Cognitive Disability

For purposes of utility, disability categories can be grouped into three broad categories of functional disability which are (1) sensory impairments such as visual or hearing impairments, (2) physical or motor impairments, and (3) cognitive disabilities. Definitions of cognitive disability vary but are generally broad and include difficulties with mental tasks and/or processing. Students with cognitive disabilities often are unable to read or to gain meaning from standard print materials. They may struggle with reading due to difficulties with functional abilities such as problem-solving, memory, attention, and comprehension. They often need and can benefit from the use of accessible instructional materials (AIM) to present the same information found in traditional instructional materials in a different format. Specialized formats may be essential to these students in allowing them to access and achieve in the general curriculum. When specialized formats and supports for their use are well-matched to a student’s individual needs and abilities, the result can mean the difference between exclusion and achievement.

Students with cognitive disabilities are often identified as needing special education and related services under the Opens new windowIndividuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the following categories:

  • Autism
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Intellectual disability
  • Learning disability
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Other health impairment

The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs’ web site, Opens new windowBuilding the Legacy: IDEA 2004, provides definitions of specific disability categories as stated in IDEA.

Dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are not named as separate disability categories under IDEA, but students with these disorders are often identified as needing special education and related services within the disability categories listed above. For example, students with dyslexia are often identified as having a learning disability, and those with attention deficit hyperactivitity disorder are usually included under the other health impairment category.

Determining if a student needs accessible instructional materials and selecting the appropriate format(s) depends on the unique needs of each student. For some, an audio format (which renders content as speech to which a student listens) may be beneficial. Others may benefit from the use of a digital text format (which is an electronic format that can be delivered via a computer or another device). Digital text is malleable and can be easily transformed in many different ways depending upon student needs and the technology being used to access content. To accommodate the needs and preferences of a user, various features of technology which control how content is presented can be manipulated such as text size, fonts, colors, contrast, highlighting, and use of text-to-speech. The digital text format may contain both audio and visual output depending upon the way content is developed and the technology that is being used to access it. Software that incorporates text-to-speech and additional learning supports is often referred to as supported reading software and may be beneficial for students with cognitive disabilities. For some students who have dyslexia or who struggle with reading, hard copy large print or large text rendered on a computer screen has generated positive results.

An important factor in considering the need for, selection of, and use of accessible instructional materials is the functional effect of a student's disability on their educational performance, not a student's disability category or medical diagnosis. Decisions are to be made based on a student’s unique needs, environments in which tasks will be completed, and the nature of tasks a student needs to accomplish. More than one format may be needed for a student based on their physical needs, educational settings, and tasks to be accomplished. Once a decision-making team has selected the format(s) that a student will need, their team determines what technology; support services; training for the student, educators, and family; instructional teaching strategies; and accommodations or modifications may be required for successful use of accessible materials.

For detailed information about a student-centered decision-making process specifically related to accessible instructional materials, refer to the AIM Navigator. The AIM Navigator is an interactive, online tool that facilitates the process of decision-making around accessible instructional materials for an individual student. The four major decision points in the process include 1) determination of need, 2) selection of format(s), 3) acquisition of format(s), and 4) selection of supports for use. The AIM Navigator also includes a robust set of guiding questions and useful references and resources specifically related to each decision point. Different levels of support scaffolds are built-in so that teams can access information at the level needed to assist them in making informed, accurate decisions.


General Resources on Cognitive Disabilities

Opens new windowFamily Center on Technology and Disability—Search Organizations

Opens new windowNational Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY)—State Organization—Search by State

Opens new windowNational Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY)—National Organization Gateway

Opens new windowWebAIM: Cognitive Disabilities

Opens new
window50 Questions About LD: An E-Book for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities (National Center for Learning Disabilities)


Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD)

State Infrastructures and Programs

Opens new windowADHD State Resources

Factsheets

Opens new windowLD Online, ADHD Basics

Opens new windowNational Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) Disability Fact Sheet 19

Opens new windowNational Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), National Institutes of Health, ADHD Information Sheet

National Organizations

Opens new windowAttention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) provides information, resources, and networking opportunities to help adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder lead better lives.

Opens new windowCHADD is a national nonprofit organization providing education, information, and support for individuals with ADHD.

Opens new windowNational Resource Center on ADHD, a service of CHADD, is a clearinghouse for science-based information about all aspects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).


Autism

State Infrastructures and Programs

Opens new windowAutism Resources by State

Factsheets

Opens new windowIDEA Partnership, Autism Spectrum Disorders

Opens new windowNational Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) Disability Fact Sheet 1

Opens new windowNational Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), National Institutes of Health, Autism Fact Sheet

National Organizations

Opens new windowAutism Society of America (ASA) exists to improve the lives of all affected by autism by increasing public awareness about day-to-day issues faced by people on the autism spectrum, advocating for appropriate services for individuals across lifespan, and by providing the latest information regarding treatment, education, research, and advocacy.

Opens new windowAutism Speaks has grown into one of the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organizations, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.


Dyslexia

Factsheets

Opens new windowInternational Dyslexia Association Fact Sheets on Dyslexia and Related Language-Based Learning Differences

Opens new windowLD Online, Dyslexia Basics

Opens new windowNational Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) Disability Fact Sheet 7

National Organizations

Opens new windowThe International Dyslexia Association (IDA), formerly the Orton Dyslexia Society, is an international organization that concerns itself with the complex issues of dyslexia.

Opens new windowNational Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) works to ensure that the nation's approximately 15 million children, adolescents, and adults with learning disabilities have every opportunity to succeed in school, work, and life.


Emotional Disturbance

Factsheets

Opens new windowNational Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) Disability Fact Sheet 5

National Organizations

Opens new windowCenter on Positive Behavioral Supports The Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports has been established by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs to give schools capacity-building information and technical assistance for identifying, adapting, and sustaining effective school-wide disciplinary practices.

Opens new windowNational Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is a source of authoritative information on specific mental disorders.


Intellectual Disability

Factsheets

Opens new windowNational Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) Disability Fact Sheet 8

National Organizations

Opens new windowAmerican Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), formerly AAMR, promotes progressive policies, sound research, effective practices, and universal human rights for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Opens new windowThe Arc promotes the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.


Learning Disabilities

Factsheets

Opens new windowNational Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) Disability Fact Sheet 7

Opens new windowLD Online: Learning Disability Basics

National Organizations

Opens new windowLearning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) is a nonprofit volunteer organization advocating for individuals with learning disabilities.

Opens new windowNational Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) works to ensure that the nation's approximately 15 million children, adolescents, and adults with learning disabilities have every opportunity to succeed in school, work, and life.

For information specific to AIM and LD, please refer to Opens new windowAccessible Instructional Materials: Ensuring Access for Students with LD.


Other Health Impairment

Factsheets

Opens new windowNational Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) Disability Fact Sheet 15


Traumatic Brain Injury

Factsheets

Opens new windowNational Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) Disability Fact Sheet 18

National Organizations

Opens new windowBrain Injury Association of America (BIAA) is dedicated to increasing access to quality health care and raising awareness and understanding of brain injury through advocacy, education, and research.

Opens new windowNational Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury (NRCTBI) works to provide relevant, practical information for professionals, persons with brain injury, and their family members.

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Last Updated: 11/26/2013

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