ADHD and ADA – The Americans with Disabilities Act

November 14, 2010

I attended the recent American Professional Society of ADHD and Related Disorders (APSARD) conference in Washington DC and would like to share information from a wonderful presentation given by Dr. Kevin Murphy on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its relevance to ADHD. What is ADA vs. IDEA? Why is ADA relevant to treating ADHD? Let’s review.

ADA is a civil rights act that evolved from anti-discrimination laws in the workplace. It is not an extension of special education laws such as the IDEA, which supports that handicapped or underachieving kids are entitled to remedial services that facilitate success. Instead the goal of the ADA is to prevent discrimination and ensure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities. So contrary to popular belief, ADA was NOT intended to facilitate success! It is important to understand this distinction in the law for those seeking accommodations and for their clinicians.

Although the original ADA was signed into law in 1990, an Amendments Act was added in 9/2008. Later the Department of Justice (DOJ) proposed additional rules for law, including testing guidelines for accommodations. The final DOJ rules of the Amendments Act were not enacted until very recently in July 2010. The good news is that the Amendments Act is designed to apply less stringent criteria to establishing disability, but extensive documentation will still be required, generally including testing from a qualified professional with details of why each specific accommodation is being requested. NOTE: Diagnosis does not equal disability. In other words having a diagnosis of ADHD does not automatically qualify you for services.

Since the final ADA Amendments Act was just recently enacted (July 2010) there have not yet been any court cases to establish a baseline. We do not yet know how this will play out in the court system. If you are considering pursuing a case based on the ADA, at least make sure you build it on the concept of anti-discrimination – the true intent of this law and its amendments. For academic or workplace accommodations, I would recommend seeking a diagnostic evaluation that includes neuropsychological testing, which is done by a neuropsychologist (PhD). Neuropsychological testing offers the strongest case for accommodations.

Frequently I have patients arguing that because they have ADHD or a learning disability that academic conditions must be set to ensure their success. This idea is false. Neither IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act) nor ADA guarantees success. ADA is an outcome neutral, anti-discrimination law with origins in the civil rights act of 1964, while IDEA supports that underachieving children and entitled to remedial services to facilitate success. Success is still rightfully left in the hands of the individual to achieve.

Theresa Cerulli, M.D.

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