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Department of Education and Early Childhood Development Exceptionalities

The term ‘exceptionality’ is used by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to identify patterns of strengths and needs common to groups of students. In Newfoundland and Labrador a student can only access special education service if he or she has an exceptionality.

Students with an exceptionality may access a range of school based services depending on the degree of severity.

The following exceptionalities are recognized by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. A description of the exceptionality and the service criteria are outlined below. Where possible a link to relevant information from trusted outside agencies has been provided.

Acquired Brain Injury

  1. Concussions that significantly impact functioning
  2. Illness such as meningitis and stroke, but not degenerative disorders
  3. Traumatic Brain Injury

The disorder must affect the student’s educational performance.

The student must be diagnosed by a health care professional. This is an individual who provides preventive, curative, or rehabilitative health care services in a systematic way to individuals or families. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development recommends ongoing health care services for any student diagnosed with an acquired brain injury that significantlyaffects educational programming.

Students that meet the criteria of acquired brain injury may require a range of school based services depending on programming need and level of functioning. A comprehensive assessment is required to inform program planning. Programming decisions are made by the student’s program planning team and may include accommodations, modified or alternate programs and courses. Caution must be exercised with curricular alterations (modified prescribed or alternate courses below grade level) since these changes may negatively impact graduation and post-secondary options.

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Developmental Delay

Developmental delay refers only to children between the ages of 0 and 8 years. It is a primary area of exceptionality when the cause of a child’s developmental lag is unknown.

Developmental delay is defined as a condition which represents a significant delay in the process of development. It does not refer to a condition in which the child is slightly or momentarily lagging in development. The presence of developmental delay is an indication that the process of development is significantly affected, and that without special intervention it is likely that the child’s ability to attain normal developmental milestones and educational performance at school would be jeopardized. Normal development falls within a range and children whose maturation falls outside this range could be provided with special education supports. More precisely these children have skills deficits including specific delays in language, perception, meta-cognition, and social, emotional and/or motor development.

This definition is designed to promote prevention and early intervention services during the primary years. Early identification and intense interventions are the keys to eliminating developmental delay as a primary need. Where the developmental delay persists beyond 8 years of age, the reason(s) is usually known. (Adapted from the Division for Early Childhood, Concept Paper on Developmental Delay, Council for Exceptional Children, November 2001)

Assessments which may be useful in determining the student’s learning profile include documentation of classroom performance using such tools as:

  • Reading Records (Kindergarten to Grade 3)
  • Literacy Profiles
  • Grade 1 Observation Survey
  • Other checklists such as:
    • Wechsler Fundamentals Academic Skills
    • Process Assessment of the Learner (PAL)
    • Conner’s Rating Scales
    • Vineland Adaptive Behaviour Scales - Second Edition
    • Adaptive Behaviour Assessment System – Second Edition (ABAS-II).

Students receiving service under Developmental Delay are not to be removed from the prescribed curriculum.

They may receive:

  • accommodations
  • alternate programs

They may not receive:

  • modified prescribed courses
  • alternate courses
  • alternate (functional) curriculum

In general, modified prescribed and alternate courses are reserved for students with a cognitive disorder or a gifted and talented exceptionality. Regardless of the student’s age, in order to access modified prescribed or alternate courses/curriculum, a comprehensive assessment is required to determine eligibility and inform programming.

Note: This exceptionality is currently under review.

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Gifted and Talented

Students who are gifted and talented demonstrate, or have the potential to demonstrate, exceptionally high capability with respect to:

  1. an exceptional ability to learn, create or perform
  2. well above average cognitive ability globally or within a specific domain (academic or non-academic)

Giftedness may be evident in, but not limited to, the following domains PDF :

  • Linguistic
  • Logical-mathematical
  • Spatial
  • Musical
  • Bodily-kinesthetic
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Naturalistic
  • Technological

Gifted and talented behaviours may be dynamic. They may also coexist with another exceptionality.

