IEP FAQs: Can More than one Disability Be Listed in an IEP?

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I was told that only one disability can be documented in the IEP. My son has an IEP for ADHD. He also has a sleep disorder. After our high school started block scheduling this year, my son missed so many of his first two classes that he fell far behind. He had to go to part time status.

The school refused to provide any support for him saying it wasn’t in his IEP.

I wanted to add it to the IEP. I provided the school with all the doctors information and notes documenting the condition. I was told that only one disability can be documented in the IEP.

Answer – of course. More than one disability can be documented in your child’s IEP. (Feel free to vote in the poll at the end of this article.)

Can a child be blind and in a wheelchair?

Can a child have a specific learning disability, a severe visual impairment, an orthopedic impairment – and ADHD?

The IEP is an individualized program based on your child’s unique needs. The special ed statute (IDEA) and regulations do not say that a child’s IEP can be limited to only one disability or need.

In the law it is clear that a child does not even have to have a label to be eligible for services.

Before getting into a battle with the school, you need to get a much better understanding of the law and your rights. As the parent of a child with a disability, you represent your child’s interests. You need to know what the law actually says and how to find answers to your questions in the IDEA statute and regulations.

School personnel’s knowledge of the law is often based what they were told in a training program or by “word of mouth.” Like parents, few educators question what they are told. Very few school staff have read the law.

If you don’t have a copy of IDEA 2004 and the regulations, get one now!

You can download most of these documents from the Wrightslaw site. Click here for an overview of the IDEA statute.

You’ll also find answers to your questions in the Commentary to the Special Education Regulations. In the Commentary, the Department explains why a regulation was changed, not changed, and often clarifies the “plain meaning” of a term.


Thanks for taking the time to vote in the IEP Poll below.

Is more than one disability documented in your child's IEP?

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  1. My daughter had listed on her IEP specific learning disablitiy and other health impairment throughout her elementary and middle school years . We have moved and her IEP now reads only Emotionally Disabled, and I stated that she has a specific learning disability which then was told she is under an umbrella and doesn’t need to have specific learning disability listed on her IEP. She failed the first nine weeks….how do you get a school system to listen to you? They had her previous IEP from the beginning and it didn’t matter to them. How can parents explain to school systems that they don’t want their children under the umbrella clause? My daughter has suffered greatly. I need to know what to do to help my daughter.

  2. I am an advocate with our State’s Protection and Advocacy Agency. At the very least place all your child’s disabilities, diagnosis, and deficits inside his present level in his IEP. Your child’s school must address and make goals pertaining to any areas that interfere with his learning. Make sure you have plenty of data supporting his diagnosis through outside evaluations. Also gather any work examples, report card remarks from teachers and any other data supporting his disability. If need be request a comprehensive evaluation from the school, and if you do not agree with their evaluation, request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at the school’s expense, but bottom line have evidence supporting all disabilities and place them into his present level of academic and funtional performance.

  3. I have a 6 year old and the guidance counselor told me that my son did not need an IEP on him because he takes meds for his ADHD everyday. To me that is not making any sense and i need some answers who would i go and speak to?

  4. Yes, a child can have more than one disability listed in his/her IEP. My nephew is listed as a learning disability and speech impairment, ADHD and autism.

    Too many. Too confusing. Far beyond my understanding.

    His doctors said he was a child with ADHD and autism.

    School psy. and speech lang. pathologist disagreed. They said the child was listed as a learning disability and speech impairement (pracmatics). However, they said they would discuss the ideas of the child demonstrating Primary Disability, Second Disability, and Teriary Disability as his eligibility in the next IEP meeting.

    Hello, any suggestions?

  5. Tricia: When one of my older disabled children was out of school sick, we learned the hard way after being dragged to court how necessary documentation/doctors notes are. This time we got a form off the Dept of Education site, I think it’s a Dr/3r or something about 14 consecutive days or non consecutive days of absences. Our Doctors first filled it for a month, now for the rest of the year, attached to my son’s school records listing his days absent so where covered. According to DOE the school is required to provide tutoring… we’ll see.. MaryJ

  6. At first our school had my son listed under a general disability, like an emotional disability due to his anxiety, I fought with them about his processing problems. We had him tested years ago and were told he has a( CAPD Central Auditory Processing development ). I think it was under additional info on the IEP. One Problem is they keep dropping things from his IEP, but in the 3 year eval and other tests the school said these problems were still present. We got a new administrator who looked at the facts and had no problem including this information. Despite this, the school overwhelmed my child, put him in higher level classes but without the right accommodations. They were setting him up to fail. He stopped going to school, was always sleeping and needed meds. Finally back to school now and trying to not get overwhelmed! yikes!

