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ADHD in the Education System

It’s back to school time! Some of you parents will be excited with the thought of getting your kids back into routine and out of your hair, but many parents of children with ADHD dread the start of the new school year as with it comes the start of calls from the school, fights over homework, and the stress of advocating for your child to get what they need to be academically successful. Will this be a good year or another year of stress, misunderstandings, and challenges?

Over the past 24 years I must have spoken with tens of thousands of parents about their worries and concerns, their feelings of helplessness when dealing with the school system and getting their child the help they need.  No doubt there are great teachers, principals and administrators out there, I have met some of them, and every once in a while I hear an uplifting story about a fabulous teacher or program that has made all the difference in the world to a child with ADHD. But of course, because of what I do it is generally the horror stories that I hear time and again. I am writing this after speaking to a family for the past two hours whose child was restrained at the end of last year. An IPRC was denied and accommodations not put in place. The family has done all the right things, accessed all the medical resources possible, developed phenomenal self- regulation teaching strategies and implemented them in their home with great success. They are now struggling to obtain some assurance that this trauma will not be repeated again.

Sad to say, after 24 years of doing this work very few of these stories are truly unique and even shocking anymore, but rather variations on a similar theme. So, it was with great interest that I read this past July 26th’s U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) media release clarifying schools’ obligations to provide students with ADHD equal educational opportunity under Section 504. The release stated that “The Department will continue to work with the education community to ensure that students with ADHD, and all students, are provided with equal access to education.”

If only we could get the same attention to this issue here in Canada. I have now been advocating on this issue for more than 20 years and CADDAC has taken a leadership role on this since its inception. In 2010 CADDAC developed a Provincial Report Card reviewing and grading how each province’s education system recognized the impairments of students with ADHD and how this lead or did not lead to special education services. CADDAC participated in the development of the 2011 Ontario Memorandum and developed a policy paper entitle, “Equal Access to Education for All Canadians” prior to the memorandum release. The topic was again covered in our 2014 Socioeconomic paper. CADDAC has also met with various provincial Ministries of Education, including Ontario (several times), Manitoba and we will be meeting with the British Columbia Ministry for the second time this fall. If you access our Provincial Report card you will notice that Ontario and British Columbia both received failing grades.

Apparently over the past five years the OCR received more than 16 00 complaints about discrimination of students with ADHD either not being evaluated for a disability in a timely manner or not receiving appropriate special education services. The “guidance” provided to school boards states that the students must be evaluated if they are believed to have addition needs, services must be individualized to the student and not just generalized ADHD accommodations. One of the points of guidance that I found of most interest was that schools were not to automatically decide that if a student was doing well academically they could not have a disability in learning, reading, writing and thinking. Another interesting point was that students who display behavioural challenges could have ADHD and should be evaluated.

This fall CADDAC has its sights set on BC again since this province has continued to deny students with ADHD recognition as exceptional students unless a coexisting learning disability exists.

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