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Expert Q&A

Can a school deny a student special education services on the grounds that Central Auditory Processing Disorder is not a learning disability?

My 13-year-old son was diagnosed with SID (sensory integration dysfunction) and CAPD when he was eight years old. He has also been in speech and language since the second grade. I have been battling his school district to get him either an IEP or 504 for two years now and they keep trying to tell me that CAPD is not a learning disability.

His teachers are not accommodating and have deemed him lazy despite recent CAPD and Speech & Language evaluations. Despite his testing, his lack of organizational skills, his lack of improvement on NYS Assessment testing, and his continual drop in grades, his school refuses to acknowledge his disability, claiming he does not have one. HELP!


Dear Kelly,

You report that your child has been diagnosed with sensory integration dysfunction, central auditory processing disorder, organizational skills problems and difficulties in state testing and his own grades over a number of years. Despite this, your school system has refused to provide him with an IEP or 504 plan on the grounds that CAPD is not a learning disability. Over the history of the special education law, there has been considerable confusion and disagreement as to the circumstances under which a student qualifies for a learning disability.

The IDEA criterion for learning disability is defined as:

“… 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 conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.”

However, learning disabilities do 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.” 34 Code of Federal Regulations §300.7(c)(10)

Although the IDEA does not specifically reference a central auditory processing disorder, it also does not explicitly exclude the clinical condition of central auditory processing disorder from the processing disorders which could qualify a student for LD. In addition, section 504, which does not use categorical disabilities for eligibility, provides for eligibility if the student has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits learning.

If your clinical data supports the adverse impact of the central auditory processing disorder or the sensory integration dysfunction on your child’s functioning at school, it would appear that there would be grounds for eligibility under Section 504 as well.

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