Referral and Eligibility

A student who is experiencing difficulties in school may be referred to the school problem solving team by a teacher, parent, principal or other concerned person. The team reviews the referral information and collaborates with the classroom teacher to develop intervention strategies designed to facilitate student success within the general education classroom.

Based on reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), all public school systems are now required to implement a 'Response to Intervention' process for determining eligibility for special education services for students with Learning Disabilities by 2010-2011. This means that school districts can no longer solely utilize the discrepancy between a given student's intellectual ability and academic achievement to determine eligibility. Rather, eligibility decisions are based on a student's response to the scientifically-based interventions that have been implemented.

For students with disabilities who require specialized instructional services, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) controls the procedural eligibility requirements. Currently, ISBE identifies thirteen categories under IDEIA. The eligibility categories are as follows:


Autism is a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, typically evident before age three, that adversely affects a child's educational performance.  Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. The term does not apply if a child's educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance.

Intellectual Disability

Intellectual Disability means significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child's educational performance.


Deaf-Blindness means concomitant hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness.


Deafness means a hearing impairment that is so severe that the child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, that adversely affects a child's educational performance.

Development Delay (DD)

Development Delay (DD) means a delay in physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development. This eligibility category may only be used until a child turns 10 years of age.

Emotional Disability

Emotional Disability (includes schizophrenia but does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance) means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child's educational performance:

  • An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors;
  • An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers;
  • Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances;
  • A general pervasive mood of anxiety or unhappiness or depression; or
  • A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

Hearing Impairments

Hearing Impairments means an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child's educational performance but that is not included under the definition of deafness.

Multiple Disabilities

Multiple Disabilities means concomitant impairments (such as mental retardation-blindness, mental retardation-orthopedic impairment, etc.), the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf-blindness.

Orthopedic Impairment

Orthopedic Impairment means a severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child's educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by congenital anomaly (e.g., clubfoot, absence of some member, etc.), impairments caused by disease (e.g., Poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis, etc.), and impairments from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures).

Other Health Impairment

Other Health Impairment means having limited strength, vitality or alertness, including a heightened sensitivity to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment that 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, or sickle cell anemia; and adversely affects a child's educational performance.

Specific Learning Disabilities

Specific Learning Disabilities means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations, including such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage. [105 ILCS 5/14-1.03(a)]

In accordance with 23 Illinois Administrative Code 226.130, beginning with the 2010-2011 school year, Illinois districts are required to use a process that determines how a child responds to scientific, research-based interventions as part of the evaluation procedures to determine special education eligibility under the category of specific learning disability (SLD). While this requirement is specific to SLD, districts also have the option of using such a process as part of the evaluation procedures for other disability categories. The documents below address Illinois’ procedures and criteria for special education eligibility and entitlement decisions in an RtI framework.

Speech or Language Impairment

Speech or Language Impairment means a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects the child’s educational performance.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) means an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects the child’s educational performance. The term applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition, language, memory, attention, reasoning abstract thinking, psychosocial behavior, and speech. The term does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.

Visual Impairment (VI)

Visual Impairment (VI) means an impairment in vision that even with correction, adversely affects the child’s educational performance.