How IDEA Applies to Children with ADHD

Health Writer

IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, allows students to receive special education or special accommodations in the classroom when needed. This act insures that all children between the ages of three and 21 are provided a "free and appropriate public education, regardless of ability."

Having ADHD does not automatically qualify a child for special services under IDEA. According to the guidelines, students must have one of the qualifying disabilities. Although ADHD is not listed as a "qualifying" disability, it is listed as a condition under the "Other Health Impaired" category.

In 1999, the Department of Education issued a topic brief to clarify their position on students with ADHD. This brief explained that while some students with ADHD will qualify for accommodations, a diagnosis of ADHD would not automatically make a child eligible for services. Sometimes, students with ADHD may fit the criteria for special assistance based on co-existing conditions, such as learning disabilities. Their eligibility for that condition may allow teachers and parents to accommodate the needs of not only the other disability, but for symptoms of ADHD as well. In addition, the brief included an explanation of the term "alertness" as it pertains to ADHD: "a child's heightened alertness to environmental stimuli that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment."

Many students with ADHD, however, do not fit the stringent requirements of IDEA. In order for a student to qualify, they must need special education or related services because of the disability.

Parents must make a written request to their child's school in order to be evaluated for services under IDEA. You should speak with your child's teacher or guidance counselor if you feel your child needs accommodations in the classroom. There are three specific conditions that must be met before services can be put into place:

  1. A student must be experiencing educational performance problems at school. These problems must be documented.

  2. A child must be referred for an evaluation by the local school district. This can be requested either by the parent or a teacher.

  3. An evaluation must be completed.

If the evaluation determines that your child has a disability that is adversely impacting educational performance, an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) will be developed. This is normally developed with input from the school psychologist, guidance counselor, teachers and parents. A meeting is normally set up with all of these people in attendance. The child's unique needs relating to education, behavior and social issues will be discussed. Strategies that will help the student improve will be determined and a notice of the strategies will be provided for all teachers. If the student is to receive any specific services, these will be listed in the plan. Teachers are required to follow this plan.

If your child is found to be ineligible for services under IDEA, there are a number of options for parents:

  • You are able to file an appeal. Your local school district will be able to tell you the specific procedures that you must follow to appeal the decision. State and local laws may be different regarding appeals; however, many will include arbitration, mediation and due process hearings.

  • You can request that your child be re-evaluated for services under Section 504. This is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Often, if children are not eligible under IDEA for special education, they can still be found eligible for services under this law.

  • You can contact the Protection and Advocacy Agency in your state. These agencies assist parents in resolving educational issues and provide education for parents on special education laws.

  • You can contact the Parent Training and Information Center in your state. These centers offer information on laws relating to education as well as assisting parents in resolving problems between schools and parents.

  • You can learn as much as you can about the education and disability laws in your state. Wrights Law offers a great deal of information on educational laws as they relate to ADHD and can be a great place to start. This site also has much information on how to become an advocate for your child.

  • You can hire a special education attorney or advocate to assist you in procuring special education services for your child. Although there is no guarantee they will be able to overturn a decision by the school district, they may be able to help you in finding a compromise and will better understand the laws in your area. The Protection and Advocacy Agency and the Parent Training and Information Center in your state may be able to provide you with names of educational advocates in your area.

No matter what you may do, remember that you are your child's best advocate. You know what they need and how to help them succeed. Do not give up, your child needs you.

Suggested Reading:

Section 504 for Children with ADHD

Suggestions for IEPs and Section 504s

How to Help Your Child Succeed in School

Strategies to Help Children with ADHD

Strategies to Help Children with ADD

Is Medication Right for Your Child?