Does a Medical Diagnosis Qualify a Child for Special Education?
By: Lauren O’Connell Mahler
When a child receives a medical diagnosis from a doctor outside of school, is the child automatically qualified for special education services via an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”)? The answer is no. To qualify for special education services, a child who has been diagnosed with a medical disability must also be found eligible as a “child with a disability,” as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). To put it simply, medical disabilities do not always qualify as educational disabilities under the law. Whether a child has a qualifying educational disability under the IDEA is a decision determined by a team of professionals at the child’s school, including the child’s parents, and only after the school has comprehensively evaluated the child to determine whether the child’s disabilities give rise to educational needs.
In general, IDEA requires that special education services be provided to a child with disabilities only if the disabilities are adversely impacting the child’s educational progress. If the child’s disabilities do not impact the child’s educational progress, then the child does not qualify for an IEP. However, when examining whether a child’s disabilities are impacting the child’s educational progress, it is important for parents and schools to consider not only the impact on the child’s grades, state standardized test scores, and academic progress, but also whether the child’s disabilities are impacting the child’s social skills development, emotional/behavioral progress, adaptive skills, activities of daily living, and executive functioning skills such as planning an organizing in the classroom setting.
Additionally, in order to qualify for an IEP, the law requires that a child must meet at least one of thirteen educational disability classifications under IDEA. These include: 1) Autism; 2) Developmental Delay; 3) Deaf Blind; 4) Emotional Disturbance; 5) Hearing Impairment; 6) Specific Learning Disability; 7) Intellectual Disability; 8) Orthopedic Impairment; 9) Other Health Impairment; 10) Speech and/or Language Impairment; 11) Traumatic Brain Injury; 12) Visual Impairment including Blindness; and 13) Preschool Speech Delay.
In Delaware, the definition of each disability category is contained in Title 14, Section 925.6.0 of the Delaware Code. Though they are quite detailed, parents may want to familiarize themselves with the criteria in order to understand whether or not their child may qualify for special education.
In Delaware (but not in all states), a few of the educational disability classifications (Other Health Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury, Orthopedic Impairment, Hearing Impairment, Deaf Blind, and Visual Impairment including Blindness) do require documentation from a qualified doctor that the child has a particular medical condition. In those cases, the diagnosis is considered one aspect of the criteria that must be met for the classification. Additionally, a child might meet several of the educational disability classifications, but he or she only needs to meet one in order to receive services. It is important to recognize that once a child is found eligible for special education under one of the thirteen educational disability classifications, that classification does not determine what special education services the child can receive. Rather, the special education services are based on the child’s individual needs.
What should you do if your child has received a medical diagnosis and you feel that he or she may need special education services? First, share the medical diagnosis with your child’s school. While a medical diagnosis does not automatically qualify a child for special education and an IEP, as a general rule, it is important to communicate with your school regarding any medical diagnoses that your child has received. Such communication will allow the school to consider the diagnoses when evaluating your child and determining how to best meet your child’s educational needs. Second, if an evaluation has not been initiated by the school, you should request (in writing) that the school conduct an evaluation of your child to determine the child’s eligibility for special education services. Once the school’s evaluation is complete, the school will convene a meeting to determine whether your child qualifies for special education.
Even if your child does not qualify for special education and an IEP under IDEA, the school should also consider whether he or she qualifies for accommodations under another law, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Section 504”). As with IDEA, a medical diagnosis does not automatically qualify a child for accommodations under Section 504. However, the definition of a qualifying “disability” under Section 504 is broader than IDEA’s definition. There are no specific educational disability classifications under Section 504. Rather, to qualify for accommodations under Section 504, a student must have “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” As with IDEA, whether your child meets the qualifying definition under Section 504 is a decision for the school and parents to reach together, and must be based on a comprehensive evaluation.
For more information about Section 504, IDEA, and special education visit www.mcandrewslaw.com or call 302-380-4975. The information within this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.