2.7 Categories and Definitions of Exceptionalities

Ministry Definitions of Exceptionalities


A learning disorder characterized by specific behaviour problems over such period of time, and to such a marked degree, and of such a nature, as to adversely affect educational performance, and that may be accompanied by one or more of the following:

  1. significant difficulty to build or to maintain interpersonal relationships;
  2. excessive fears or anxieties;
  3. a tendency to compulsive reaction;
  4. an inability to learn that cannot be traced to intellectual, sensory, or health factors, or any combination thereof.


Autism is a severe learning disorder that is characterized by:

  • disturbances in:
    1. rate of educational development;
    2. ability to relate to the environment;
    3. mobility;
    4. perception, speech, and language; and
  • a lack of the representational-symbolic behaviour that precedes language.


Deaf and Hard of Hearing

An impairment characterized by deficits in language and speech development because of a diminished or non-existent auditory response to sound.


Learning Disability

The Ministry of Education defines learning disability as one of a number of neurodevelopmental disorders that persistently and significantly has an impact on the ability to learn and use academic and other skills and that:

  • affects the ability to perceive or process verbal or non-verbal information in an effective and accurate manner in students who have assessed intellectual abilities that are at least in the average range;
  • results in (a) academic underachievement that is inconsistent with the intellectual abilities of the student (which are at least in the average range) and/or (b) academic achievement that can be maintained by the student only with extremely high levels of effort and/or with additional support;
  • results in difficulties in the development and use of skills in one or more of the following areas: reading, writing, mathematics, and work habits and learning skills;
  • may typically be associated with difficulties in one or more cognitive processes, such as phonological processing; memory and attention; processing speed; perceptual-motor processing; visual-spatial processing; executive functions (e.g., self-regulation of behaviour and emotions, planning, organizing of thoughts and activities, prioritizing, decision making);
  • may be associated with difficulties in social interaction (e.g., difficulty in understanding social norms or the point of view of others); with various other conditions or disorders, diagnosed or undiagnosed; or with other exceptionalities; is not the result of a lack of acuity in hearing and/or vision that has not been corrected; intellectual disabilities; socio-economic factors; cultural differences; lack of proficiency in the language of instruction; lack of motivation or effort; gaps in school attendance or inadequate opportunity to benefit from instruction.


Speech Impairment

A disorder in language formulation that may be associated with neurological, psychological, physical or sensory factors; that involves perceptual motor aspects of transmitting oral messages; and that may be characterized by impairment in articulation, rhythm and stress.


Language Impairment

A learning disorder characterized by an impairment in comprehension and/or use of verbal communication or the written or other symbol system of communication, which may be associated with neurological, psychological, physical or sensory factors, and which may:

  • involve one or more of the form, content and function of language in communication; and
  • include one or more of:
    • ​language delay;
    • ​dysfluency;

voice and articulation difficulties, which may or may not be organically or functionally based.

Developmental Disability

A severe learning disorder characterized by:

  • a) an inability to profit from a special education program for students with mild intellectual disabilities because of slow intellectual development;
  • b) an ability to profit from a special education program that is designed to accommodate slow intellectual development; and
  • c) a limited potential for academic learning, independent social adjustment and economic self-support.



An unusually advanced degree of general intellectual ability that requires differentiated learning experiences of a depth and breadth beyond those normally provided in the regular school program to satisfy the level of educational potential indicated.


Mild Intellectual Disability

A learning disorder characterized by:

  • ​an ability to profit educationally within a regular class with the aid of considerable curriculum modification and supportive service;
  • an inability to profit educationally within a regular class because of slow intellectual development; and
  • a potential for academic learning, independent social adjustment and economic self-support.

A condition of partial or total impairment of sight or vision that even with correction affects educational performance adversely.

Ministry of Education Definition – Physical Disability

A condition of such severe physical limitation or deficiency as to require special assistance in learning situations to provide the opportunity for educational achievement equivalent to that of students without exceptionalities who are of the same age or development level.

The IPRC Process​

Ontario Regulation 181/98 requires that all school boards establish Identification, Placement and Review Committees (IPRC). The York Region District School Board's procedure NP360 complies with this regulation and outlines the procedures for an IPRC. Appropriate school staff (Principal/Vice-Principal, classroom teacher, and support staff) are consulted. Student Services staff may also provide professional opinions for certain identifications (e.g., Psychological Services staff for Learning Disability or Speech-Language Pathologist for Language Impairment).

The purpose of an IPRC is to:

  • decide whether or not the student is exceptional; and
  • decide an appropriate placement for the student.

Accordingly, the IPRC will also:

  • review documentation, including assessment reports
  • describe the student's strengths and needs;
  • identify the area(s) of the student's exceptionality according to the categories and definitions provided by the Ministry of Education;
  • discuss the placement options with parents/guardians  that best facilitate the student’s successful learning;
  • discuss proposals and recommendations for programs and services if the parent or the student age 16 or older requests it; and
  • review the identification and placement at least once in a school year.

Placement Options

  • The full range of placement options is available for students identified with all exceptionalities.
  • Programs and services are provided in the home school wherever possible.
  • For students who require intensive support (51% or more) Partially Integrated placements are available in Community Classes in designated schools.
  • Students currently in intensive support (51% or more) Partially Integrated placements in the home school through elementary school Student Support Centre will continue to have this placement available to them.
  • Some students with severe needs may require alternate placements such as:
    • Day Treatment Centres operated under the supervision of the Ministry of Children Community and Social Services (MCSS)
    • E.C. Drury, the Provincial Demonstration School in Milton for students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
    • W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind, a residential school which provides programs for students who are blind or low vision who require daily direct instruction
    • Trillium School, the English-language Demonstration School for students with severe learning disabilities