I think my son has ADHD. He can’t sit still or stay focused on anything for more than two seconds. Are kids with these kinds of attention issues covered under IDEA?

Lindsay Jones

Vice President and Chief Policy & Advocacy Officer, National Center for Learning Disabilities

Yes, a child with attention issues might be eligible to receive help in school under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). But—and this is a big “but”—only if his attention issues meet that law’s standards for a qualifying disability. This includes determining that the disability adversely impacts his educational performance.

In your son’s case, this means that to qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the school evaluation team would need to agree that his attention issues impact his ability to learn and to demonstrate what he knows in school.

It’s important to note that IDEA includes 13 categories of disabilities. One of these categories is called “specific learning disabilities.” ADHD is covered under a different category, called “other health impairment.”

There are several steps you can take to find out if your son is eligible for special education services and supports under IDEA. First, it’s a good idea to speak with his teachers and let them know about your concerns. Ask them if he has trouble staying focused in the classroom.

You may also want to mention your concerns and gather feedback from people who interact with your son outside of the classroom. This might include people like his soccer coach or his guitar teacher. It’s also a good idea to mention your concerns to your son’s doctor.

Keep an observation log about how your son behaves at home. For example, how long does it take him each day to do his homework? How often does he get distracted? How much prompting does he need from you to stay on task?

Gathering information about your son’s behavior at home, at school and in other settings can be very helpful. It can help you understand whether his issues with attention happen only at home or if they happen in many places. Your notes can help you notice patterns in his behavior and look for strategies that can help.

If the information you gather leads you to believe that his attention issues occur frequently and are impacting his performance in school, then you might be ready to request an evaluation. (You can use Decision Guide to help you think through key questions about this and other big decisions.)

There are a few things you can do to help during the evaluation. You may want to give the school information about your son’s attention issues that you gathered from a doctor, therapist or other medical provider. You may also want to share your notes about what you’ve been observing at home.

After the evaluation, you’ll get to meet with the person who conducted the testing as well as your son’s teachers and other school staff. This is when the team will discuss whether he meets IDEA’s standard for “other health impairment.” If he qualifies for services, then you’ll work with the school to develop his IEP.

You may also want to look into 504 plans. These can be a great way to help kids with attention issues who don’t qualify for an IEP.

About the Author

Portrait of Lindsay Jones

Lindsay Jones

Lindsay Jones, J.D., is vice president and chief policy and advocacy officer for the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD).

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