IEP Classification v. Diagnosis
Parents new to the IEP process may sometimes confuse their child’s diagnosis with their child’s IEP classification. A diagnosis is a medical diagnosis by a qualified professional. A classification, for special education purposes, is one of thirteen conditions set forth in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and determined by a student’s IEP team. A child may fit into more than one classification.
A student’s diagnosis is relevant to his/her/their classification, but is not the sole criteria the IEP team uses to classify the student, and a medical diagnosis alone does not entitle a student to special education services under the IDEA. In order to fall under the IDEA, a student must be diagnosed with a disability and require special education services as a result of that disability. That is, the student’s disability must affect the student’s school performance. Students with diagnosed disabilities that do not qualify for services under the IDEA may qualify for accommodations under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which defines disability more broadly than the IDEA.
The IDEA classifications are typically not as specific as the student’s diagnosis. Dyslexia, for instance, is not a classification under the IDEA. Students with dyslexia are typically classified with a “learning disability” in their IEP. Similarly, ADHD is not a classification. Students with ADHD are often classified as “other health impairment” in their IEP.
Students’ classifications can impact the services they receive or the programs for which they are eligible. Students classified with autism, for instance, must receive parent counseling, while other classifications do not automatically receive parent counseling. Classifications can also drive placements. In the case of the New York City Department of Education, classification will also in part determine eligibility for the ASD Nest and ASD Horizon programs (programs for students diagnosed with ASD). Finally, parents should be wary of any attempt by the IEP team to classify their child with a diagnosis such as “Other Health Impairment” when a more specific classification is appropriate. The school district may be doing this in an attempt to avoid providing services needed to support students with the more specific classification.