Unless a teacher or administrator is looking for a possible lawsuit, they should never tell a parent directly to have his or her child checked for Attention Deficit Disorder. A teacher or administrator may suggest to the parents that the child is not learning or behaving in the same manner as his/her peers. Also, they may ask the parents for permission to have the student assessed; however, telling them to get the child checked for a particular disorder may lead to problems such as misdiagnosis and legal problems.
Special education laws such Individual with Disability Education Act (IDEA) establishes guidelines for the eligibility of students with learning disorder or disabilities such as ADD/ADHD. It also, stipulates the process in which a student is identified, assessed and eventually found eligible or ineligible for special education services and/or qualifies for protection under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The process involves the teacher, special educator, administrator, the parents/guardians, school psychologist, and possibly a specialist. Also, before identification can be made, a teacher needs to use forms of interventions to see if the child’s educational or behavioral situation improves. This method is known as Response to Intervention (RTI), and was added as a form of the identification process on the last re-issue of IDEA (2004).
As mentioned, it’s not a good idea for an educator to state directly that a child needs to be tested for ADD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Part of the reason is that parents may assume the child has the condition, even if the need for an assessment is suggested. Too many times, parents had gone on the first assumption, and as a result, the child was misdiagnosed.
One example comes to mind: a student transferred to a high school from another district. He had an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that stated he was eligible for special education services because he was diagnosed with Autism. When a suspicious resource teacher confronted the parents about this designation, they told him that his previous special education teacher believed he had the condition because of the “odd way” he acted. Also, the parents never questioned this because they already had a younger child with autism, and assumed that this particular child had it as well (how the special education teacher at the previous school was allowed to make this diagnosis was never explained).
Subsequently, the resource teacher requested – with the parents’ approvals – that further assessments were needed to find out if he had autism or a learning disorder. He was later diagnosed (after a battery of tests) to have auditory processing disorder.
Another problem with jumping to the conclusion that a student as ADD/ADHD is that the condition will have similar symptoms or characteristics to other conditions such as a processing disorder. Processing disorders are possibly the most common form of learning disabilities affecting children. These disorders may affect the way child processes audio or visual information. These conditions may cause delays in processing, making it appear that the student is not paying attention or “spacing out”.
Often, a child with ADD will appear inattentive, disorganized, and impulsive or appear to be “day-dreaming.” In many respects, a child with a processing disorder will have some of these characteristics.
The state of education has become very litigious. This is particularly true for special education. In fact, it’s not uncommon to have lawyers come to IEP annual meetings or legal consultants, and advocates working with the parents to ensure a child with disabilities is being accommodated. The process in which a teacher or administrator takes to have a student diagnosed with ADD/ADHD has the potential of being heavily scrutinized, even if the intentions of the educators are good.
What’s an educator to do? First, the teacher or administrator needs to identify that a child is struggling. The first indication will be the child’s poor grades. Also, a teacher may have assessed the child to find out if he or she is reading, writing or doing math at the same level as his or her peers.
The diagnosis of ADD/ADHD often involves the child’s behavior in the classroom. If a teacher is concerned that a child may have ADD, he or she needs to keep a journal or log-book to record the child’s behavior.
Before contacting a school or district administrator who oversees special education, the teacher should use the methods of RTI. If the child responds well, then the possibility of continuing the process is slim. Failure – especially over a considerable amount of time – may lead to the next level: contacting the parents and getting the permission to have the child assessed.
This is the critical part; this is where the parents are notified that something is affecting the child’s educational process. From here, it’s important that the teacher, administrator (since the administrator will be involved at this time), and school psychologist request for permission to have the student tested for a possible learning disorder. If permission is granted, assessment may continue.
This process involves many steps and must be done under a certain amount of time. Also, the parent has the right to request or deny any assessments. For more information, it is advisable to read the law IDEA to understand this process (http://idea.ed.gov).
There are specialists outside the school system parents can go to have their child checked for ADD/ADHD. However, a teacher or administrator shouldn’t make an assumption that the child has this condition, tell the parents about it, and then request they get it checked. The process is there to ensure that such can confirmed without the jump to conclusion.