Multiple disabilities, by its very name, means an individual usually has more than one significant disability, such as movement difficulties, sensory loss, and/or a behavior or emotional disorder.

There’s more to IDEA’s definition of multiple disabilities than having more than one impairment or disability. A key part of the definition is that the combination of disabilities causes the student to have severe educational needs. In fact, those educational needs must be severe enough that they cannot be addressed by providing special education services for only one of the impairments

For instance, a child may have a combination of disabilities that causes severe educational needs—cerebral palsy and autism or blindness and an emotional disturbance. Whatever the combination is, a child served under IDEA’s category of “multiple disabilities” will have a special education program that is designed to address the educational needs that arise from all of the child’s disabilities, not just one.

Utah’s Special Education Rules (pages 43-44) define “multiple disabilities as concomitant impairments (such as intellectual disability/blindness or intellectual disability/orthopedic impairment) that affect a student’s educational performance. The combination of disabilities must cause such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for one of the impairments. The multiple disabilities category does not include deafblindness.”

The greater the severity or impact on an individual, the greater likelihood for increased need for supports.  Often, individuals with multiple disabilities require ongoing, extensive support in more than one major life activity in order to enjoy the quality of life available to people with fewer or no disabilities. Ongoing supports may also be necessary to help individuals with severe or multiple disabilities to participate in integrated community settings.

(Information adapted from Center for Parent Information and Resources.)

It’s very helpful to read more about multiple disabilities. The following are links to additional information:

Center for Parent Information and Resources

CIPR  offers brief, but detailed fact sheets on Multiple Disabilities. Each fact sheet defines the disability, describes its characteristics, offers tips for parents and teachers, and connects you with related information and organizations with special expertise.

Multiple Disabilities

This is an archived NICHY fact sheet about multiple disabilities including tips for parents and teachers.  

Children with Special Health Care Needs (CSHCN)

Utah Children with Special Health Care Needs (CSHCN) is a part of the Utah Department of Health, Division of Family Health and Preparedness. Utah Department of Health (UDOH) is the state Maternal Child Health (Title V) agency for Utah. CSHCN’s programs and work are supported, in large part, by Federal Title V funds allocated to help address the needs of the children and youth with special health care needs and their families.

Multiple Disabilities

The American Academy of Special Education Professionals provides this article discussing multiple disabilities characteristics, services, evaluation and other related services.  

Utah’s Collaborative Medical Home Project

A Medical Home is not a building, house, or hospital, but rather an approach to providing health care services in a high quality and cost effective manner. Children and their families who have a medical home receive the care that they need from a pediatrician or physician whom they know and trust. The pediatric health care professionals and parents act as partners in a Medical Home to identify and access all the medical and non-medical services needed to help children and their families achieve their maximum potential. Visit this website to find out more about the Medical Home Project.

The Medical Home Portal is a unique source of reliable information about children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN), offering a “one-stop shop” for their:

  • Families
  • Physicians and Medical Home teams
  • Other Professionals and Caregivers


Multiple Disabilities

This brief YouTube video provides a basic discussion about the multiple disabilities category of IDEA.

March of Dimes

This March of Dimes site provides information on a variety of birth defects including symptoms, causes and treatments.

Project IDEAL

This website contains a variety of information to help teachers understand disabilities and how to work with students with disabilities including a variety of videos and ideas for accommodations.  

Supporting Children with Multiple Disabilities

The article listed discusses what is known and unknown about supporting children with multiple disabilities including medical and educational services.

Paths to Literacy
“Top 10 Tips for Working with Students Who Have Multiple Disabilities and Visual Impairments” gives ideas how to work with this particular group of students. The site is about students with blind or visually impaired and provides useful information for families and professionals.

Multiple Disabilities in Your Classroom: 10 Tips for Teachers

The archived PDF from NICHY gives some helpful tips for teachers who serve students with multiple disabilities.