Terms You Should Know About Disabilities

Boy with his laptop

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

Medical conditions that affect how well a person can sit still, pay attention, and focus. People with the condition have differences in parts of their brains that control attention and activity.


A mental disability that impairs social and communication development. Autistic people usually show minimal interest in learning and social situations. Symptoms can range greatly, from very mild to severe. Autistic children are often faced with difficult learning situations

Asperger’s Syndrome

A common, yet mild, form of autism, in which there is no impaired language skills, but the person experiences difficulties in social interactions.

Cerebral Palsy

A condition caused by damage to the motor control centers of the young, developing brain. It typically occurs during pregnancy, but can also occur during childbirth or up to approximately 3 years old. It mainly affects body movement and posture and causes reflex movements that a person can’t control and muscle tightness throughout the body. Mental retardation, seizures, and vision and hearing problems can also occur.

Congenital Heart Disease

Consists of several heart related defects in children. Symptoms include fast breathing and poor feeding, poor weight gain, recurrent lung infections and an inability to exercise. Most defects will require surgery to repair the problem and ongoing treatment to improve heart function


A condition characterized by short stature – technically an adult height of 4 feet 10 inches or under.


A learning disability where a person encounters difficulty with written language, especially reading and spelling. A dyslexic brain processes differently, but it is not an intellectual disability – people of all IQ levels are diagnosed with dyslexia.

Hearing Impairment/Deafness

Any degree of hearing loss can be educationally handicapping for kids. Even children who suffer from mild to moderate hearing losses can miss up to half of classroom discussion. If left unmanaged, hearing loss can affect the way kids speak and their social and emotional development.

Learning Disabilities

A general term that describes specific kinds of learning issues. Academic areas usually affected by learning disabilities are: reading, writing, listening, speaking, reasoning, and math. Many learning disabilities affect the way a person processes information and can often slow down the rate of work. Children with learning disabilities are not “dumb” or “lazy.” Typically, learning disabled students have average or above-average intelligence levels.


Involves a curved spine, typically occurring between the ages of eight and ten. Symptoms include uneven shoulders and hips, and an uncentered head. In adults scoliosis may cause back pain and trouble breathing, but it can usually be prevented from getting worse if found early enough.

Spinal Cord Injuries/Paralysis

Occurs when a traumatic event results in damage to the cells in the spinal cord. Other conditions cause temporary paralysis but spinal cord injuries can lead to permanent paralysis and necessitate the use of wheelchair. Physical therapy and rehabilitation is an important way to improve function to certain parts of the body, but lifelong dependence on a wheelchair is common following spinal cord injuries.


A communication problem in which words and sounds are repeated, drawn out, skipped or not fully completed. It is relatively common in children between ages two and eight and often resolves before puberty. Developmental stuttering is a problem that persists and can get worse over time. In this case, it doesn’t resolve on its own and counseling or speech therapy can help.

Vision Impairment/Blindness

Approximately 10% of legally blind children, use Braille as their primary way to read. 34% of kids are characterized as non-readers.

Autism Speaks
Medicine Net
Kid's Health
DIS Studies
Center for Dyslexia
Web MD