ADHD and your child's education

Schools must provide services to students with disabilities, including kids with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 11 percent of children in Michigan ages 4 to 17 have received a diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The majority of these young people receive some form of treatment for ADHD, with 88 percent taking medication, 44 percent receiving behavioral treatment, and 36 percent who both take medication and receive behavioral treatment. If you’re the parent or guardian of a young person who has been diagnosed with ADHD or who may be showing some of the characteristics of ADHD, it’s important to be aware of your child’s educational rights related to this disability.

The United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights recently sent a letter to schools clarifying their obligation to provide educational services to students with disabilities, including those who have been or may be diagnosed with ADHD. The letter was prompted by numerous complaints to the Office for Civil Rights that alleged discrimination against students with ADHD, including allegations that students had not been properly evaluated for this disability or that they hadn’t received the necessary education or related accommodations and services as required under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. An accompanying Know Your Rights publication for parents and guardians stressed that, “Regardless of how well he or she performs in school, a student who has trouble concentrating, reading, thinking, organizing or prioritizing projects, among other important tasks, because of ADHD may have a disability and should be protected under Section 504.”

Under the law, a school district must evaluate a student when that young person needs or is believed to need special education or related services because of ADHD symptoms. Parents can also initiate and request an evaluation if they suspect their child has ADHD or if the child has received a diagnosis outside of school. An evaluation may include behavioral, educational and medical components and draw from sources including parents, teachers, psychologists, social workers, physicians, medical histories and school records. The behavioral assessment uses questionnaires and rating scales that are completed by parents, teachers and health care professionals. The educational assessment involves a review of academic records along with direct observation of a child within the school setting in order to assess the extent to which ADHD characteristics may be affecting academic performance. If a school district believes that a medical assessment is necessary to determine whether the student has ADHD and needs special education or related aids and services, the district must ensure that this evaluation is conducted at no cost to parents. A medical evaluation can also gather information about other disabilities that may be contributing to a young person’s ADHD characteristics.

The regulations of Section 504 require school districts to provide a "free appropriate public education" to students who have been identified as having a disability, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. While not every student who is identified as having an ADHD disability may need services, some students may need changes in the classroom (such as where they sit), modifications to homework assignments, changes in test-taking procedures that create a less distracting environment, or other kinds of accommodations to support their learning and behavior. The Office for Civil Rights letter provides detailed information on how schools can create and carry out plans to meet the needs of students with ADHD.

Keep in mind that it’s common for all children to occasionally exhibit some of the behaviors that are associated with ADHD, such as being easily distracted, disorganized, forgetful, impulsive, in constant motion, or unable to sit still or maintain focus. A pediatrician or other health professional, along with staff at your child’s school, can help determine what kinds of ADHD symptoms might be present and whether these symptoms are impairing your child’s ability to learn and to maintain healthy peer and family relationships.

In addition to the U.S. Department of Education resources highlighted above, you may be interested in the following resources related to supporting the learning of children with ADHD:

More information about ADHD can also be found in two upcoming additional articles on the Michigan State University Extension website: Supporting Students with ADHD at School and Parenting Strategies for Helping Kids with ADHD. In addition, you may be interested in the variety of workshops, webinars and resources provided by MSU Extension that are focused on the health and well-being of children, youth and families.

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