Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

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 child 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 child 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. 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.


What Does IDEA Provide?

When a child with ADHD qualifies under IDEA, the child 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.

For a child whose behavior prevents learning or interferes with the learning of other students in the class, the IEP team must consider the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports or other strategies to address the behavior.

Parents should participate in developing the IEP by making suggestions about what could help their child at school with class work, homework, and behavior problems. Parents or the school can ask for changes to the IEP. Changes may only be made if a meeting is held and the parents are at the meeting or if both the school and the parents agree to the changes and agree to skip the meeting.



A complete evaluation is required to see if a child is eligible for special education under IDEA. The school must have written authorization (informed consent and signature) from a child’s parent or guardian before they can evaluate the child. Parents may refuse to have their child evaluated, but if they want their child evaluated parents must sign the form. IDEA also requires an eligible child to be evaluated again at least every three years unless parents and the school agree that it is not necessary. Parents do not have to pay for these evaluations. If parents do not agree with the results of the evaluation performed by the school district, they may be entitled to have an independent evaluation conducted at no cost to them [cf. 34CFR 300.502(b)(1-4)].


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.


What are my responsibilities as a parent?

As a parent you are in the best position to advocate for your child, and in order to do that you must be aware of what you can do to ensure that your child receives needed services and accommodations she or he needs.

  1. Stay informed. Understand your child’s diagnosis, how it impacts her or his education and what can be done at home to help.
  2. Understand your child’s IEP. If you have questions, do not be afraid to ask. If you still have questions, continue to ask until you completely understand the process, the IEP, and how this will help your child’s education. Do not sign an IEP unless you understand and agree with the contents.
  3. Speak with your child’s teacher. Teachers often have similar concerns as parents and welcome the opportunity to discuss them.
  4. Get it in writing. When possible obtain written documentation from teachers, administrators, or other professionals working with your child describing any behavioral or academic concerns they may have.
  5. Know your rights.
  6. Play an active role in preparing your child’s IEP or Section 504 plan. Make suggestions, and speak up if you feel a goal, objective, or accommodation is not appropriate.
  7. Keep careful records. This should include any written documentation you have obtained, communication between home and school, progress reports and evaluations. You should also keep a copy of any letter you send to the school. Keep these records well organized and in one place, they may be very useful.
  8. Try to maintain a good working relationship with the school while being a strong advocate for your child.
  9. Communicate any concerns you may have about your child’s progress or IEP or 504 plan. Schedule meetings to ensure you and the school are on the same page. Find an unobtrusive way to communicate on a regular basis with your child’s teachers, perhaps using a communication notebook.
  10. Encourage your child everyday and devise a system to help with homework and other school projects.


Other resources:

A Guide to the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Department of Education guidance assisting educators, parents, and state and local educational agencies in implementing the requirements of Part B of the IDEA regarding IEPs for children with disabilities, including preschool-aged children.

Recent Webinars For Parents & Caregivers

Other Resources

Subscribe to our mailing list