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3. It’s hard to tell how many students with ADHD are identified by schools as having a disability.

Much like SLD, signs of ADHD can be evident from a young age. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests ADHD evaluations should be conducted for children age 4 or older who demonstrate academic or behavioral challenges and show signs of inattention, impulsivity or hyperactivity.

However, unlike learning disabilities or autism, ADHD does not have a discrete disability category under IDEA. Federal guidance has made clear to states that when ADHD is the main reason students qualify for special education, they should be classified under Other Health Impaired (OHI).7 Because studies indicate that ADHD accounts for the vast majority of OHI students,8 this report uses OHI data as a rough proxy for students in special education who have ADHD.

But ADHD often co-occurs with other disorders, and IDEA does not track comorbidities. School teams must choose a primary disability so that each student is only counted once each year. An IEP may provide services and support for more than one type of disability, but this level of detail is not included in federal data. It is also difficult to tell how many students shift from one primary disability to another from year to year.

For these reasons, researchers have looked to parent surveys for insights on how many students in special education have ADHD. More research is needed to get a clearer picture of which students with ADHD are being identified in school and how well schools are meeting the needs of these students.

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