Q: My son has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). He is 12 and terribly disorganized. Although he's smart, his grades are terrible because he frequently misplaces his homework. Can I get the school to help him get and stay organized?
A: Many children with attention deficit conditions have difficulty sitting still, focusing, being organized and/or dealing with frustration. If the condition adversely impacts the child’s ability to learn or succeed in school, then the child may be eligible for services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Individuals with Disability Education Improvement Act (IDEA). Typically these children are served under either Section 504 or IDEA.
Q: My son has already been tested and was found not to be learning disabled. Can we still get help for him through the school?
A: Many, but certainly not all, children with ADD/ADHD are found to be learning disabled. Even though your son has not been found to be learning disabled, he may be eligible for services under the IDEA category of “other health impairment” or through Section 504.
Q: My son is healthy. How can he be eligible for services under “other health impairment”?
A: The definition of “other health impairment” in federal law as well as a U.S. Department of Education memo specifically includes ADD as one of a list of chronic or acute impairments resulting in limited alertness which adversely affects educational performance. If your son’s ADD is a “chronic or acute health problem that results in limited alertness which adversely affects educational performance,” then he should be classified as eligible for services.
Q: What is Section 504?
A: Section 504 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It provides accommodations for students with physical disabilities or sensory impairments that substantially limit learning or another major life activity. Organizational supports, extended time, preferential seating and testing accommodations are examples of services often provided for students with ADD/ADHD under Section 504.
Q: Should we seek help through Section 504 or IDEA? Is one better than the other?
A: Both Section 504 and IDEA can provide adequate services for a student with an attention deficit disorder. The distinction in eligibility between the two laws has to do with whether or not a student, as a result of ADD, requires special education (under IDEA) or merely accommodations (under Section 504) in order to receive an appropriate education. An advantage of obtaining services through IDEA, however, is that the dispute resolution process under this act is very quick. IDEA also has “stay put” provisions to ensure that a student can keep the services he or she was granted, as well as clear safeguards in suspension and expulsion actions. Although Section 504 offers students some protections, these protections may be more difficult to enforce than those provided through IDEA.
Q: How would I get service under IDEA or Section 504 for my son?
A: The best way is to request services in writing from your school’s special education supervisor. You should state that you believe your child suffers from a disabling condition that adversely affects his ability to learn. You should specifically request an evaluation for services under Section 504 as well as the category of “other health impairment” of IDEA. Even though it may seem redundant, you should specifically state that you consent to all testing necessary to determine your son’s eligibility for services.
Q: What kind of services might help my son with organizational skills?
A: Frequently, help with recording assignments, notebook organization, and locker organization helps ADD/ADHD children. It is important that your son receive daily assistance until he begins to understand what is needed and how it helps. The ultimate goal is for the child to learn organizational techniques and to begin independently applying the techniques. Some children learn these quickly. Children with ADD/ADHD often need much more time to learn the skills and constant monitoring to ensure continued implementation of the skills.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was originally prepared by Ellen Wristen, a Columbus attorney, and updated by attorney Kerry Agins, a partner in the Cleveland firm of Siegel & Agins Co.