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The ADD controversy - what did CEC say?

During the 1990 reauthorization of the Education of the Handicapped Act (now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA), Congress grappled with the issue of whether attention deficit disorder (ADD) should be listed as a separate diagnostic category for purposes of special education eligibility.

According to information from the Professional Group for ADD and Related Disorders (PGARD), approximately 50% of children with ADD do not require special education services, but rather "appropriate recognition or modifications to the regular program of instruction." PGARD estimates that of the 50% who do require special education, about 85% are able to receive a significant proportion of their instruction in the regular classroom.

After listening to testimony--both from those in favor of the change and those against it--Congressional members in charge of the reauthorization ultimately decided not to add ADD as a separate category or subcategory. Instead, the U.S. Department of Education was instructed to publish a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) in order to receive further input from the field on this issue.

CEC, along with many other education-related organizations, opposed adding a separate category of disability under the law without thoroughly researching the impact such a change would have on the provision of services to children with special needs. CEC therefore welcomed Congress' decision to conduct a more extensive study of the issue. Some of the Council's specific concerns, which were noted in a letter to the members of the House Education and Labor Committee, included: * Children with ADD whose disorders were severe

enough to impact their educational performance

could already receive special

education services under the law through the

existing diagnostic categories. * The inclusion of ADD in the statute, regardless

of tight definitional criteria, would create

tremendous expectations among parents and

advocates that new services would now be authorized

and required under the IDEA for children

medically diagnosed as having ADD. * The House of Representative's report language

on the reauthorization would have required

local school districts to provide

children diagnosed with ADD with "educational

interventions that are very different

from those commonly used with children with

specific learning disabilities, serious emotional

disturbance, or other disabling conditions"

because of the unique nature of their


In consideration of that, CEC felt it would be

remiss to ignore the ramifications of the questionable

suggestion of separate and distinct

curricula, educational methodology, and instructional

environments for children with

ADD. In addition, the demand for these resources

could unnecessarily dilute services

available to all eligible students and further

strain the teacher preparation programs that

are now struggling to deal with severe shortages

of special education personnel. * Experts in the education of children who are

members of racial and ethnic minority groups

were concerned that including ADD under the

IDEA would increase the risk of over-identification

of minority children as requiring special

education. "Before acting (on adding ADD as a disability category under the IDEA)," the Council wrote in its letter, "Congress should thoroughly investigate the need for making this change, its cost, and the likely consequences for minority children, currently eligible students with disabilities, and the structure and operation of special education and personnel training programs."

Congress Agreed to Obtain Additional Input From Field

As mentioned above, Congress directed the Department of Education to collect input on the issue of ADD by publishing a list of questions in the Federal Register and inviting public comment. The (NOI), which was published on November 29, 1990, requested feedback on such questions as: 1. How should the disorder be described operationally

for purposes of qualifying a child for

special education and related services? 2. What criteria should be included in the definition

to qualify children with the disorder

whose disability is comparable in severity to

other children with disabilities who are currently

eligible for services? 3. What provisions should be included to ensure

that children who are ethnically, culturally, or

linguistically diverse are not misclassified

under the definition?

A Joint Policy Memorandum Is Issued; Collaboration Between Regular and Special Education Is Emphasized

After the Department of Education reviewed the many comments it received on the NOI, the Department concluded that there was a great deal of confusion in the field about the extent to which children with ADD may be served in special education programs under Part B of the IDEA. As a result, on September 16, 199 1, the Department released a joint memorandum that was intended to clarify existing policy related to addressing the needs of children identified as having ADD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) within the general and/or special education environment.

The clarification was jointly issued by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), and the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE). CEC felt that the joint issuance of the memo was significant because it reflected the Department's position that meeting the needs of children with ADD was not the sole responsibility of special education or regular education, but rather of the educational system as a whole.

In its report, "Children with ADD: A Shared Responsibility," the CEC Task Force on Children with Attention Deficit Disorder took this idea of collaboration one step further. "If the needs of ... [children with ADD] are to be fully met in the schools (whether through general or through special education programs)," the Task Force explained, "increased coordination, collaboration, and consultation will have to occur among regular educators, special educators, administrators, and related services personnel."

In summary, the Department of Education's joint memorandum stated that in order for a child with ADD to be eligible for special education and related services under the IDEA, the child must be evaluated and found to have one or more specified physical or mental impairments, and must therefore require IDEA services as a result of those impairments.

The memo states that children with ADD are eligible for services under the IDEA if they satisfy the criteria applicable to other disability categories, such as "specific learning disability" (SLD) or "serious emotional disturbance" (SED). Children with ADD may also qualify for services under the "other health impaired" category if the ADD is a chronic or acute health problem resulting in limited alertness, and if the children are determined to need special education and related services due to the disorder.

The memorandum clarified the responsibilities of state and local educational agencies to provide regular or special education and related aids and services to those children with ADD who are not eligible under Part B of the IDEA but who may be covered as a "handicapped person" under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Those children who only need adjustments in the regular classroom, rather than special education, are covered under Section 504.

"Regular classroom teachers are important in identifying the appropriate educational adaptations and interventions for many children with ADD," the memo states. "SEAS and LEAS should take the necessary steps to promote coordination between special and regular education programs. Steps also should be taken to train regular education teachers and other personnel to develop their awareness about ADD and its manifestations and the adaptations that can be implemented in regular education programs to address the instructional needs of these children."

For further information on the issues involving children with ADD, including appropriate educational interventions, see the CEC Task Force's report, "Children with ADD: A Shared Responsibility." To order a copy of the report, see p. 190.
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Title Annotation:attention deficit disorder, Council for Exceptional Children
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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