Legislation / Policy : Criteria for Eligibility


As parents strive to find the most appropriate education for their child all families should be equipped with the knowledge and the legal backing to obtain the best possible education allowed under the law.  In order to achieve these goals a parent must help to improve the structure and implementation of their student's IEP and must strive to find the most appropriate education for their child.

There are 13 categories of disability under the IDEA. Not listed, as one of these categories is Executive functioning (EF). Although EF is an evolving condition it is not yet fully recognized within the medical community. Generally, it is seen as a problem related to or under the group of symptoms of ADHD.  An ADHD diagnosis would typically be considered under the Other Health Impaired category of IDEA. Even if there isn't an ADHD diagnosis, another possible option is if a clinician can demonstrate how EF results in limited ability to attend to educational tasks due to excessive distraction or attention to other things going on.

Even if the school does not feel your child meets criteria for IDEA eligibility, if you have clinical documentation of the EF disorder and evidence that it substantially impacts one or more life activities at school, your child may be eligible for a Section 504 plan and could get accommodations for the EF disorder under the 504 plan. Much or all of what your child may need could be provided under a 504 plan as well as under an IEP.

Although no specific legislation exists regarding executive functioning in particular, students with challenges in this area may qualify for special education services based on other, related conditions. Becoming familiar with important laws and policies that govern individuals with disabilities and the field of special education in the United States will benefit the process of obtaining resources for your child.  Special education laws in our country include the following.

• Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

IDEA builds specific stipulations to protected children with disabilities in the educational setting. Students in public schools must be provided with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) necessary to meet their needs. Generally, the LRE is considered a full-inclusion or “mainstream” classroom.

In order to qualify for special education services under IDEA, a student’s psycho educational assessment results must show deficits in academic areas such as reading, writing or math, as well as significant processing difficulties, such as auditory or visual processing or working memory.

Students who qualify for “special ed” are required to have Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs), which are developed by a team that includes regular ed and special ed teachers, administrators, related service professionals (e.g. speech and language pathologists, psychologists, or occupational therapists), parents, and the student himself. An IEP ensures that a student will receive the accommodations and modifications he needs in order to be successful in his school program.

• Least Restrictive Environment

Special education law requires that services be delivered in the least restrictive appropriate environment, meaning generally the setting which is closest to the regular education program in which your child can progress effectively with or without added supports and resources. Most often this means that you have to exhaust the reasonable possibilities for programs and services within the local community before you have a reasonable chance to argue for any other alternative. However, if you have very strong advice based on an expert's personal knowledge of the school system's program that it would be ineffective or worse, you can sometimes risk not trying the program before proceeding to litigation.

• Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, commonly referred to as “a 504 plan” or simply “a 504,” requires that students with disabilities be able to participate as fully as their non-disabled peers in any government-funded program, including public schools. Students between 3 and 22 years of age are covered under Section 504, if they have a disability, illness, or other disorder that “substantially” limits their ability to function in everyday life and/or learn in a regular education setting. Examples of disabilities covered by Section 504 include hearing or vision loss, ADD/ADHD, Cerebral Palsy, and other conditions.

Web Resources:

Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)

ADA Resource Page


Wrights Law : Section504

CA Special Ed Resources

A Guide to the Individual Education Program

US Government Education Resources

Great Schools Law Article

Special Education Resource Directory

Special Ed Advocate