Between the constant teacher calls about problem behaviors, the meetings with the principal, or the suspensions, the process of getting your ADHD child help at school can not only feel overwhelming…it can feel hopeless. To top it off, sitting in meetings with various teachers and school professionals can be really intimidating. Even if you may feel like your child needs something more or something different, you question yourself or struggle to speak up. It is intimidating for us, too, even with our knowledge of special education laws and ADHD!
If you want to help your child, you must begin educating yourself about your child’s rights at school. And even though it might not feel like it, as a parent of a child with ADHD, you have a LOT of rights. You need to know some information from a very important letter. This will empower you to support your child with ADHD at school.
The Dear Colleague Letter
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) wrote a letter known as the “Dear Colleague” letter. The purpose of the letter was to let schools (public and charter) know what they were legally obligated to do when supporting children with ADHD at school. This letter was written because around 2,000 complaints (over 5 years) were made by parents alleging discrimination of students with ADHD.
Due to the high volume of complaints, as well as the consistent issues that they were seeing, the OCR issued this guide. We included 7 things all parents need to know to get their child with ADHD help at school.
1) Schools need to refer and/or identify children with ADHD
The school should consider an evaluation for ADHD if the teachers or parents are identifying signs of ADHD. This includes: considerable restlessness or inattention that is not appropriate for their grade level, trouble organizing tasks or activities. It can also include trouble beginning tasks, completing homework or multi-step projects, or communication/social skill deficits. They emphasized that problems with learning or academics were NOT a requirement for an ADHD evaluation at school. A child showing differences in executive functioning or social skills might also be considered for an evaluation.
2) A student with ADHD should receive a 504 plan
If the student has a medical diagnosis of ADHD, the OCR will assume that the student is substantially limited in one or more activities; thus, the child should at least receive a 504 plan. If the child is in need of specially designed instruction, the child might be eligible for an IEP instead. More information on the differences between 504 plans and IEPs can be found here.
3) A student with ADHD can achieve a high-level of academic success and still qualify for a 504 plan
Schools often rely on a student’s average or above-average GPA or grades to determine if the student is eligible for a 504 plan. For instance, they may deny a student with a medical diagnosis of ADHD because the student is performing well academically. The OCR expressed that this is a wrong way to make decisions regarding 504 plans. They went on to say that students who perform well academically can still be substantially limited in one or more activity. The schools SHOULD be asking how hard it is for the student to do the work to keep up with their peers. If the student is having to work much harder than their peers to be successful, then a 504 plan needs to be considered.
4) Students need to be evaluated in a timely manner
The schools were also told that they should not delay an evaluation of a student with ADHD by first implementing intervention strategies. Many times, schools will say that they want to implement interventions first before doing an evaluation; however, this often results in untimely evaluations for students with ADHD who need help. The OCR recommended that an evaluation of the student be completed at the same time as the interventions.
5) Students need to be evaluated when they are not on medication
Students with a medical diagnosis of ADHD and using medication, the student should still be considered for a 504 plan. The school should base this determination on how the student behaved or performed when they were not on medication. Testing should also be completed when the student is not on medication. Parents and teacher should also provide input regarding the student’s behaviors and performance prior to taking medication.
6) Medical assessments are not required for an evaluation of ADHD
School psychologists have a high level of training in ADHD. They are able to determine if a student is exhibiting these characteristics. A medical professional is NOT required to make the ADHD diagnosis or suspicion of an ADHD diagnosis. However, if the school district requires a parent to obtain a medical assessment of ADHD for their child, then the law is clear. The school district would need to pay for that assessment.
7) Plans and supports need to be tailored to each child’s needs for ADHD help at school
Schools were recommended to not only include accommodations to support students with ADHD (e.g., more time on tests or assignments, seating by the teacher, reduction in work, etc.) but to also include interventions to build skills, including social skills, executive functioning skills, etc. It was noted that the school can’t just include low cost, easy to implement interventions. Evidence-based interventions for students with ADHD may be costly for the district and time-intensive. That doesn’t mean they should not be used.
We hope that this sheds a little bit of light on the requirements to get your ADHD child help at school. If you’re wanting to dive even deeper, check out our online course, Shining at School. This course can be done from the comfort of your couch and no babysitter needed!
Have a wonderful week!