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

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11/30/2015 11:59 am

Help, my daughter has been diagnosed with Add, Adhd, Dyslexia, and XXX Syndrome. She has had a lot of trouble with her transitioning between classes, understanding the demands of homework and class work. She is very slow to process information and gets caught up in the system and not receiving the support she needs with her IEP. Therefore she is missing a lot of school, sick, stressed out from the school putting pressure on her, managing her rx, Her dad is trying to take custody of her because he is in denial and thinks there is nothing wrong with… Read more »

11/06/2015 11:45 pm

i only wish i had received help from here as well. for now i am figuring out lawsuit status and how to file. still with no help. my son is 18 which means he has 1 year to file a suit since i was unsuccessful in ensuring his rights were protected and once violated did not use due pricess or legal procesings to helo as i had no idea where to begin. due process is important! as well as us department of education civil rights complaints where they will investigate for families. there are also civil rights lawyers out there… Read more »

11/17/2015 11:36 am

Michelle. I understand your frustration, the fact that your son is not a legal minor presents greater difficulty.

11/06/2015 11:45 pm

wow looking back at all the people who had concerns and issues there are no comments to help direct them :/ i sure so hope more people can receive help when contacting this website designed i thought for the children and the families.

11/05/2015 9:13 pm

i would have to disagree with your article since compulsory attendance laws do not apply to a student with a disability where there is a reasonable excuse for the “truancy” the student did not nor did the parent willingly “skip” school however, the reasonable excuse lies in the ineffective iep regarding the reasonable excuse being the students disability. missing school where school hours cannot be adjusted can be written in to the iep that truancy is never an issue for a student with sleep impairments, excessive fatigue or other issues where they can miss school attendance more than any “normal”… Read more »

05/29/2015 1:55 pm

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… Read more »

01/16/2015 3:28 pm

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.

01/16/2015 2:31 pm

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… Read more »

11/05/2015 9:14 pm

this would be against your rights dylan. keep up the good fight!

03/23/2014 3:43 am

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… Read more »

11/05/2015 9:16 pm

Cheryl, follow these steps, expelling a student based on their behaviors due to their disability is against the law….

12/03/2013 5:37 pm

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

03/26/2012 3:21 pm

I came across this post while researching for myself. I (31 yrs old) have a sleeping disorder called idiopathic hypersomnia. It’s a form of narcolepsy. Today I had to go to a truancy board meeting for my 5 yo son b/c he has missed 9 days of school & had 21 tardies. Yes I do know those are a lot. With my disorder I have an extremely hard time waking up and hearing alarms. I am not suppose to live alone b/c of the severity of it. (I do live with another adult) I cannot control this disorder and it… Read more »

11/06/2015 11:22 pm

truancy is without a reasonable excuse. your disability it appears would be a reasonable excuse under disability laws..if you can find a capable adult that may be necessary to getting your son there on time, if not then your reasonable excuse should be acceptible. stilli would try staying up all nite if possible to be sure i was up for morning and sleep during day. have someone pick up son and bring home if u r still sleeping end of school day. might be a solution

11/06/2015 11:19 pm

is there another adult who can assist or you can hire on in exchamge for a place to stay that tou can trust..hard to trust anyone these days or another family member who can stop ny and take your son to schooll if you are still sleeping? thats a tough one! is the other adult capable of assisting in the mornings with your son? if not may need to find new roommate ot someone to help. sometimes there isnt any help. does your son try to wake you? most kids are up really early if not up too late… Read more »

02/18/2012 4:14 pm

I have 2 sons, 1 with Asperger’s, high functioning, other 1 with characteristics of Aspergers. Both recieve speech. Because I filed a police report of inappropriate touching of young girls against the school principal, my sons were found to be truant & no longer needed speech in their small school where they had been for 4 years with their friends. My oldest son was bullied by 4 boys & choked by another. 4th grade teacher refused to report it & let him report it. 3 years now my sons have continued to be discriminated, harassed, &… Read more »

11/05/2015 9:18 pm

a student cannot be truant if there is reasonable excuse, it should be written in their iep that a student disabilities that may cause them to miss classesis a violation of their rights under civil law, to be labeled truant. please follow the folowing steps….

