Your child may qualify to receive accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 states that:
“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 706(8) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance….” [29 U.S.C. §794(a), 34 C.F.R. §104.4(a)].
Under Section 504, students qualify if they are between ages 3 and 22 and have a disability [34 C.F.R. §104.3(k)(2)].
So, the next question is, does ADHD qualify as a disability? The federal law states that:
“An individual with a disability means any person who:
i. has a mental or physical impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activity;
ii. has a record of such an impairment; or
iii. is regarded as having such an impairment” [34 C.F.R. §104.3(j)(1)].
Does ADHD qualify as an “impairment?” This is the gray area in which ADHD seems to fit well but allows wriggle room for schools. Under Section 504, impairment may include any disorder or disability that “substantially” reduces a student’s ability to access learning in the educational environment because of a learning or behavior related condition.
The wriggle room for schools is that the law is always subject to interpretation. So, every school interprets and implements Section 504 differently. Since ADHD has no physical manifestation like epilepsy or cerebral palsy, it is a hidden problem. Compounding this is the fact that many educators still believe the myth that poor parenting causes the problem or that by giving the child medication, all will be solved without need for accommodation at school. Therefore, under these circumstances, the onus is not on the school, they believe, it is on the parent.
Unfortunately, Section 504 does not define a list of specific disorders (again wriggle room). Obviously, that list would have to be highly comprehensive and definitive.
Also, ADHD would have to affect “major life activities” Major life activities do include, among a variety of other things, concentrating (ADHD), learning, sitting, working, thinking, and interacting/cooperating with others. Many of these major life activities are often affected by ADHD. So, your ADHD child may be included, but the school must agree that some of these “major life activities” substantially limit your child’s education.
So, does your ADHD child qualify for section 504? The answer is, yes – most likely. It should be apparent to you that the law has left a large gray area for interpretation in some cases.
Remember this: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Squeak loud, know your rights, and document everything. You should be able to make good headway with this approach.