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ADHD and Special Education

Do kids with ADHD need special education services?
Updated: December 1, 2022

In this article, you will find:

Will special education help my child?

ADHD and Special Education

Special education is instruction that is specially designed (at no cost to parents) to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. "Specially designed" means adapting the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction (as appropriate) to the needs of the child, in order to:

  • address the unique needs of the child that result from his or her disability, and
  • ensure the child's access to the general curriculum (the same curriculum as for students without disabilities) so that he or she can meet the educational standards that apply to all children within the school district or jurisdiction.
  • Because special education is specially designed instruction, it may be very helpful to your child. However, not all children with AD/HD need, or are eligible for, special education services. Conversely, many would not be able to receive an appropriate education without special education services.

    How Is My Child Found Eligible for Special Ecucation?

    The process by which a child is found eligible for special education services is described within the federal law known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. The IDEA is the federal law under which schools:

  • evaluate children for the presence of a disability and their need for special services, and
  • provide special education and related services to students who meet eligibility requirements.
  • Eligibility decisions about a child's need for special education and related services are made on a case-by-case basis. School districts may not arbitrarily refuse to either evaluate or offer services to students with AD/HD.

    In order for your child to be eligible, he or she must have a disability according to the criteria set forth in the IDEA or under state law (state law is based on the IDEA). The disability must adversely affect his or her educational performance. Thus, a medical diagnosis of AD/HD alone is not enough to make your child eligible for services. Educational performance, which consists of social, emotional, behavioral, or academic performance, must be adversely affected.

    Presently, the IDEA lists 13 categories of disability under which a child may be found eligible for special education. AD/HD is specifically mentioned in the IDEA as part of its definition of "Other Health Impairment." The definition of this disability is provided below.

    IDEA's Definition of "Other Health Impairment"

    In order to be eligible for special education, a student must meet the definition criteria for at least 1 of 13 disability categories listed in the federal regulations. Some students may meet more than one definition. Many students with AD/HD now may qualify for special education services under the "Other Health Impairment" category within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA defines "other health impairment" as...

    "...having limited strength, vitality or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, and sickle cell anemia; and adversely affects a child's educational performance." 34 Code of Federal Regulations §300.7(c)(9)

    Certain steps typically need to be taken in order for the child with AD/HD to be found eligible for special education services. These steps are:

    1. The child must be experiencing educational performance problems.

    2. When such problems become evident, the parent, teacher, or other school staff person must request that the child be evaluated for the presence of a disability.

    3. The child is evaluated to determine if he or she does indeed have a disability and to determine the nature and extent of the child's need for special education and related services.

    4. A group of individuals, including the parents, meets to review the evaluation results and determine if the child meets eligibility criteria set forth in state and federal law. If so, the child is found eligible for special education and related services.

    If your child is found eligible for special education, you will then collaborate with school personnel to develop what is known as an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Your child's IEP is a written document that spells out, among other things, how your child's specific problems and unique learning needs will be addressed. The IEP considers strengths as well.

    If a child's behavior impedes learning (including the learning of others), the parents and school must consider, if appropriate, strategies to address that behavior. This includes positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports. This proactive approach to addressing behavior problems is intended to help individual students minimize discipline problems that may arise as a result of the disability. If your child has behavior problems, you will want to make sure that these are addressed in his or her IEP.

    After specifying the nature of your child's special needs, the IEP team (which includes you) determines what types of services are appropriate for addressing those needs. The IEP team also decides where your child will receive these services-for example, the regular education classroom, a resource room, or a separate classroom.

    The IEP is a very important document in the lives of students with disabilities. There is a lot to know about how it is developed, what type of information it contains, and what part you, as a parent, play in writing it. More detailed information about the IEP process is available from NICHCY, either by contacting us directly (at 1-800-695-0285) or by visiting our Web site (

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