Your ADD/ADHD child (or anyone with ADD/ADHD) has certain rights under the law, and it is important for you to know those rights and to see that they are adhered to by others when necessary.
I’m going to try and summarize the relevant points of each law in order to make them easier for you to understand. Keep in mind that I am not a lawyer – just a mom – so I am not the person to consult with any legal questions. The summaries below are based upon my own understanding of the laws, and my experience in applying them when I worked in Learning Assistance at a community college.
Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are recognized by several federal laws as being disabilities, and as such, qualify for varying degrees of assistance, depending upon the severity of the symptoms and how the person’s life is affected by them.
For some people, ADD is an annoyance in their lives that affects them negatively at times, but is mostly manageable; yet for others, ADD controls their lives to a far greater extent. An evaluation by a qualified professional (psychologist, psychiatrist, medical doctor or clinical social worker) will determine where your child falls on this spectrum, and what they are entitled to in terms of assistance or accommodations. Most schools will require a current evaluation each year or every two years.
Here, then, are the laws:
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
Section 504 prohibits discrimination of an individual with a disability by any program or school that receives federal funding.
It also provides individuals with disabilities the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). What that means is that the school is responsible for “leveling the playing field” so as to make it as easy for your child to learn as any other child.
Most often, whatever is necessary to level the playing field is spelled out in the evaluation, and most schools will not go beyond that.
Typical accommodations would include things like providing a reader or a writer, allowing extra time on a test, or a private testing area, or limiting the amount of work the student is required to do. Aids such as calculators or spell checkers may also be mandated. (Some of these accommodations fall more into the category of learning disabilities than ADD, but the two often occur together.)
An IEP (Individualized Education Plan) may be used, but is not required. Section 504 does require some sort of plan, but often, the specifications spelled out in the evaluation are sufficient.
If a school suspects that a child has ADD or any disability covered under 504, they are required to notify the parent in writing before any significant action is taken, such as identifying the disability, evaluating the child, or making placement changes.
Written notification to the parent is required before the child is evaluated, but parental permission is not.
It should be noted that schools do not receive additional federal funding for students covered under Section 504.
Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)
IDEA provides federal financial assistance to schools in order to help them provide educational services to students with disabilities.
The right to a free appropriate public education is guaranteed, as in Section 504.
IDEA also requires that an IEP is put in place. An IEP is an individualized plan spelling out exactly how a specific child’s educational needs will be met, and the expectations of each party involved.
It is written by a panel of participants: one or both parents, at least one of the child’s teachers (which may include both regular and special ed, if the child has special ed classes), a mental health professional who is qualified to interpret the evaluation, a person representing the school system, and the student, if appropriate. It usually takes a minimum of several weeks to get an effective plan in place.
Written notice must be given to the parents before any identification, evaluation, or placement changes are made.
Parental consent must be obtained for an evaluation. In addition, the evaluation must be a comprehensive one, made by a panel of professionals qualified to do so. IEP evaluations are usually good for 3 years.
Just a few personal notes based on experience:
Don’t push for an IEP. Parents sometimes insist on one, thinking that it will compel the school and it’s teachers to work harder with and for their child. Whether or not your child qualifies for an IEP is based upon the evaluation. You don’t have any control over this; your child either qualifies or they don’t. I’ve seen more than one situation turn really ugly over this, and ultimately, it’s the child who pays the price.
Some schools seem more reluctant to provide accommodations for kids who qualify under Section 504, probably because they are not receiving additional funding to do so. For most accommodations, however, the cost to the school is little to none, so you wonder why they put up such a fuss. Keep in mind, though, no matter what it costs them to provide reasonable accommodations for your child, it is Federal law, so make sure they do.
If you suspect that your child has ADD/ADHD, or a learning disability, don’t wait for the school to tell you. Many schools take a hands-off approach to this subject, because in some situations, they may be required to pay for the evaluation.
If you would like more information on this subject, check out the federal government’s website here