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Expert Q&A

How can a parent get help for an ADHD daughter who is refused special education services?

I have an eighth grader with ADHD. I am meeting with her teachers, which is something I’ve done for the last three years. I keep butting my head against the wall because I tell them she has ADHD and I am told she is responsible for doing her homework, studying for tests, and doing good in school. The testing showed my daughter doesn’t qualify for special education classes. When I try to help my daughter study for a test or do regular homework assignments, she is not learning the way I did.

How can I make the teachers understand that my child learns differently and that I am willing to work with her so she won’t struggle all year long like the last two years if they will help her, too? My daughter failed four subjects in the seventh grade, but the principal passed her to eighth because her grade point average was over a 70.

I let it happen against my better judgement, but told my daughter I would hold her back this year if she didn’t pass all her classes. I know she will be totally lost going into high school in the ninth grade next year. Can you offer any advice?


Dear Debbie,

Your question relates to your efforts to secure help for your daughter, who has been diagnosed with ADHD and struggles academically, but has been refused special education or Section 504 protections by your school district. Children with ADHD can qualify for special education under the category of “Other Health Impairment,” if their ADHD causes them to have difficulty with paying attention or completing the many other tasks necessary for successful participation in class and completion of work.

The IDEA, the federal special education law, makes clear that schools are responsible for evaluating children that are suspected of having disabilities. They are also responsible for responding to requests for evaluation for services. They may either agree to conduct the evaluation, and, with written informed consent from the parent, complete appropriate multi-disciplinary assessments to determine if the child is eligible or they must notify the parents of their refusal to conduct the evaluation and the parents’ right to request a due process hearing.

When the school conducts an evaluation to determine special education eligibility, they must evaluate not only the child’s academic performance, but their developmental and functional performance as well. Thus, even if a child is receiving passing grades (which may not even be true for your child) and/or is showing that she is learning based on achievement test scores, she still may be determined eligible if the assessments show that she is having other difficulties in relation to her functioning at school that are due to her disability.

For a child with ADHD, this can include difficulty paying attention in class, completing work on time, having the appropriate materials, meeting deadlines, following classroom rules, such as not talking without being called on, etc. These are all things that may evidence functional or developmental problems, even if the child is passing or showing academic progress.

Similarly, under Section 504, a child may qualify for a Section 504 plan based on having ADHD if their ADHD substantially limits a major life activity, such as learning, and requires either special education, related services and/or accommodations. The U.S. Department of Education issued a policy letter in 1991 which made clear that children with ADHD may be entitled to accommodations under these circumstances, even if they do not meet the eligibility criteria for special education.

You may need to provide clinical reports documenting the ADHD and its impact on your child’s functioning at school. In addition, you may want to monitor your child’s behavior at school and when doing homework, to document the ways that the ADHD is disrupting their learning, behavior, social relations, etc. You may also need to consult with a knowledgeable special education advocate or attorney to assist you in getting the school to recognize your child’s needs and provide either an IEP or Section 504 plan.

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