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Sleep Disorders, Truancy and Student Needs: A Complicated Mix

by Wrightslaw

I have a student with a sleep disorder and emotional issues.

How do the compulsory attendance laws and a student with special education needs intertwine?

Good question. All states have compulsory attendance laws. I am not aware of exceptions for children with disabilities, but suggest you contact your State Department of Education to find out if your state has exceptions.

  • Are the sleep issues a recent problem?
  • What do the parents say?
  • Is the child’s doctor aware of the frequent  absences and the impact they are having on his education?

In some cases, the child’s doctor may ask that the child receive special treatment for a specific period of time – for example, when the doctor is trying different medications and the child’s sleep is disrupted.

In other cases, schools let these kids slide which does not  help. Kids with emotional and behavioral problems are at very high risk for dropping out.

If a child doesn’t attend school regularly, he cannot learn what he needs to know to handle life after school.

The fact that the child is often absent triggers responsibilities for the IEP team.

  • The IEP team is required to review and revise an IEP “to address any lack of expected progress” and “other matters.” A child with a sleep disorder who often misses school is probably not making expected progress, so it’s time to revisit the IEP.
  • The IEP team is also required to consider providing related services for “a child whose behavior impedes the child’s learning … positive behavioral interventions and supports, and other strategies to address that behavior.” Clearly, this child’s behavior is impeding his learning. The IEP team needs to meet to devise new interventions, supports and strategies to address the behavior.

If the child is not attending school because of depression and other emotional issues, the IEP team needs to meet and decide how to modify or revise the IEP.

The team needs to be creative and involve the child’s doctor and therapist, parent(s), and the child, if possible. The child may need related services including counseling or other assistance.

Normal Adolescent Sleep Patterns

As a group, adolescents are notoriously difficult to awaken in the mornings. In most cases, this is not due to laziness or depression, but is simply part of normal human development. During adolescence, circadian clocks are geared to late night behavior. Boys tend to grow out of this around age 20, and girls a year earlier.

For these reasons, experts in neurology  and chronobiology make a good case for opening high schools later and experimenting with timing of the curriculum and exams. This could lead to a better match between the requirements of the educational system and the capabilities of students. (For more about biological clocks and sleep rhythms, read Larks, Owls and Hummingbirds by Leon Kreitzman, co-author of Rhythms of Life with Russell Foster, a neuroscientist at Oxford.)

American Academy of Pediatrics Recommendations

Studies show that adolescents who don’t get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents and a decline in academic performance.

In a new policy statement published in 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later. Doing so will align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.

Compulsory Attendance Laws and Truancy

If the school labels the child as truant under compulsory attendance laws, problems caused by developmental or emotional issues turn into legal problems. If the child is judged “truant,” it is unlikely that anything positive will happen, and more likely that the child will drop out of school.

The question about whether to use compulsory attendance laws also depends on how the juvenile justice system in your area views kids with emotional and behavior problems. Some juvenile judges are staunch advocates for children and want to help. Others blame the kid for emotional problems — not helpful.

Thanks for caring about the kids!

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27 Comments on "Sleep Disorders, Truancy and Student Needs: A Complicated Mix"


Good idea about involving medical personnel. Getting a team of cooperative professionals to meet with varied schedules is extremely difficult and would be a dream come true if it ever becomes the norm. In my experience, the parent has been the constant and go-between to help us all get an accurate picture of how the student’s condition is manifesting in the classroom. We just evaluated a 2nd grade student who was diagnosed with a sleep disorder as well as other medical conditions that interfere with his learning. His IEP was only in effect for the last 5 days of the school year. I have never had a student with this type of medical condition and look forward to working with him. I am hopeful that catching him early in his educational career, we can provide the motivation and encouragement so will he develop an intrinsic motivation to attend school and apply the strategies he will learn. By the way, he had 100% attendance this past school year.


My student is has missed the magic # for school attendance, he has been sick documented, or sent home with fever. The school sent home conference for truancy. They have been threatening and not helpful, my student is on I.e.p.


I am a senior in highschool, and I have suffered with insomnia my whole life. This year it has gotten much worse, I have issues with anxiety and depression also so I am not supposed to be on addicting medications at my age. I have tried many sleeping pills and none seem to work, nothing makes me fall asleep and I am always awake. I usually crash at about 5 am, school starts at 6, I am constantly truant because once i fall asleep I can’t seem to wake up, I really wish the school system would understand things like this. I get good grades but I am threatened to be dropped because of my attendance, and might not be able to graduate, which is very very stressful to even think about.


My 11 yr old son has Tourettes/ADHD/OCD and had a 504 plan that none of the 4 teachers went by and was really vague in the first place, breaks and work “chunked”, home work shortened. They were to busy to work with him. He was making all F’s and because he is Academic Intelligent he wasn’t offered IEP. I am fighting now to get the IEP for “other health impairments” and unique learning needs. I have him in home schooling where he attends one day a week while the school and I work this out. He is doing PERFECT, small class, one on one teaching, peer to peer teaching, fun learning. Mainstream is overstimulating or understimulating classes with negative teachers, no help or consideraton of 2 disabilities, ADHD, tourette’s. He has small behavior discipline problems. Where is law for disability discipline if not expelling? No behavior modification done.


Need to network with other parents of children with sleep and health issues. Our child’s IEP team at NPS school is not willing to give him accommodations for sleep disorder, and their solution is for him to change his behavior. Any advocates or attorneys who can help? Thanks! Marcie, founder & director – 2E Network LA