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Educational Eligibility vs Medical Diagnosis

This one has been coming up a lot recently so I thought it would be good to address. There is a misconception out there that a medical diagnosis of a disability is needed to qualify for an IEP; and a medical diagnosis of a disability is an automatic qualification for an IEP. Both of these are wrong.

While a medical diagnosis may make things easier in some cases it is not necessary in most cases for the purposes of an IEP. This is because the school systems do not actually treat disabilities, they treat the educational symptoms of disabilities. So it's quite possible that your child could have a disability medically, but if that disability does not "adversely affect" your child's education then they would not qualify for IEP services, and vice versa, your child could have characteristics of a disability that adversely affect their education and would therefore qualify for an IEP but not perhaps not qualify medically.

It's confusing, I know, but luckily IDEA and Article 7 clearly defines what these "educational symptoms" are for each of the 13 eligibility categories under IDEA. These are the only "symptoms" that matter when it comes to IEP eligibility. This is why schools say that they do not "diagnose" a disability. This is also why when you walk into an IEP meeting holding a medical diagnosis it may not carry as much weight as you maybe would have thought.

What's this mean for you?

The categories that I see this becoming a problem in most often are Specific Learning Disability (namely Dyslexia), Autism Spectrum Disorder, and ADHD. School's don't want to qualify a student and the parent goes to get a medical diagnosis thinking that will change the school's mind only to find that the school still won't qualify their child.

Instead of focusing on the medical side, really dig in to the educational side. Request your child's educational records and look at them for yourself, find the specific areas that their disability is affecting and present that to your Case Conference Committee along with that diagnosis.

When you get an IEE make sure that whomever you use is experienced in identifying and documenting the educational affects of the disability not just medical affects.

Get an advocate (pick me 🙋‍♀️) that is thorough enough and knowledgeable enough in the law to dig into the educational record and find the patterns that exist and point to eligibility under the suspected disability, whatever it may be.


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