IEP Step 3: Pursue a Diagnosis

I suspect my child has ADHD or LD, but I don’t have a formal diagnosis. Can I still apply for an evaluation for school services including accommodations within an IEP or 504 Plan?

Medican exams help to get ADHD accomodations
Medican exams help to get ADHD accomodations

You don’t need a formal ADHD or LD diagnosis to apply for an evaluation for school services, but it is always better to have one in hand. Many experts believe that you have a better chance of getting accommodations after getting your child diagnosed by a professional.

If you suspect your child has ADHD or LD, see a doctor for a formal evaluation before you apply for accommodations. The school can provide accommodations, but it can’t provide treatment, which may help your child focus and do better in the classroom.

Because it takes up to 60 days for the school to determine if your child is eligible for accommodations, you don’t want him or her to continue to fail during this time. As you pursue a diagnosis, keep talking with the teacher to find ways to help your child.

What are the steps required to receive a proper ADHD diagnosis?

There’s no definitive diagnostic test for ADHD — no blood analysis, no brain scan, no genetic screen — so it can be tough to tell whether a child has the disorder. Doctors vary in their abilities to deliver an accurate ADHD diagnosis and treat the disorder, so it’s easy to go down blind alleys before getting the right information. Here are some smart steps to take:

1. If your pediatrician hasn’t diagnosed a lot of cases of ADHD, you should ask parents with ADHD children whom they would recommend, or you can search CHADD or the ~ADDitude~ Directory to find ADHD providers in your area.

2. If you suspect that your child has a learning disability or another comorbid condition, such as anxiety, you might want to consult a medical specialist — a neuropsychologist or developmental pediatrician. Your pediatrician or health insurer can probably steer you to a qualified specialist.

To diagnose ADHD in children, a doctor must complete several assessments, including:

1. BEHAVIORAL HISTORY. Your initial meeting with the doctor (pediatrician or specialist) should focus on your child’s behavioral symptoms. Leave your child at home, and bring along written or verbal descriptions of your child’s behavior from current or former teachers, as well as copies of any psychological test results you might have.

You’ll be asked where and when your child’s symptoms occur and when you first noticed them. In addition, the doctor may ask you (and your child’s teachers) to complete the Conners’ Rating Scale, a questionnaire that helps determine the nature and severity of your child’s symptoms. And don’t be surprised if the doctor asks about family or marital stresses that could be making your child anxious.

2. MEDICAL HISTORY AND EXAM. If your answers convince the doctor that your child’s symptoms are chronic and pervasive, he or she will probably take a detailed medical history of your child. The goal here is to rule out anxiety, depression, sleep problems, seizure disorders, vision or hearing problems, and other medical conditions that mimic ADHD. Certain medications also cause symptoms of hyperactivity or distractibility in some children.

3. REVIEW OF RECORDS. The doctor should review relevant school reports and medical records. The doctor will want to have at least one phone conversation with your child’s teacher(s) or school psychologist.

If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, sit down with the doctor and discuss treatment plans-ADHD medication, behavioral therapy, and/or counseling. Ask him about accommodations or services that would help your child in school. Have him put all of this in a letter explaining his reasons for the accommodations.

Submit the diagnosis and recommendations on the doctor’s letterhead to your IEP or 504 team when sending a letter requesting that your child be evaluated for school services.

Click here for Step 4: Request a School Assessment.

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