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Will my Child with ADHD Receive an Individual Education Plan?

During CADDAC’s recent online conference I presented on school advocacy. At the end of the presentation many of the questions were let unanswered or briefly answered. Since many of these questions are common questions that CADDAC receives, I will be sharing the answers to these questions in several blog posts over the next few months.

Written by Heidi Bernhardt R.N.

Question 2

Will my Child with ADHD Receive an Individual Education Plan?

Please note that IEPs or Individual Education Plans are known as SEPs, IPPs, SSPs, and ISSPs in some provinces.

These are a sample of questions I received during my recent online CADDAC presentation on school advocacy.

Questions 

“We had a child psychologist do an assessment on her and she was diagnosed with ADHD.  The school has the report.  The principal said that ADHD doesn’t get an IEP!?!?!?”

“The identification system can block a student with ADHD from receiving services if ADHD does not fit into a designated category – what are the possible designated categories for ADHD in ON?”

“I was told by my daughter’s principal (in the Thames Valley District School Board) that she didn’t qualify to get an IEP because ADHD doesn’t get an IEP.  Is this accurate?”

“I have same issue – does not qualify for IEP – West Vancouver School District (BC).”

The short and very confusing answer is that it depends on which province you are in, the board and school your child is in and the good will and ADHD knowledge level of the principal and teachers in your child’s school.

Summary of Special Education Systems in Canada and ADHD 

This is a brief summary of the current situation across our provinces to help you understand your province’s system in context of all Canadian special education systems.    

Access post-secondary for information on the right to accommodations in this environment.   

  • Unlike the US, Canada does not have a Federal statement, clarifying a school boards’ obligation to provide students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) equal access to education. Therefore, we have little consistency across provinces on the rights of students with ADHD to access special education resources, such as an IEP.
  • Each province uses either a system of identification (students with special needs are identified as such) or inclusion (principals are mandated to meet the needs of special needs students).  For more information please access CADDAC’s 2010 Provincial Report Card. Please note: in 2013 NB moved to a system of inclusion.      
  • Some provinces who use a system of identification (BC, ON, QC) continue to refuse to officially recognize ADHD in their categories of exceptionality although it is a neurodevelopmental disorder (ND) that impairs learning similar to other NDs such as Autism and Learning Disabilities. BC appears to be moving towards a system of inclusion but this has yet to be confirmed. 
  • Other provinces have a category under which ADHD fits or have a system of inclusion which does not require identification under a category.
  • The lack of recognition under a category can result in students with ADHD being refused IEPS and special education resources.
  • Most educators receive only superficial information on ADHD during their training and have access to minimal in-service training.
  • Without comprehensive knowledge of ADHD educators will misinterpret symptoms and impairments they see as a lack of effort or compliance rather than flagging an exceptional learning need. This is where systems of inclusion for students with ADHD may break down and not result in an IEP. This is where all provinces’ special education systems can fail students with ADHD.      
  • For these students to have better academic outcomes, specific interventions targeting learning deficits and accommodating and improving cognitive difficulties need to be implemented. Focusing on just improving behavior will do neither. Therefore, this is what the focus of an IEP should be. 
  • The lack of understanding and recognition of ADHD as a serious learning risk has resulted in inequitable in access to special education resources and accommodations for students with ADHD. Students with similar levels of impairment caused by ADHD receive widely different levels of support across Canada, within provinces and from school to school within a province

If you currently reside in British Columbia, your child will most likely not have access to an IEP unless they have another disability that fits into one of BCs special needs categories. While BC’s Special Education Guidelines state that “ Individual Education Plan Order M638/95: sets out the requirements for school boards to design and implement individual education plans for students with special needs,” they define a student with special needs as: “A student who has a disability of an intellectual, physical, sensory, emotional or behavioural nature, has a learning disability or has special gifts or talents, as defined in the Manual of Policies, Procedures, and Guidelines, Section E.” The fact that ADHD does not fit into one of the defined categories is used to disqualify a student with ADHD from receiving an IEP. BC has indicated their intent to move to an inclusion system of identification but have not done so at this time.

Ontario has a similar system of identification using five defined categories, behaviour, intellect, communication, physical and multiple. ADHD does not fit into the criteria, or definition, of any of these categories. Therefore, schools and boards have been able to use this fact to refuse officially identifying students with ADHD as special needs students through an IPRC, or identification, placement, review committee. In December of 2011 a  Ministry Memorandum explained that a student with ADHD could be identified under any category if they have a “demonstrable learning needs”. Unfortunately, this term left room for interpretation because shortly thereafter the Ministry agreed that schools and boards have the right to set the level of impairment that would qualify a student for the designation where they see fit.

So, does a student in Ontario have the right to an IEP if they have an ADHD disability related need? The Ontario Human Rights Commission certainly believes that they have a right to accommodations and states that the Ministry leaves itself open to litigation if a student with ADHD is denied accommodations and support due to the categories of exceptionality. Access this blog for more details.

What is currently occurring in Ontario around this issue is total inconsistency across boards and even within the same board. The TDSB has stated that a student with ADHD may receive an IEP, if they are impaired, but will not allow an IPRC. This leaves the implementation of an IEP at the school’s discretion and also allows it to be pulled at the school’s discretion. Other boards seem to be accepting the Memorandum’s guidance and being more open to formally identifying students with ADHD. And other boards continue to refuse IEPs for students with ADHD. In our experience, one of the greatest indicators as to whether a student with ADHD will receive an IEP and/or special education services and accommodations in Ontario is the principal and teacher’s knowledge level of ADHD.   

For the other provinces who do recognize ADHD in a category or use a system of inclusion that does not require recognition under a category the implementation of an IEP is also hit and miss. As indicated previously, a great deal depends on how the educators working with your child interpret what they see as impairments caused by a disability. This is what will trigger more investigation and medical documentation to substantiate an exceptional learning need.

My advice to all parents across the country seeking support for their children with ADHD in our schools is to document your child’s impairments and struggles in as many ways possible. Gather medical documentation as well as examples of: academic marks and comments, work product, excess time or assistance required to complete assignments and tasks, and behaviour and social issues that are impairing your child. Do this even if your child is doing “alright” academically. Just because a child is bright and not failing does not mean they do not have a disability that required support and accommodations. It will then be up to you to use this documentation to convince your child’s principal that he/she is impaired to a level that warrants support. If your child is still being denied an IEP, I suggest that you move up the chain of command and speak with your board’s superintendent, preferably one for special education, but not all boards have this position. If you are in Ontario, I also suggest that you take advantage of the language on page 13 of Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities when speaking with your boards if they are continuing to deny access to an IEP.  

Once your child has received an IEP please know that you, as a parent, have the right to assist in the development of the IEP. Use CADDAC Accommodations Charts to assist you in this process.

Please feel free to reach out to me (heidi.bernhardt@caddac.ca) to report on your progress. I am very interested in being informed about the ongoing struggles to access support for students with ADHD.

Once you receive an IEP for your child, holding schools accountable for the implementation of an IEP is a whole other issue, but that will require another blog post, stay tuned.

If these issues are of concern to you, please stay tuned for our education advocacy campaign “ADHD Right to Learn” being launched soon.

We need all of your voices to help us effect change!

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