E.D. Clarifies Policy on Attention-Deficit Disorder

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WASHINGTON--Schools are required to provide special-education services to children with attention-deficit disorder who are in need of extra help, under an informal policy letter issued last month by the Department of Education.

The letter, which federal officials contend merely clarifies existing rules, details for the first time the extent to which states are responsible for serving children with the disorder.

Advocates for children with the disorder are hailing the letter as a victory.

"There is no question now that these children are considered disabled children and are entitled to every right disabled children might have," said Sandra Thomas, president of Children with Attention Deficit Disorder, a national advocacy group.

Youngsters with A.D.D., which affects an estimated 3 percent to 5 percent of all schoolchildren, typically are easily distracted and fidgety. Advocates have long contended that such children are being left out of special-education programs.

Eligibility Clarified

The new letter is expected to put an end to a controversy over the issue begun last year when Ms. Thomas's group lobbied unsuccessfully to persuade federal lawmakers to change federal special-education law to explicitly list attention-deficit disorder as a handicapping condition that qualifies children for special services.

Arguing that such children are already getting the services they need under existing laws, the Education Department and some national education groups opposed the move.

Federal education officials said the new policy letter, which is being mailed to all state school superintendents, does not change that position.

The letter states that children with the disorder can get special help under existing rules if their condition is "chronic or acute" and results in limited alertness, which adversely affects educational performance."

They qualify for special-education services, according to the letter, under a catchall disability category known as "other health-impaired."

In many states, Ms. Thomas said, "before a child could be served, he had to also have a learning disability or a serious emotional disturbance, and now it's quite clear he can by served."

Children who suffer from A.D.D. and one or more other disabilities can also get services under one of those other disability categories, according to the letter.

Schools, however, must ensure that children receive services tailored to all their educational needs, including those arising from A.D.D. as well as those stemming from any other disability.

The letter also states that A.D.D. students not deemed eligible for special education may still find recourse under Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination against disabled people in rederally funded programs.

Robert R. Davila, assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, said the letter was drafted because "it became apparent there was confusion in the field" over whether states should be serving children with A.D.D.

In addition to Mr. Davila, the letter was signed by two other assistant secretaries, Michael L. Williams, who heads the office for civil rights, and John T. MacDonald, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

Judging by the extent to which those children were not getting help, Mr. Davila said, "it's safe to say" the new letter will lead to an increase in the nation's special-education population.

Vol. 11, Issue 05, Page 29

Published in Print: October 2, 1991, as E.D. Clarifies Policy on Attention-Deficit Disorder
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