According to the CDC, ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. According to the American Academy of Psychiatry 5% of children and 2.5% of adults have ADHD. Advocating for a child with ADHD requires a good grasp of the disability and the tools for supporting them in school.

General Information

ADHD is listed in the DSM-5TM  as a neurodevelopmental disorder. The DSM-5TM defines ADHD as a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development, has symptoms presenting in two or more settings (e.g. at home, school, or work; with friends or relatives; in other activities), and negatively impacts directly on social, academic or occupational functioning. Several symptoms must have been present before age 12 years.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has released guidelines on the treatment of ADHD. My understanding is that they recommend behavioral therapy as a first line of treatment of preschoolers and combination therapy of medication and behavioral therapy for children between the ages of 6 -17. If you believe your child has ADHD you can read more by following this link: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/108/4/1033.

Can a Child with ADHD Qualify for Special Education?

Three federal laws exist to protect students with disabilities in public school: IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. A child with ADHD may qualify under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation act and/or IDEA for special education services, accommodations, and interventions. Both statutes, under Child Find, require schools to identify and evaluate any student who is believed to need special education or related services because of a disability. Both statutes also require the school to provide a free and appropriate public education that meets the student’s unique needs.

In order for a student to qualify under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, it must be shown that the student meets any of the following criteria:

  • Physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity;
  • Has a record of such an impairment; or
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

In order for a student to qualify under IDEA it must be demonstrated that the student meets the criteria applicable to one or more specific disability category and they need special education and related services because of their disability.

A student who qualifies for protection under IDEA is automatically protected under Section 504. A student who qualifies under Section 504 does not necessarily qualify for services under IDEA.

Office of Civil Rights: Guidance for Students with ADHD

On July 26, 2016, the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) published a Notice of Rights: Students with ADHD and a “Dear Colleague” letter to provide clarification and guidance to schools receiving federal funds regarding students with ADHD. Both documents can be found using the following links:



The guidance letter was written because between 2011 and 2015 OCR received more than 16,000 complaints alleging discrimination. Approximately 2,000, or one in nine, allege discrimination of students with ADHD.

OCR’s letter clarifies the school’s obligation to identify and evaluate students with ADHD. A school may not use the student’s IQ as the sole basis for determining eligibility. The student and their teacher(s) benefit when appropriate accommodations, services are put in place.

Whether a child qualifies for an IEP or 504 Plan it is necessary to establish clear accommodations, tools, services, and, if applicable, goals for students with ADHD. Parents, teachers, and school administration should all be able to read the document and understand the expectations contained therein. The school shall use an evidence-based system of interventions. Each student may be different. Therefore their individual educational needs should be considered.

Contact Our Office

If you have any questions regarding this or any other special education issue, feel free to contact our office via email at specialedlegaljourney@comcast.net.

  (Note: This Blog/Web Site is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. The website has been designed to be a resource for information on matters that might be of interest to current or potential clients but does not establish that relationship. For further information visit my Disclaimer page- https://specialedlegaljourney.com/about/disclaimer/)


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