Obtaining Educational Services for Children with ADHD

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.)

Obtaining Educational Services for Children with ADHD

(Please note that the information presented below is based on procedures used by the public schools in the state and county where I work. Procedures in different counties and states will vary, but should be similar to what is described below.)

If you believe that your child may require special services at school because of problems related to ADHD, it is important to understand the process by which these services can be obtained. Public schools have certain procedures that must be followed prior to providing special services for any child. These procedures are outlined below. 

Parents can request that their child be evaluated by the school to receive special services at any time. Such requests may also be initiated by a child's teacher. (When parents initiate a request, it is a good idea to do this in writing and to retain a dated copy.) If the evaluation is initiated by the school, parents should be notified of the screening procedures to be conducted and will be asked to provide their written consent for this to be done. 

The initial stages of a school based evaluation will generally include hearing and vision screenings, classroom observations of the child, and intellectual and academic screening tests. The child's teacher will complete a standardized behavior rating form, and parents will often be asked to complete a similar form. Parents may also be interviewed about their child's developmental history. Referral for a medical evaluation to help determine whether ADHD is an appropriate diagnosis may also be recommended.

In addition to gathering this information, there will also be two specific interventions implemented within the child's regular classroom for a 4-6 week period. These interventions will be designed to target behaviors specifically related to the suspected ADHD (i.e. not completing assignments, not following class rules). It should be noted that public schools will require that these interventions be implemented prior to providing any additional services, even if the child has already been diagnosed with ADHD by a physician. The reason for this is that the school wants to learn whether a child's educational needs can be effectively addressed within the context of the regular classroom.

At the conclusion of this 6 week period, members of the Student Assistance Team (i.e. those individuals at the school who are responsible for making determinations about the need for special services) will review the information collected to decide on the next step. If the child has been diagnosed with ADHD by a physician, and the interventions tried within the classroom were successful, it is likely that an "accommodation" plan will be written for the child. This plan will describe the accommodations that need to be made for the child to be successful in the regular classroom. For example, the child may be required to be seated near the teacher, to have reduced assignments, to have extra time on exams, to have teachers review and initial a daily homework log, etc. Once this plan is written, the child's teachers are required to implement it. Parents should be active participants in the meeting where this plan is developed, and should receive a copy of it in writing.

If the interventions which were implemented were not successful, the Assistance Team is likely to decide that additional evaluation is necessary, and parents will be asked to sign a second consent form to allow this to occur. The purpose of this additional evaluation will be to determine whether the child is eligible to receive special educational services because of ADHD under the Other Health Impaired category. It should consist of an in-depth educational evaluation to evaluate the child's current level of academic functioning, and may also include an individually administered IQ test. In addition, if a medical evaluation has not yet been completed, this will be required as the diagnosis of ADHD must ultimately be made by a physician. Your child's physician will be required to provide his diagnosis in writing to the school.

It is important to be aware that if the Assistance Team decides that a full evaluation is not necessary because the child's needs are being adequately met, but you disagree, you have the right to appeal the decision. The school is required to provide you with information about appeal procedures.

Federal guidelines stipulate that this second part of the evaluation, which includes all necessary testing and the development (when deemed necessary) of an Individual Education Plan (IEP), must be completed within 90 days of when parents signed the consent form allowing it to occur. This 90 day clock does not stop when school ends for the summer, and the evaluation can be completed during the summer when required.

After the evaluation is complete, the information gathered will be used to determine a child's eligibility for special services under the OHI classification. There should generally be agreement between parents and the school about this, but parents have the right to appeal any decisions they disagree with.

When the consensus is that special educational services are required, an IEP will be developed. As described in the section on Educational Rights for Children with ADHD, the IEP is a document that spells out educational goals for your child, procedures to attain those goals, and methods for evaluating their attainment. The IEP is a legal document, and once it's contents have been agreed on, it can not be changed without your permission. Either you or the school can request that changes be made at any time, however. Your child's IEP should be reviewed each year so that it's continued appropriateness can be determined, and any necessary modifications can be made.

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