Multiply Disabled, Multiply Handicapped Students

Teacher works with student.
Students with multiple disabilities may get one-to-one instruction from a resource professional. Getty/Vetta/Christopher Futcher

Multiply Disabled individuals (previously known as Multiply Handicapped and sometimes referred to as children with multiple exceptionalities) suffer from disabilities that include a sensory issue as well as a physical issue. The most common manifestation of MD is a combination of mental disability with severe motor or physical limitation. Cerebral palsy is a condition that appears in young children and may include tremors, muscle weakness, poor coordination, spasticity, and speech and language problems. CP is a typical form of multiple disability.

According to the U.S. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the legal definition for multiple disabilities is "…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." (Deaf-blindness is treated as a special condition under federal law with its own IDEA definition.)

These students may have difficulty attaining and remembering skills and or transferring these skills from one situation to another. They often need support beyond the confines of the classroom. The educational options for these children are based on the characteristics that they display.

What Are the Causes of Multiple Disabilities?

The roots of MD are many and varied. Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the developing brain. Other conditions may be caused by chromosomal abnormalities, difficulties associated with premature birth difficulties after birth. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may be a cause. Infections, injuries, and genetic disorders may also factor into MD. Often there's no known reason for a child's multiple disabilities. 

Educational Options for MD Students

Most children with multiple disabilities will need some degree of support throughout their lives, depending on the disabilities that are involved. Mild multiple disabilities may only need occasional support for particular tasks. Children with more severe disabilities will need ongoing interventions. In the U.S., IDEA provides for education opportunities to students regardless of the severity of their disabilities. Over 6 million American children receive some kind of special education services.

Depending on disabilities involved, a child with MD may be placed in an inclusive setting, which means that she is alongside more typically developing children. She may receive extra supports from professionals throughout the day, on a push-in or pull-out services model. Children whose disabilities are more severe or disruptive may need placement in a specialized school.

Tips for Teachers

With planning and proper support, the child with multiple disabilities can receive a rewarding educational experience.