Learning for All


Who are students with significant cognitive disabilities?

Students with significant cognitive disabilities are individuals with unique learning needs and interests. This diverse group includes students with a wide range of disability characteristics, capabilities, and educational needs. These students’ non-disability characteristics (e.g., interests, preferences, personalities, socioeconomic levels, cultural heritage) are as diverse as the general population.

These students may have similar needs related to cognition but differing needs in other areas related to socialization, communication, behaviour, or medical needs. Approximately 1% of the student population has significant disabilities. Students with significant cognitive disabilities will require ongoing support in one or more major life areas in order to participate in an integrated community and enjoy a quality of life similar to that available to all.









Learning characteristics

Students with significant cognitive disabilities are individuals with unique learning needs and interests, who with the right supports at the right time, can participate in learning, benefit from literacy instruction, and contribute to the school community.

“Significant disabilities” describes specific characteristics that impact both cognitive ability and ability and opportunity to participate in and benefit from learning. Traditionally, significant disabilities were described on a continuum from moderate to severe. The following descriptor offers a snapshot of learning characteristics typical of students with significant cognitive disabilities.

Students with a significant cognitive disability:

  • have significant delays in most or all areas of development, as compared to same-age peers
  • can develop limited or basic communication skills and may require an alternate or augmented communication system
  • may be an emergent or early conventional reader/writer working to understand the functions of print and print conventions (the process of learning to read and write is a continuum that begins at birth – there are no prerequisites)
  • require adult guidance around basic routines and increased support when learning new routines or in novel situations
  • may require adult support for personal care and to participate in most activities
  • require modifications to most learning activities in order to participate in meaningful ways
  • may have associated disabilities including physical, sensory, medical and/or behavioural
  • can benefit from literacy and communication instruction and support.

Does language matter?




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