What are Multiple Disabilities?

A child who has more than one disability is said to have multiple disabilities. This refers to a combination of disabilities causing severe educational needs that require providing a special education program designed to address the educational needs that arise from all of the child’s disabilities, not just one. Multiple disabilities can mean different combinations for different children, and a few possible combinations could be intellectual disability and blindness or intellectual disability and orthopedic impairment, or cerebral palsy and autism.

Some of the causes for multiple disabilities include lack of oxygen at birth, difficulties at birth, premature birth, chromosomal abnormalities, genetic disorders, infections, poor development of the brain or spinal cord and injuries from accidents.

Although children with multiple disabilities may have severe physical cognitive and communication impairments, these students can also have average or above average intelligence. The ability levels of children with multiple disabilities can also vary widely, ranging from functional academics to basic life skills, however, they are quite able capable of learning when provided with appropriate materials and support.

Signs and Diagnosis

Some of the common characteristics of children with multiple disabilities include hampered speech and communication skills, difficulties with mobility and the need for assistance in everyday activities. Sometimes seizures also accompany multiple disabilities.

The main areas of development that are usually affected in children with multiple disabilities include intellectual and sensory functioning, motor skills and adaptive skills, as well as communication skills.

An in-depth evaluation would be needed, including the nature and extent of the child’s disabilities. It is important to identify the individual disabilities and the severity of these disabilities that the child has, to understand how the combination of these disabilities affect the child’s learning, balance, use of the senses, etc. This information is required for professionals to decide the type of support, services and therapies the child would need.


For children with Multiple Disabilities, physical and occupational therapy can help ease physical challenges, and this could help a child’s ability to function at school. Assistive Technology, Braille, hearing aids and sign language can be used to assist with communication problems and hearing and visual impairments. Hand held personal computers with touch screen and audio and visual information containing messages and instructions can be particularly helpful for children with motor control issues. Physical therapy and orthopedic supports could also be necessary, to help with mobility.

Most children with Multiple Disabilities will need some level of support and assistance throughout their lives, and the amount of help a child needs would depend on the disabilities involved. Children with mild multiple disabilities may need help only sometimes, and only with certain tasks, whilst children with multiple and severe disabilities may need ongoing support.