Identification of gifted and talented students may look different according to the domain under consideration. Academic domains will be significantly informed by comprehensive assessment data as well as demonstrated abilities and achievements. Other areas (art, dance, music, athletics, etc.) might be better informed by interaction with a recognized expert in that domain. While a threshold score of 120 IQ is generally required, after that point task commitment, above average ability, creativity and interest also play a large role. In much the same manner that critics determine the cultural value of actors or chefs, the community built around many of these domains are the ones who identify the gifted and talented individuals. For example, a portfolio of a student’s artwork which includes a number of national accolades and placings in competitions would do more to identify a gifted artist than would a cut off score on a WISC. Such determinations or identification of gifted behaviours should be made by a team reflecting expertise in the area being examined.

Students recognized as gifted or talented by professional(s) appropriate to the domain under consideration may require a range of school-based services depending on their level of need and functioning. Many differentiated instructional strategies are appropriate for these learners; curriculum compacting, tiered assignments and independent study are particularly suited for very able learners. Other structural or organizational adjustments such as subject acceleration, telescoping, grade skipping, mentorships, dual enrollment or advanced programming are also possible. Programming decisions are made by the student’s program planning team and may include accommodations, modified prescribed (to extend the curriculum and add challenge) or alternate curricular courses (above and beyond the grade level offerings of the prescribed curriculum). Other alternate non-curricular programs may also be applicable if there are social - emotional or organizational matters which need to be addressed. These would not adversely impact graduation or post-secondary options.

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Hearing Loss

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development recognizes the following criteria for students with hearing loss:

  • hearing loss may range from mild to profound
  • depending on identified needs, a student may require support including:
    • assistive technology
    • accommodations (such as Clarification of Instructions; Noise Reduction Materials; Copies of Notes; FM Systems)
    • sign language
    • interpreter in American Sign Language

Students who have a moderate/severe hearing loss and meet the following criteria are eligible for services from a teacher and/or an auditory verbal therapist (AVT) who specializes in working with students who are deaf or hard of hearing:

  1. There is a better ear average loss of 40db
  2. There is a better ear average loss less than 40db, and assessment determines there is a need
  3. Language levels are impacted by hearing loss

The amount of service provided by an Itinerant teacher and/or AVT will depend on the needs of the student as identified by the following:

  • Audiological reports (Level of hearing loss and/or presence of Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder)
  • Assessment (formal and informal) of language skills (expressive, receptive and pragmatic)
  • Assessment of articulation/phonology skills
  • Review of Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Skills. (ECC covers areas such as: understanding hearing loss, self-advocacy, independence with amplification devices and/or assistive technology, social and emotional development, etc.)

The Janeway Children’s Hospital offers services from a cochlear implant team that carries out candidacy assessment, preparation for surgery, surgery and post-implant follow-up. Children who have a cochlear implant or are in the candidacy process can access auditory verbal therapy through the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development or Newfoundland and Labrador English School District. The certified AVT provides both direct and consultative services to children from pre-school through to Grade 12 throughout the province.

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Intellectual Disability

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development recognizes the criteria for intellectual disability as published in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Intellectual disability involves impairments of general mental abilities that impact adaptive functioning in three domains. These domains determine how well an individual copes with everyday tasks:

  1. Conceptual domain
    • includes skills in language, reading, writing, math, reasoning, knowledge, and memory
  2. Social domain
    • refers to empathy, social judgment, interpersonal communication skills, the ability to make and retain friendships, and similar capacities
  3. Practical domain
    • centers on self-management in areas such as personal care, job responsibilities, money management, recreation, and organizing school and work tasks

Severity is defined as mild, moderate, severe, profound, or unspecified intellectual disability.

Intellectual disability must be diagnosed by a qualified assessor, with level C assessment tool qualifications, as defined in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development's Comprehensive Assessment Guidelines. Assessors must reference the DSM-5 for diagnostic criteria.

Students who have been diagnosed with an intellectual disability may require a range of school based services depending on level of need and functioning. Programming decisions are made by the student’s program planning team.