Colleen D
02/15/2012 9:41 am

What can be done if a parent is unable to obtain an IEP for their child? Can the 504 be modified, like an IEP, to provide support for a child with an ongoing medical condition?

11/05/2015 9:19 pm
Emma B.
02/14/2012 1:58 pm

Angela: Take your child to the doc or an urgent care each time he is ill, and misses school and/or is late to school. Make sure you get a copy of the paperwork from EVERY visit. Then, make an appt. with your pediatrician to discuss the frequent illnesses and get documentation of that visit. Keep a copy of each letter you send to school and document all your child’s illnesses/symptoms.
Our child has several Dx, an IEP, missed the “magic” number of school days. The principal still decided to go ahead with the truancy charge in our county.… Read more »

11/06/2015 11:25 pm

a truant officer came to my home when my son used to be sick a lot. so he did with my daughter as well when she was sick a lot. some kids get sick easier than others. once they both stopped going to public school they are rarely sick with colds or flu. however i did reqiest a truant officer to come see for himself as i wasnt about to take sick kids out to a doctor. he came he saw he verified. hope he caught something too, at least once. we never heard back on sock days 😉

02/14/2012 12:53 pm

I have a straight” A” Asperger’s child, who just needs a little more sleep (a morning or two a month) now that school is starting earlier. Is there a specific I could look up to help when I go for his IEP in two weeks?
We love in PA.

11/05/2015 9:21 pm

yes you can have it written into their iep plan that their disability is a reasonable excuse to not be considered truant

Terry G
02/14/2012 12:19 pm

My daughter’s new hs repeatedly failed to fully implement her 504 (now special ed IEP) leading to Fs, anorexia nervosa, an irregular racing pulse and depression. Despite repeated letters from her psychiatrist, her school filed a criminal truancy charge (since 2002 TX has criminalized truancy, letting the school and the city where the JP or municipal court sits split the fees). It took 3 terms, multiple ARD meetings (with a court reporter present), a special ed advocate and a special ed lawyer to get the truancy charge dropped. But now, in the 4th term, the general ed teacher who… Read more »

02/14/2012 11:00 am

I am curious if there is anything that can be done for a child without a diagnosis – but misses school because he simply gets ill easily. My child only misses school for appropriate illness and doesn’t always require a dr. visit. Now, because he has missed the “magic” number, he is receiving unexcused absences if I don’t take him to the dr. for every missed day of school. This is a child with straight A’s and is 1-2 grade levels above in all skills. Yet we are headed down the path of labeling this child… Read more »

11/06/2015 11:32 pm

amgela yes. contact a doctor and request a evaluation report that will show low imminty and easy risk of illness. request it be written in to a 504 plan. or request the school.start sending a truant officer who can verify each illness. as truancy is without a reasonable excuse to my belief.

12/08/2011 8:30 am

Very helpful information. I have several questions about truancy laws in Alabama as related to special needs students. Could you give me a link that would help answer my questions?

08/20/2011 11:54 am

My children, 13 and 7 year old, require vision therapy to improve his school performance. They have to leave school early in order to be on time for their therapy every Mondays at 2:00pm. Is there a provision on the IEP where they can be excempt or not count on their attendance as a absency?

11/06/2015 11:34 pm

absolutely!!! under disability rights laws the american disabilities act and the idea, anything to do with regards to a disability therapy etc should never be counted as a truancy! request a 504 or iep plan to ensure this is followed by law.

05/25/2010 2:21 pm

My daughter was diagnosed with Epilepsy two years ago, she had missed alot of school due to having seizures during sleep, she was put on homebound for most of the year, returning this year. We are trying to get a “fresh” start and after many more fines, the school doesnt see this as a disability. She was bullied, and nothing was done, she became severely depressed, and had to attend, a “bad” kids school for three months. She also struggles with other health problems. The school turns there heads and the truancy officer harasses me, and speaks horrible to me,… Read more »

11/06/2015 11:38 pm

wow sounds exactly like what steps they did to us!!!file due process or contact a civil rights attorney. read up on iep and 504 plans. as well a your state laws regarding special education. as well as federal laws regardig the same rights for an iep etc. fir disabilities. definitely contact the us department of education civil rights office and file a complaint stating exactly what you wrote here. keep me posted!

