Does a Medical Diagnosis Equal Special Education?
Parents often ask, "My child has a medical diagnosis, does this mean that he/she qualifies for special education services?" The medical diagnosis may be ADHD, a learning disorder, an anxiety disorder, or a whole host of others. The answer for some is "yes" and for others the answer is "no." This may seem frustrating, but let's talk about the why behind that answer and what you can do to help your child.
IDEA says that a child with a disability only qualifies if he/she meets one of the disability categories and who by reason thereof, NEEDS special education and related services. In short, does a student have a disability AND does that disability adversely affect his/her access to the curriculum?
What can you do if your child has received a medical diagnosis and you feel that he/she may need special education services? First, you could share the diagnosis with your child's school. While the medical diagnosis does not automatically qualify a child for special education and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), the diagnosis could be an important piece of information to communicate with the school. This communication will allow the school to consider the diagnosis when evaluating your child and determining how to best meet your child's educational needs. Second, if an evaluation has not been initiated by the school, you could request (in writing) an evaluation for special education and related services. If the school agrees and completes an evaluation, the school will then initiate a meeting to determine whether your child qualifies for special education.
If it is determined that your child qualifies for special education, the school will convene a meeting and develop an IEP. If your child does not qualify for special education under IDEA, the school could also consider whether he/she qualifies for accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. As with IDEA, a medical diagnosis does not automatically qualify a child for accommodations under Section 504. However, Section 504 defines "disability" in broad terms and it could be that a child who is not eligible for an IEP may qualify for a 504 Plan. To qualify for accommodations under Section 504, a student must have "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities." As with IDEA, whether your child meets the qualifying definition under Section 504 is a decision for the school and parents (IEP team) to reach together, one which must be based on a comprehensive evaluation.