eligibility, not the official procedural guidance for our district



    Should measurement error (SEM) be considered if the IQ score is just above the threshold of 70 (standard score)?

    The team could consider eligibility with a global score slightly above 70 if there are other factors that point to Intellectual Disability - including adaptive scores. However, if a student has a broad range of scores that average near 70 (some in the 40’s some in the 80’s), we would be very hesitant to find them eligible with an Intellectual Disability. This may be a pattern of strengths and weaknesses that signifies a Specific Learning Disability.


    How do we consider sub-test scores on the adaptive scales, such as conceptual, social and practical?

    Consider the subjectivity of parent scores on an ABAS or Vineland (Expand this answer)


    What do you do if there is a discrepancy between two adaptive rating scales (teacher and parent)?

    When making eligibility decisions, we want all members of the team to be confident in the data. If there is a discrepancy between scores on adaptive rating scales, it would be wise to do additional interviewing or have a third rater to find more accurate scores.


    What are the physical factors that would preclude a child from eligibility for ID?

    If a student has mobility limitations that make it difficult to assess cognitive ability (e.g. cerebral palsy), the student should not be made eligible for ID.


    What if we suspect Intellectual Disability for a student whose first language is not English?

    It is very important to consider language acquisition and acculturation when evaluating a student for any disability category. Whenever possible, we should administer cognitive testing in the child’s native language. It may also be appropriate to use a non-verbal assessment. See our guidance for bilingual assessment for more information.


    Can a student with Down Syndrome be found eligible for Other Health Impairment (OHI) instead of Intellectual Disability?

    An eligibility team cannot automatically find a student eligible for Intellectual Disability because they have Down Syndrome. A student's medical diagnosis does not determine their eligibility category (or even whether they would be eligible for Special Education). In general, a student should not be found eligible for OHI if another eligibility category describes the student better. The eligibility team closely examines the evaluation data to determine the eligibility category that best describes the student.