When it has been determined that a student’s needs cannot be met through accommodations, modified prescribed courses, or alternate programs and courses, an Alternate Functional Curriculum pdf may be required. Students who require a functional curriculum are identified as having severe or profound impairments as evaluated through the comprehensive assessment process.

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Medical Condition

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development recognizes medical conditions (not specified elsewhere) that adversely affect a student’s educational performance. Examples would include:

  • Mild concussion
  • Seizures not explained by another disorder
  • A heart condition
  • Hemophilia
  • Cancer
  • Cystic fibrosis

The condition must affect the student’s educational performance.

The student must be diagnosed by a health care professional. This is an individual who provides preventive, curative, or rehabilitative health care services in a systematic way to individuals or families. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development recommends ongoing health care services for any student diagnosed with a medical condition that significantly affects educational programming.

Students that meet the criteria of a medical condition may require a range of school based services depending on need and level of functioning. A comprehensive assessment is required to inform program planning. Programming decisions are made by the student’s program planning team. Program needs may vary according to the student’s immediate health status.

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Mental Illness/Mental Health

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development recognizes the following conditions as examples of mental illness and mental health conditions:

  1. Psychiatric conditions such as Adjustment Disorder, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Personality Disorders, Addictions, and Eating and Feeding Disorders as outlined in the DSM-5
  2. Other mental health conditions resulting from situations such as family or personal turmoil

The disorder must affect the student’s educational performance.

The student must be diagnosed by a health care professional. This is an individual who provides preventive, curative, or rehabilitative health care services in a systematic way to individuals or families. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development recommends ongoing health care services for any student diagnosed with a mental illness, mental health disorder or condition that significantly affects educational programming.

A student meeting the criteria of mental illness/mental health may require a range of school based services depending on level of need and functioning. A comprehensive assessment is required to inform program planning. Programming decisions are made by the student’s program planning team and may include accommodations or alternate programs. There are cases when modified prescribed or alternate curricular courses may be required. Caution must be exercised in this regard since such modified prescribed and alternate courses (below grade level) may adversely impact graduation and post-secondary options.

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Neurodevelopmental and Related Disorders

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development recognizes the following conditions as examples of neurodevelopmental and related disorders:

  1. Medical and psychiatric conditions such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and other toxic prenatal exposures
  2. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  3. Motor Disorders, including Tourette’s and Tic Disorders and Acquired Movement Disorders
  4. Neurocognitive Disorders
  5. Autism Spectrum Disorder
  6. Sensory Processing Disorder
  7. Non-verbal Learning Disability

The disorder must affect the student’s educational performance.

Please note: Intellectual Disorders and Specific Learning Disorders are also recognized as neurodevelopmental disorders by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, however these disorders are listed separately to allow for more detail and clarification.

The student must be diagnosed by a health care professional. This is an individual who provides preventive, curative, or rehabilitative health care services in a systematic way to individuals or families. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development recommends ongoing health care services for any student diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental and related disorder that significantly affects educational programming.

The exception is non-verbal learning disability, which may be diagnosed by a qualified assessor, with level C assessment tool qualifications, as outlined in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development's Comprehensive Assessment Guidelines.

A student meeting the criteria of neurodevelopmental and related disorders may require a range of school based services depending on level of need and functioning. A comprehensive assessment is required to inform program planning. Programming decisions are made by the student’s program planning team and may include accommodations or alternate programs. There are cases when modified prescribed or alternate curricular courses may be required. Caution must be exercised in this regard since such modified prescribed and alternate courses (below grade level) may adversely impact graduation and post-secondary options.