05/08/2009 7:29 am

My son has a sleep disorder as well as emotional and medical issues. We have a chronic illness note to excuse him whenever absent or late for a bad day. We also had home instruction. Entering highschool we are trying a modified school day- 1/2 day with core courses and flexibilty if having bad day-all in IEP, which is the important part. We filed a complaint investigation-and won which brings the state in to monitor-they can not discriminate. We have also been advised that it can lead to civil case. Help can be found at board of ed, county level… Read more »

05/05/2009 4:15 pm

Our son now 14 yrs old, has had sleep inertia since he was 7 yrs old due to a neurological disorder.
Our school district has not been understanding to meet the req.special needs he is entitled for FAPE all of his yrs. in public Ed. Since we have been ADVOCATING for three sons the past 11 1/2 yrs of living in this community, two have H/S diplomas and the youngest has private one on one instruction with academic therapy twice weekly and x5 daily practice sessions to assist in math. We do school seven days a week an hr+ … Read more »

05/05/2009 10:35 am

Very helpful article. I will share it with parents and colleagues as we work through potential problems in cases where the student has sleep and truancy issues.

05/05/2009 8:55 am

I had a similar issue with my child. I simply informed the school that his behavior was a manifestation of his disability and that I would be glad to prove that in a hearing if they wished. At that point, they no longer pushed the issue. I would say that forcing a child with insomnia to start the school day at a set time may violate Scetion 504 and the 14th Amnendment. In my case, the school agreed with me.

05/05/2009 7:57 am

Not only do school districts need to look at start times for high schools but there needs to be legislation to determine at what time is it appropriate to start school for all children. In a response to new research on sleep and circadian rhthyms, school districts are flipping their high school start times with the younger elementary schools. These children are at much risk for health and learning issues if they too start school too early. You cannot look at one age group and neglect the other. many children with learning disabilities are more prone… Read more »

05/05/2009 7:24 am

I work with an adolescent who has been labeled ‘truant’ , now on probation and DCF control due to missing school secondary to severe social anxiety and depression stemming from loss issues. This girl is extremely bright and talented. She has a 504 plan which give her a late school day but did not allow for ‘bad days’. Now on top of the anxiety, she is faced with possible removal from her home if she ‘misses one more day’. This issue of truancy as a criminal behavior should be examined in the context of the child’s impairment; a symptom… Read more »

05/04/2009 5:25 pm

As a high-school teacher with my own child who was growing up and in the grade-school system, there has been many pressures and perhaps imbalances at different times of the month. I talked with live forever at and they helped me to stop and think about the day to day schedule and diet of our son. Together worked through some of the details and guided me on my own research into the various aspects of sleep deprivation. Thanks for the internet!

04/30/2009 1:29 pm

My son had EBV (Epstein Barr) for at least 3 years where his blood level count for the virus was very high. He was awaiting residential care during most of this time, so the school district IEP offered him
2 1/2 hrs. a day with a special teacher, in both a public high school special ed class and in a Nonpublic school.

With medication and rest he got better. But we needed a doctor’s letter to explain the virus, the fact that it is not contagious, and the need for sleep. Behavior was faulted in at least… Read more »

04/25/2009 6:35 am

Excellent Point. Our son, now 18 at the age of 12-13 was being treated for a sleep disorder by a neurologist. It was brought on by huge hormonal changes with extreme growth which manifested itself through migraines in the morning. Eventually because of the truancy charges and prosecution along with an insensitive teacher negatively singling him out in front of his peers the day his grandmother died, he became phobic regarding school. Long story short, his IEP included homebound services- which were initially used, then modifications for him being able to go to a darker, quiet place for his… Read more »

04/22/2009 2:06 pm

My son was diagnosed with 4 sleep disorders and depending on the state service is difficult but not impossible. He receives instruction from the local high school under the Hospital Homebound provision. His condition is documented and his physician completes the form each year for the services. He also has an IEP to assist with accommodations such as the teaching schedule, class note taking, reading and more. I hope this information helps and that in your state there is a similar program available.

04/22/2009 12:14 pm

Very good post. It is something, I believe, I suffer from and had no idea that there was anything proactive to do about it. Wish I had looked into it earlier!