ADHD, the IDEA, and Teaching Magic
When I started teaching, other teachers and administrators identified the “problem” students I would have that year. These students, I was warned, would call out during class, run in the halls, leave their seats at inappropriate times, and sometimes become physically aggressive toward other students and even teachers. These predictions proved true during the year. Some teachers in my school had the magic to keep these students engaged during a 45 or 90 minute period. But as a new teacher, I had no such magic – it was a rough year.
Looking back on my experience, I should have asked more questions. Many of these students exhibited symptoms of ADHD and should have been evaluated by the school. They should not have been labelled "problems." Some of these students had IEPs, but the majority did not. As a new teacher, however, I did not know that I could raise these issues with administration. Moreover, I was only vaguely familiar with the school’s obligations under the IDEA.
Estimates range from between 5% (American Psychiatric Association) and 11% (Center for Disease Control) of children ages 4-17 have ADHD. Symptoms vary with the student. Students with ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type may fidget, call out, talk excessively, or have difficulty staying in their seats. Students with ADHD Predominantly Inattentive Type may be easily distracted, have difficulty with instructions, and day-dream. Students with ADHD, Combined Type exhibit both types of symptoms.
ADHD does not have its own classification in the IDEA, but a student that has been diagnosed with ADHD and needs special education must be given an IEP. Students with ADHD are often classified as Other Health Impairment or Specific Learning Disability for IDEA purposes. The definition of “Other Health Impairment” in the federal regulations specifically notes that students diagnosed with ADHD or ADD may fall under that classification. See 34 CFR 300.8(c)(9). The Department of Education has long advised that a student with ADHD that requires special education services is a “child with a disability” under the IDEA. That a student has a high IQ or has been advancing from grade to grade does not preclude them from receiving special education services.
If a child with ADHD does not need special education services, they do not fall under the protection of the IDEA. They may, however, qualify for accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 such as extra time for testing, modified test-delivery, or specific instructional strategies for students with attention issues.
So what’s the take-away from all this? If your child exhibits signs of ADHD, have him/her/them evaluated. Once a proper evaluation is conducted, you will be in a better position to work with the school to determine the program and services that would best suit your child. There are a ton of magical teachers out there, but the odds of your child having all magical teachers from K-12 are not great. Much better to have an IEP that addresses each of your child’s unique education needs.