On July 26, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education issued a guidance letter that refers to current Federal law regarding civil rights of students with ADHD. It was written as a “Dear Colleague” letter addressing schools on the need to follow the criteria of 504’s of the Rehabilitation of 1973.
Over the past five years, 2011-2015, the OCR (office of civil rights) has received 16,000 complaints from schools specifying lack of evaluation and support services for students with ADHD. Among those, 2,000 involved the medical diagnosis of ADHD. Two of the main concerns had to do with lack of evaluations, services, and understanding of ADHD. Eligibility is based on having a disability with effects on major life functions. Some listed that would pertain to students with ADHD would be reading, thinking, and concentrating. To avoid discrimination, accommodations are put in place to level the playing field in the general education setting.
Attached to the letter is a resource guide, providing very important information around the diagnosis of ADHD. All of this is such a huge milestone! It is not a new law, although many may believe this to be so because of a lot of confusion. It is the OCR responding to such a volume of complaints regarding the struggles of students with ADHD and the lack of evaluations and support. The OCR has recognized the lack of knowledge around ADHD on the part of school districts and how it affects academic success. In addition, many of the symptoms of ADHD in the classroom represent many behaviors that are thought to be controllable. Any struggle that is behavior based is thought to be in the control of the child, that he could do all of the expectations laid out in front of him if he wanted to. In addition, our kids are very inconsistent in their abilities to follow directions, take notes, process information, and do well on tests, quizzes, and homework. This appears to be a control factor when in fact it is not.
The Office for Civil Rights resource guide, serves to provide needed information about this invisible diagnosis of ADHD. The letter reinforces the need to understand this medical diagnosis of ADHD in order to provide appropriate evaluations and support. Although the letter refers to evaluations, this does not include medical evaluations that would lead to an ADHD diagnosis. The diagnosis is done by a physician, social worker, neurologist, or someone with expertise in the field of ADHD and who will follow the DSM with criteria to diagnosis. The schools must follow through with academic evaluations to determine areas of struggle.
Through all of this, it is hoped that parents and caregivers will also learn more about this medical diagnosis of ADHD and how it impacts their kids in schools. More information supporting students with ADHD will allow for more and better advocacy. The law is in effect, stomping its feet to remind all involved of the importance of its presence and the need to follow. Parents, you and your children do indeed have rights!