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Below is a discussion on classification, labels, and IEPs from the Database.

Classification: Labeling in Special Education

from Candy: I’m writing a journal article on labeling in special education and my stance is that a child’s specific disability label does not need to be listed in the IEP. My adviser told me that it is against the law not to list the disability. Can someone please advise me so I make sure I do not make a suggestion that is illegal.

from JG:  Candy –I want to differentiate a student’s disability category (or label) from the student’s actual disability/diagnosis. For example a student may be placed in the category of Orthopedic Impairment, and their actual diagnosis may be cerebral palsy.
The disability category is not a medical diagnosis, but rather an agreement that the individual student’s profile is consistent with the regulatory definition of the disability category. The disability category is *intended* to be used for reporting purposes, not to determine a student’s services or placement.

As the Dept of Ed wrote in the commentary for IDEA 2004, “special education and related services are based on the identified needs of the child and not on the disability category in which the child is classified.”

from Chuck:  Over the years I have heard people take this position. It must be documented that a student has a disability under the IDEA definition. However, unless state rules say that it must be documented in the IEP, federal rules do not say that the decision is made by the IEP team or must be recorded in the IEP. Districts find it easy & convenient to record this in the IEP.

from JG:  Again, the disability category info is for reporting purposes. The info is used, along with other student demographics, at the local, state, and federal levels for monitor trends, allocate funds, and other purposes.

The data is essential, though there is no real reason to include it on the IEP. IDEA requires that eligible students be categorized and that this information be reported to the federal Dept of Ed, but does not explicitly require that the info be included on the IEP.

Regarding the student’s actual disability/diagnosis, this absolutely should be included on the IEP. IDEA requires that the IEP include info about how the student’s disability impacts their education. This info, gleamed from evaluations, is how Teams determine what supports and services a student needs.

from Marita:  Are you implying that it is better that we keep the child’s specific disability a secret from the professionals who will work with the child for 6 hours per day? As a regular education teacher, I simply can’t understand how that would be beneficial. I recently took over a 7th grade class that had seven students who qualified because they had a specific learning disability. Some were also ADHD – but that info wasn’t included in the IEP.

According to IDEA guidelines, it didn’t need to be. I was appalled that I wasn’t given that information, I needed to know.
Wouldn’t we simply be advancing the concept that a disability is something of which a person should be ashamed?

from Chuck:  IDEA requires that an IEP identify & address all needs the student has. This is more important & helpful than the diagnosis/label. An evaluation must be “sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s sp ed. & related services needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.” 300.304(c)(6)

from Marita:  Can you give an example of a situation where it would be beneficial for the diagnosis to be a secret? I suppose it could be because the parents are concerned that the teacher might break confidentiality. That should never happen.

Here’s why I think a teacher should know: I have ADHD, the majority of my students have ADHD (I teach the expelled teens), but none of the sped professionals have ADHD. If I know the diagnosis, I can really be helpful. I can also model that ADHD is nothing of which to be ashamed.
At the very least, teachers could get specific information from a book or website – but only if they know.

from JG:  I don’t think a diagnosis should be kept secret, but it’s not the most important info on the IEP. The IEP must include info on how the child’s disability specifically impacts them. This is very different from how a diagnosis is expected to impact a random child with the diagnosis.

With my own son, we’ve had some doctors who’ve had expectations based on his diagnosis that simply didn’t match up with the real life him. I know parents who’ve had similar experiences with school personnel.

I know most teachers don’t rely only on the diagnosis. But, if removing the diagnosis from the IEP kept the Team from pigeonholing the child based on that and not their actual needs, that would certainly be a situation where leaving it off would be helpful.

Find more Q and As about Classification on the Q and A Database at

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  1. FYI: All forms of ADD are covered under ADHD. There are no more subtypes. The diagnostic criteria for ADHD was changed recently in the manual physicians use to diagnose the deficit. ADHD is now classified under neurodevelopmental disorders in the DSM-V.
    Look up executive function deficit too. This may help you learn why he has difficulty turning in his homework and give you strategies about the best ways to advocate for accommodations.
    Tom Brown, PhD from Yale University does a great job of explaining ADHD and executive function deficit.
    I learned a lot of what I know from attending CHADD conferences.
    CHADD is the national organization that provides current and valid research based information about ADHD. I hope this helps.

  2. I’ve heard the argument for both sides about whether to include or not include a diagnosis directly in the IEP. I also understand that a diagnosis is not the same as an educational determination category and that services are based on unique needs. However, I have had 2 states deny my child SLD determination. One diagnosis is specifically mentioned in the SLD category. He also qualifies under OHI for ADHD. I also have an independent Neurocognitive eval.. Indicating a learning disability with moderate impact in multiple areas along with another Ed. Category that the schools states in under control with medication. I have found that there is nothing preventing my current state from using the word dyslexia in an IEP. I think a diagnosis in the IEP can help to make it clear why the student was determined with the educational label In the first place and adds some forced accountability on the schools side when it’s embraced and recognized. It’s a starting place so teachers know where to start and aren’t left reinventing the wheel trying to guess what services and supports are needed. In an ideal world, we would all love to think that th schools will understand, be trained sufficiently, and do the right thing…..unfortunately….that’s not always the case.

  3. I want to shadow my grandson in a new school, he is not bringing homework home , etc.
    He has an IEP teacher in a study hall that gives him extra help. He has ADD and ADHD. None of this was told to all the teachers because I did not want him labeled. He had a rough start, in school suspensions because of incidents with other boys. I had to take him to the urgent care and also a CAT scan because of one of the fights. He has settled down a lot, the teachers are cooperative, however , he is “forgetting” to bring assignments home. I want to shadow him in school for a few days to let him know we are serious about him bringing and remembering to bring home assignments. I was told I could not do this because of confidentiality and the Sandusky Thing from Penn state. What can I do to be able to attend this school? It is in Pa. My grandson is in the 8th grade. Please advise!!

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