Understanding ADHD | For Professionals | For Teachers | Educational Rights | IDEA


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal law that provides special education and needed related services for an eligible child with a disability to benefit from the child’s education. Services received under IDEA are often referred to as “special education.” An Individualized Education Program (IEP; sometimes called an Individualized Education Plan) is designed specifically for each eligible child with disabilities to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE).


Who is Eligible?

A student is eligible for services under IDEA if he or she is identified with a qualified disability and, “by reason thereof,” needs special education and related services. A student with ADHD may qualify if the ADHD seriously impacts the child’s learning and/or behavior at school. Some children with ADHD will qualify for services under IDEA while others may not; this depends on the degree of impairment.

To qualify for IDEA, a child must meet the criteria in at least one of 13 disability categories. Often children with ADHD will qualify under the Other Health Impairment (OHI) category. They may also qualify under Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) or Severe Emotional Disturbance (SED).

Eligibility for IDEA must be determined by a qualified team that is made up of many different professionals including the child’s teacher(s), school psychologist(s), principal, parents and other appropriate school personnel. This team should use information from several different sources including input and ideas from parents, notes from doctors if available, notes and progress reports from teachers, the child’s past academic and behavior records, test results (such as IQ and/or other formalized testing assessments), as well as anything else that might be important.


What Does IDEA Provide?

When a student with ADHD qualifies under IDEA, the student receives an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP is a written document that includes specific goals for the child based on the child’s current level of performance. The IEP should state the educational placement, and it should specify which services will be granted, when they will be provided, how long they will last, and how frequently they will occur. It should also specify the way in which the child’s progress will be measured.

IDEA says that children with disabilities must be taught in the regular classroom as much as possible with appropriate related aids and services. Removal from the regular education environment should only occur when the severity of the disability is such that even with aids and services, the child or other students cannot learn. This is called the least restrictive environment (LRE) clause. Therefore, not all children who receive services under IDEA are placed in special education classrooms. Many stay in their regular classroom with appropriate modifications and/or related services.


Discipline under IDEA

Students who have an IEP are also entitled to special procedures that must be followed if they are suspended or expelled. Even when suspended or expelled, children covered under IDEA are guaranteed a free appropriate public education (FAPE).  Schools are allowed to suspend or expel any student, including a student with a disability, for up to 10 school days per school year.

After 10 days, a meeting (called a manifestation determination) must be held for a student with an IEP to see if the behavior was caused by or had a direct and significant relationship to the disability or if the behavior was a direct result of the school’s failure to implement the IEP.

It is important to note that any student who brings a weapon to school; who attempts to buy, sell, or carry illegal drugs on school property; or who causes serious bodily injury to self or others may be immediately moved to an alternate educational placement (AEP).  Schools must then conduct a manifestation determination.  If it is determined that the behavior does have a link to the student’s disability, then the student may remain in the AEP for up to 45 school (not calendar) days. If no link is found, then the student may be removed for the same number of days as a non-disabled student.