Educational Rights for Children with ADHD/ADD

David Rabiner, Ph.D. Research Professor, Duke University



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David Rabiner, Ph.D.
Duke University

(Note: If you are looking for information on Attention Deficit  Disorder (ADD) please be aware that much of what is discussed below should also be relevant.  Technically, the term ADD is no longer used.  Instead, children who have the inattentive symptoms of ADHD but who do not show hyperactive/impulsive symptoms are now diagnosed with ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type rather than with ADD.  These terms mean pretty much the same thing but the latter is no longer technically correct.)



Educational Rights for Children with
Attention Deficit Disorder/ADHD


Because many children with ADHD/ADD experience significant academic difficulties, it is very important for parents to be aware of the special educational services that public schools are required to provide. Unfortunately, many children with ADHD/ADD do not receive the services they are entitled to, and parents are often unaware of the assistance their child should be receiving.

Prior to 1991, children with ADHD/ADD were not eligible to receive special educational services unless they were determined to have some other disability (e.g. a specific learning disability). Lobbying efforts to rectify this situation were successful, however, and children with ADHD/ADD who require special assistance must now receive access to special education and/or related services according to two federal laws.

Children with ADHD/ADD may be eligible for special services under Part B of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This would apply when a child's ADHD/ADD is determined to be a "chronic or acute health problem which adversely affects educational performance." When this condition is true - as it will be for many children with ADHD/ADD - the child can be classified as "Other Health Impaired" (OHI), and the school must develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that is designed to meet the child's unique educational needs.

An IEP is a plan to educate your child based on your child's individual needs. Ideally, the IEP should take into account a childish unique abilities and disabilities, and identify specific educational goals for the child, procedures for attaining those goals, and methods to evaluate whether the goals are being met. The IEP is developed after a child has been evaluated and found to require special educational services. In the best circumstances, the plan is developed in a collaborative meeting involving parents, teachers, and other school personnel (e.g. guidance counselor, school psychologist, etc.) Parents are also free to bring along anyone (e.g. child psychologist) that they feel would be helpful to have at the meeting.

Special services for children with ADHD/ADD may also be obtain under Section 504, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Like IDEA, Section 504 requires schools to provide children who have disabilities with a free and appropriate public education. Unlike IDEA, however, which stipulates that a child has disabilities that require special education services, Section 504 identifies a qualified person as anyone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as learning.  This means that children who do not require special education are still guaranteed access to related services under Section 504 if the child is deemed to have an impairment that "substantially limits one or more major life activities" such as learning, and the school must try to adapt instructional methods to the needs of children with ADHD/ADD.

As learning is considered a major life activity, children diagnosed with AD/HD are entitled to the protections of Section 504 if the disability is substantially limiting their ability to learn. It is up to the local school district to make the determination of whether this condition is met and children who are not eligible for special education may still be guaranteed access to related services if they meet the Section 504 eligibility criteria.

If the child is eligible under Section 504, the school district must develop a Section 504 plan. This plan would include accommodations/adaptations that are designed to meet the child's educational needs and may include things such as the following: 

- reducing the length of homework assignments;
- allowing the child extra time on tests;
- simplifying instructions about assignments;
- providing specific assistance with planning and organizational skills;
- or using behavioral management techniques in the classroom;
- use of tape recorders 
- computer-aided instructions

In general, Section 504 provides a faster and more flexible procedure for obtaining some accommodations and services for children with disabilities and some children may receive protection who are not eligible for services or protection under IDEA. Thus, Section 504 can provide an efficient way to obtain limited assistance without the stigma and bureaucratic procedures attached to IDEA.

The advantage of obtaining services under IDEA, however, is that it offers a wider range of service options, the procedures for parent participation and procedural safeguards are far more extensive, and the degree of regulation is far more specific than that found in Section 504.

For additional information on IDEA Section 504 visit the CHADD web site.


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