Multiple Impairments to Learning

Multiple Impairments to Learning

A child who has multiple disabilities often has blindness or visual impairment as well. What causes multiple disabilities? Some reasons are known and some are not. According to the Department of Education’s Parent Center Hub ( a few reasons for multiple disabilities include:

  • Chromosomal abnormalities
  • Premature birth
  • Difficulties after birth
  • Poor development of the brain or spinal cord
  • Infections
  • Genetic disorders
  • Injuries from accidents

What we do know is that a child’s difficulty in learning is impacted by both the number of disabilities as well as the severity of each. Although this is difficult to deal with as a parent, the good news is that there has been so much progress in working with children with multiple disabilities. Experts now know much more about how children learn than we did even 25 years ago.

Federal definition of multiple disabilities

Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the definition of multiple disabilities is as follows:

“multiple disabilities . . . means concomitant [simultaneous] impairments (such as intellectual disability-blindness, intellectual disability-orthopedic impairment, etc.), the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in a special education program solely for one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf-blindness. [§300.8(c)(7)]”

As you can see from the above definition, blindness and visual impairments as well as deafness are excluded from this definition. Why? That’s because deaf-blindness is defined separately and is a disability category of its own under IDEA.

Federal funding for education separates by age group

We also know that children have different needs at different ages. Federal funding for early intervention activities is typically separated by age group with infants and toddlers (birth through age 2 in the earliest intervention group) and pre-schoolers (age 3-5) in the second group.

Having a child with multiple disabilities also means that you may be working with a team of people who have expertise in specific disabilities as part of your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).

One of the most important things to remember is to love your child unconditionally. Make him or her feel an important part of the family. As a parent or caregiver, you can also help other children to participate in your child’s learning and interaction with others.

Additional Resources

DISCLAIMER: Please note that the websites and webpages shown below are not all inclusive of all websites containing this type of information. Always consult your child’s health care provider(s) and educators for additional reliable and accurate information.

  • US Department of Education website for IDEA for parents of children with multiple disabilities:
  • Regional Technical Assistance Centers are available through the US Department of Education. They are designed specifically to help you to provide the best care and education for your child through education on various topics:
  • Project IDEAL: This is a federal website designed primarily for teachers of children with multiple disabilities. However, it may also be helpful to some parents who are interested in learning foundational concepts of multiple disabilities and the needs of children. The website also has a number of video interviews that are approached from different perspectives. Go to:
  • National Center on Deaf-Blindness: This organization focuses on individuals who are deaf and blind and their unique learning needs. It includes a parents’ forum, transitional skills as a child ages, and some aspects of assistive technology. Go to:
  • Perkins Learning Institute also has a section on children with multiple impairments at: Although this page is designed more for teachers of students with multiple disabilities, the box on the right has easy-to-read fact sheets and additional information for parents.

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Please note that this website is provided as a resource for information and education, and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice and consultation. The links to other sources are not recommendations of BCF nor are these links all-inclusive, but rather representative of websites that offer information. The Blind Children’s Fund always recommends that you use information only from knowledgeable and well-recognized sources since there are many scam-types of programs now proliferating the Internet. Always consult your child’s health care provider(s) and educators for additional reliable and accurate information.