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Physical Disability

Students with a physical disability have an acquired or congenital physical and/or motor impairment such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, developmental coordination disorder, amputations, genetic disorders, etc. The disability may interfere with the development or function of the bones, muscles, joints and central nervous system. Physical characteristics may include:

  • paralysis
  • altered muscle tone
  • an unsteady gait
  • loss of, or inability to use, one or more limbs
  • difficulty with gross-motor skills such as walking or running
  • difficulty with fine-motor skills such as buttoning clothing or printing/writing

The impairment may range from mild to severe, may have minimal impact on the student or interfere substantially with functional ability. The effects of the disability may be minimized through appropriate environmental adaptations and/or the use of assistive devices.

Students who have been diagnosed with a physical disability may require a range of school based services depending on level of need and functioning. A comprehensive assessment is required to inform program planning. Programming decisions are made by the student’s program planning team.

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Specific Learning Disorder

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development recognizes the criteria for Specific Learning Disorder as published in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The diagnosis requires persistent difficulties in reading, writing, arithmetic or mathematical reasoning skills. Specifiers for specific learning disorder are:

  1. With impairment in reading:
    • Word reading accuracy
    • Reading rate or fluency
    • Reading comprehension
  2. With impairment in written expression:
    • Spelling accuracy
    • Grammar and punctuation accuracy
    • Clarity or organization of written expression
  3. With impairment in mathematics:
    • Number sense
    • Memorization of arithmetic facts
    • Accurate or fluent calculation
    • Accurate math reasoning

Severity is defined as mild, moderate, and severe.

Specific learning disorder must be diagnosed by a qualified assessor, with level C assessment tool qualifications, as defined in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development's Comprehensive Assessment Guidelines. Assessors must reference the DSM-5 for diagnostic criteria.

A student diagnosed with a specific learning disorder may require a range of school based services depending on level of functioning and need. Programming decisions are made by the student’s program planning team and may include accommodations, and alternate non curricular or pre-requisite programs. There are some cases when modified prescribed or alternate courses may be required. Caution must be exercised with curricular alterations (modified prescribed or alternate courses below grade level) since these changes may negatively impact graduation and post-secondary options.

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Speech and/or Language Disorder

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development recognizes the following speech and language disorders:

  1. Speech Disorder:
    • Students who have a mild to severe speech disorder meet the exceptionality.
    • Speech disorders include articulation, voice, and fluency (stuttering) disorders.
  2. Language Disorder:
    • Students who have a moderate to severe language disorder meet the exceptionality.
    • A language disorder may involve one or more of the following areas: receptive language, expressive language, pragmatics (social), language processing and phonological awareness.

A speech and/or language disorder must be diagnosed by a speech-language pathologist. The speech-language pathologist will determine severity of the disorder based on the results of a speech and/or language assessment. In districts without speech and language services, other arrangements may be considered to identify students with these exceptionalities.

Students diagnosed with a speech and/or language disorder may require a range of school based services depending on level of need and functioning. Programming decisions are made by the student’s program planning team and may include accommodations or alternate programs. There are cases where modified prescribed or alternate curricular courses may be required. Caution must be exercised in this regard since such modified prescribed and alternate courses (below grade level) may adversely impact graduation and post-secondary options.

Not every student with this exceptionality will receive direct service from the speechlanguage pathologist. The school district speech-language pathologist will determine the appropriate programming and service to best meet the student's needs. Speech-language services may include any or all of the following:

  • assessment with interpretation for the Program Planning Team and follow-up
  • direct intervention
  • teacher conferencing
  • classroom intervention
  • student monitoring
  • home programs

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Vision Loss

Students with vision loss ranging from mild to severe may require supports including assistive technology, and/or accommodations such as adaptations to teaching strategies and environmental arrangements.

Students, who have a moderate/severe vision loss and meet the following criteria, are eligible for the services of the itinerant teacher:

  1. Visual acuity of 20/70 or less in the better eye after correction
  2. A visual field of 20 degrees or less

The itinerant teacher may provide some of the following services:

  • programming and transition assistance for all preschool children who are blind or visually impaired prior to their entering school
  • direct teaching in areas such as Braille, orientation and mobility, language, concepts, social skills, independent living skills, and use of low vision aids
  • recommendation for specialized equipment and materials

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