The Difference Between Diagnosis And Disability

The difference between a “diagnosis” and a “disability” can be hard to understand. These words often get mixed up. To make things more confusing, sometimes you may see or hear the terms “disability category” and “eligibility category” used interchangeably.

An easy way to remember the difference is:

  • Doctors give a diagnosis
  • School evaluators use diagnoses to help determine disability categories (identification)
  • IPRC Committees use disability categories to help determine eligibility for special education services

Many children with a doctor’s diagnosis can participate in school without any special education services. Other children may not be diagnosable, but still need services. During the evaluation and assessment process, the school is looking at whether or not the child’s diagnosis and/or disability category will affect her ability to access and benefit from public education.

In Toronto the following is a list of the disability categories used by the schools. Some of these categories may not apply to the youngest children.

  • Autism
  • Deaf-Blindness
  • Mild Intellectual Disability
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Learning Disability
  • Speech Impairment
  • Behaviour
  • Gifted
  • Physical

My child has a diagnosis. How could she not meet eligibility? 

One of the most difficult things for a parent or professional outside of the school setting to understand is that although a child may have a doctor’s diagnosis, she may not meet the eligibility guidelines to receive special education services. To meet eligibility, her disability must impact her ability to learn or participate in school. In other words, there must be an educational need for services. For children aged 3-5, educational need is often determined in one of the following areas:

  • Pre-academic skills
  • Social skills
  • Language and communication skills
  • Physical development and access to the environment
  • Behavior
Dr. Ewa J. Antczak & Associates
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