The day you learn your child has been diagnosed with ADHD or a learning disability is the day you become an advocate for your child to ensure he or she has the best school experience possible. But it can be difficult if you aren’t certain about what your options are or who can offer assistance. The following is a brief guide to laws and resources for ensuring your ADHD child receives the accommodations that he needs at school.
The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) is a law that was passed to allow for additional services and improvement of services for students with disabilities. Learning disabilities such as executive function issues, dyslexia, handwriting problems, issues with short or long-term memory, and metacognitive disorders are all covered under this law. Students covered under the IDEA are required to have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) where school counselors, teachers, and other school administrators meet with parents regularly to help your child with his educational career. If your child has a diagnosed learning disability, you should speak with the school counselor to determine what services and accommodations your child is entitled to under the IDEA.
Children diagnosed with ADHD but no co-existing learning disability are not covered under the IDEA but are covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as well as by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The Rehabilitation Act guarantees children with physical or mental impairments that majorly affect their lives receive “reasonable accommodations”. The ADA considers ADHD a disability and therefore, ADHD students are entitled to receive “reasonable and appropriate accommodations” under the law. What is considered “reasonable and appropriate accommodations” is determined by a team at the school and usually consists of such things as quiet spaces, extended or unlimited time for testing, and additional study assistance. Extended time on standardized tests can be particularly important when your ADHD-diagnosed child is preparing to take the ACT or SAT.
Note that while Section 504 does not apply to private schools that do not receive any federal funding, Section 504 does obligate private schools to enroll students with disabilities if the accommodations for the student cause only a “minor adjustment”. Typically, time accommodations on tests are considered a “minor adjustment”. The ADA applies to private schools with the exception of private schools that are directly operated by religious institutions. Between these two laws, it should be possible for your ADHD-diagnosed child to receive reasonable accommodations at most any school.
Often, your greatest asset in helping your child to receive the accommodations he needs is the school counselor. School counselors are often under-utilized by parents, but their job is to be an advocate for your child’s academic, personal/social, and career development and they are trained to assist parents with these issues. If for some reason the counselor is unable to help you, most private schools and public school districts have a student services office that can assist you infilling out the necessary paperwork to get your child the accommodations he needs. Additionally, speaking with your child’s teachers about his limitations can often result in the teacher working with your child to make his learning environment more accommodating to his needs.
There are a number of websites and organizations that help parents to advocate for and learn more about the rights of their ADHD-diagnosed or learning disabled student. Links to some of those can be found at the end of this blog post. My personal experience as a homework coach is that many ADHD-diagnosed students show marked improvement on tests when they are given time accommodations that allow them to fully process the information and take their time in answering rather than rushing through to answer as many questions as possible before time runs out. The steps to helping your child receive accommodations are simple, but often do require that you proactively seek out those resources within the school that can help you to advocate for your child’s educational success.
For more information:
About the ADA: http://www.pacer.org/publications/adaqa/school.asp
About Section 504: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html
Comparison of IDEA and Section 504: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/medicating/schools/feds.html
CHADD-An organization with information about ADHD and ADHD advocacy: http://www.chadd.org/
HealthyPlace-Parent Advocacy-This site has a number of articles to help you advocate for your child: http://www.healthyplace.com/adhd/articles/parent-advocate-advocating-for-your-adhd-child/
ADDitude Magazine article on advocating for classroom accommodations: http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/711.html