The U.S. Department of Education has issued clarification about the obligations that our schools have to children with ADHD. This follows a review of 5 years worth of discrimination complaints to the Department of Education, 10% of which involved students with ADHD.
Whether you are a parent of a student who may have a learning disability (difference), such as ADHD, or your child has been diagnosed with an attention disorder, it is likely that the thought of dealing with the school system to address their needs is a bit daunting. Most parents feel like they have to be ready for a fight to get their child testing, accommodations, and even some compassion and understanding from the school staff.
Too often kids with learning problems are labeled as “difficult,” “lazy,” “incorrigible.” Teachers get frustrated that they do not “cooperate” and are difficult to teach. The teacher’s attitude towards the student is not lost on them. Our kids are highly perceptive and sensitive. This only makes things worse.
When students do get identified with learning differences this often changes very little, other than to add extra responsibilities on the student to follow their IEP, implement the use of planners, and advocate for accommodations to be available to them. The teachers can feel put upon to have to provide specialized materials or instruction to these students. Not all teachers are like this–but given the number of discrimination complaints sent to the Department of Education, it’s a problem.
My biggest pet peeve is that when students do get evaluated, whether the report specifies the student’s specific strengths and weaknesses, often there is a “menu” of accommodations that are put in place for the student regardless of their needs. Typical accommodations include seating in the front of the classroom, extra time on tests, movement breaks, wiggle seats, or copies of class notes. How does this activate the dopamine system and light up the brain of a student with ADHD? Getting accommodations and support from staff tends to get more difficult as the students get older. Schools forget that our ADHD students lag in development of skills compared to their peers. They can be as much as three years behind.
These kids are brilliant when they are in an environment with adequate external supports and given instruction in a way that accounts for how they learn best. As parents we have seen our children at their best. If your child has ADHD and is struggling in school, maybe some adjustments need to be made in that setting. This new guidance from the Office for Civil Rights gives parents and students leverage to expect this.
The guidance that was issued by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) provides a broad overview of Section 504 and school districts’ obligations to provide educational services to students with disabilities, including students with ADHD. The guidance:
- Explains that schools must evaluate a student when a student needs or is believed to need special education or related services.
- Discusses the obligation to provide services based on students’ specific needs and not based on generalizations about disabilities, or ADHD, in particular. For example, the guidance makes clear that schools must not rely on the generalization that students who perform well academically cannot also be substantially limited in major life activities, such as reading, learning, writing and thinking; and that such a student can, in fact, be a person with a disability.
- Clarifies that students who experience behavioral challenges, or present as unfocused or distractible, could have ADHD and may need an evaluation to determine their educational needs.
- Reminds schools that they must provide parents and guardians with due process and allow them to appeal decisions regarding the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of students with disabilities, including students with ADHD.
In addition to the guidance, the Department also released a Know Your Rights document that provides a brief overview of schools’ obligations to students with ADHD. Parents and older students should know their rights in the school system and ask for the best services available to meet the student’s needs. It doesn’t have to be a fight- sometimes a glass of milk and some homemade cookies, along with a copy of the document mentioned above, can get everyone on the same page.