Orthopedic Impairments and Special Needs Students

Why this impairment can affect a child's academic performance.

A disabled student in front of his school.
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According to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an orthopedic impairment is defined as a disability that is so severe that it negatively affects a child’s educational performance. Learn which conditions cause orthopedic impairments and how they may interfere with a student's performance.

How IDEA Categorizes Orthopedic Impairments

This disability category includes all orthopedic impairments, regardless of cause. Examples of potential causes of orthopedic impairment include:

  • Genetic abnormality
  • Disease (poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis)
  • Injury
  • Birth trauma
  • Amputation
  • Burns
  • Fractures
  • Cerebral palsy

Sometimes orthopedic impairments are called physical disabilities or included in the category of "other health impairments."

Students are typically evaluated by a healthcare professional to determine if they have an orthopedic impairment that will interfere with their academic progress. Medical professionals may also observe the child in the classroom to get a sense of potential problems the student will face.

The Support People They Need

People with orthopedic impairments usually need physical accommodations or assistive technology in school, the workplace, and at home. They have legal rights to this support under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Students with orthopedic impairments will have different physical challenges and therefore require different accommodations. Typically students with such impairments have the same cognitive abilities as their peers without disabilities. Because of this, the school staff should try to include these students in mainstream classes as much as possible. The IDEA law states that students should be educated in the least restrictive environment when appropriate.

Needs Teachers Should Take Into Consideration

In the general education program, the student may need special seating arrangements to help him with posture and mobility, as moving around the classroom or moving around school hallways may be difficult. Schools may also need to arrange the schedules of these students in a way that prevents them from having to travel long distances from one class to another. Providing elevator access can also help.

They may also need assistive technology devices to help them communicate or lessons that address their disability, such as those that will help them improve their gross and fine motor skills.

Physical education classes, in particular, may pose difficulties. Some students with orthopedic impairments will need to be excused from gym class. Other students with mild orthopedic impairments may be able to participate.

Teachers in all subject areas should be aware of the impact of an orthopedic disability on a student's behavior in class. Students with these impairments, for example, might get tired more quickly than their peers without orthopedic disabilities.

Children with orthopedic impairments may also face challenges accessing transportation to get to and from school. Federal law, however, requires school districts to provide the transportation necessary to help children with disabilities travel to and from school.

A Word From Verywell

Collectively, parents, medical professionals, teachers, counselors and other school staff can work to provide children with orthopedic disabilities the support they need in the classroom. The child's needs may change over time, and the officials involved in his individualized education plan can make amendments to the plan to accommodate new needs.

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