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Myths about ADHD and special education laws

Diagnosed cases of school-aged children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have increased dramatically in the last decade. In 2003, the diagnosed rate was 7.8%. By 2011 it was 11%, an increase of 42%. In all, over 6.4 million children have received a health care provider diagnosis of ADHD since 2011.

Although ADHD is one of the most common childhood afflictions, uncertainty persists as to whether children with ADHD are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The bottom line is that children with ADHD are protected under both IDEA and Section 504 and they may qualify for special education services under either law. Still, some schools may attempt to perpetuate myths about ADHD and special education laws.

ADHD does not qualify as a disability. 

Although ADHD is not listed as a “qualifying” disability under IDEA, it is listed as a condition under IDEA's “Other Health Impaired” category. ADHD is listed as a "disability" under Section 504.

Students with ADHD who have passing grades are not eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). 

ADHD students who have passing grades may qualify for an IEP, as well as a 504 Plan, if their behavior is adversely affecting their academic or social performance at school.

A student must be diagnosed with ADHD by a physician to be eligible for special education under IDEA or Section 504.

Although a physician's diagnosis may be preferable, it is not strictly necessary. The Department of Education issued a statement that "there is no explicit requirement in the IDEA or the Part B regulations to include a medical diagnosis as part of the eligibility determination for any of the disability categories." Instead, the school must use a variety assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant information about the child.

Schools can require that students with ADHD take stimulant medication to be eligible for special education services.

Schools cannot require students to take medication as a condition to being eligible for special education services. If a student with ADHD qualifies for special education or a 504 Plan, the school is required to develop appropriate educational supports to meet his needs, whether or not he takes medication.

Teachers may decide whether they will teach a student with a disability, such as ADHD, and whether or not they will implement an IEP or 504 Plan.

A teacher may not refuse to have a student with a disability in their class. Furthermore, if a student has an IEP or a 504 Plan, the school staff is required to implement it.

You should contact an experienced education law lawyer if you know of a student with ADHD who has been denied special education services.

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