  7. I have 14 year old twin sons who both have dyslexia and dysgraphia in addition to physical disabilities, which have kept them out of school since. Dec. 11th 2009. I took me over a month to get the tutoring started. But I will tell you the most irriating part of all this process has been having to give them everything the require – dr. notes with specific dates, excuse notes for each day of absence from their m.d yet they have not even followed what services my children are suppose to be receiving from their IEP. Being so busy I have not had an opportunity to look at the law and the consequesnces to the school for not following the modifications etc…

  8. Hello everyone,

    ADHD and Sleep Disorders are not recognized disabilities under the IDEA. There are only 14 disabilities listed in the IDEA. They are:
    Intellectual Disability,
    Speech or Language Impairments,
    Hearing Impairment,
    Visual Impairments (including blindness),
    Emotional Disturbance,
    Orthopedic Impairments,
    Traumatic Brain Injury,
    Other Health Impairments,
    Specific Learning Disabilities;
    Multiple Disabilities, and
    Developmental Delay

    Don’t be alarmed. ADHD and sleep disorders might be appropriate under “Other Health Impairment” if they have an impact on the student’s educational performance and, the student requires specialized instruction. Therefore, the primary disability is Other Health Impairment. The PLOP would discuss ADHD and the sleep disorder.

  9. Could it be possible that you are confusing listing disabilities in an IEP, with the category that the child is found eligible under? For example, one may classify your child under the category of OHI (due to AD/HD) but of course, should also put somewhere in the IEP that your child has diabetes, and how that is being addressed or may impact upon their AD/HD and educational progress. NJ code does not require us to make a child eligible as Multiply Disabled (with more than one disability) unless that child requires two different programs to address both disabilities. For eg, a child with AD/HD and SLD will often be classified under only OHI or SLD. However, that does not mean the impact of the other disability would not also be stated within the IEP, even if that was not used to qualify the child for services.

  10. I was told at my daughter’s last IEP meeting because she wasn’t medicated for ADD, that the OHI label would be removed. This district is the one that labeled her way back in 1st grade with the OHI label because of the ADD. She also had a SLD label from another district, and this current district removed that also. The supervisor only likes the child to have one label, which is ridiculous.

  11. I need help getting the school to adhere to the school till 21 rule. She will graduate this year and cannot read or do math. She cant identify letters or numbers. Any suggestions?

  12. The regulations state your childs unique needs have to be met.
    Every diagnosis your child has is part of his/hers unique needs which should be written into their IEP. One can not just address
    part of the problem, the whole child has to be looked in order to see growth.

  13. It’s a very frustrating situtation, when you have too fight the “system” to get your child tested, and yes, they don’t read anything. When you have a counselor tell you “this is my field, then watch them ignore all the laws, it makes it that much more difficult to get your child the help he/she needs.
    Unfortuneatly, the child is most often the loser in this.

  14. My son was recently evaluated for an IEP for ADHD, and it was determined that no IEP would be assigned. In order to understand the track record my school has in creating IEPs for its students, is it within my rights to request access to public records about the number of requested and granted IEPs from my school and the criteria which allowed the IEP’s to be granted to some students?

  15. Does anyone have a sample IEP for a child with Type 1 diabetes? We are having issues at school with no one trained to watch her. The law requires a trained person but does not say what trained is. So we are sunk right now. Our lawyer said to get a IEP as it has more teeth than 504. However the sp. ed. department is resistant. I need to know how to secure an IEP. Ideas?

  16. Regina:

    At least in Ohio, every preschool student who receives specialized services MUST undergo a transition evaluation before entering kindergarten. This is essentially a reevaluation to determine whether they qualify under a school-age category. A new IEP would be written after that evaluation is complete.

  17. My 5 year old son is in a special day class for SLI and he has type 1 diabetes and his doctor put a request in writing to provide him with an individual aide. I asked for an IEP to discuss the possibilities of having his won aide and the principal let me know that they don’t have to do as the doctor has asked because that is not what IEPs are for. Yet, he also explained that a 504 wouldn’t help him at all either. What should I do.

  18. The diagnosis that qualified my son under IDEA was ADD through the OHI door. However, he also has dysgraphia & dyscalculia, so I wanted academic goals in the IEP to address writing, spelling and math. School told me the IEP could only address the qualifying disability, that is until he failed the writing and math TAKs tests – now the school is interested in academic goals. Glad we’re getting there, but a shameful waste of time and hardship for my son.

  19. If a preschool student had an school aide for support in the classroom, but now the student is going into kindergarden. Will that IEP still serve and the school district must supply an aide for the new school year until a new IEP is written?

  20. If a student has an IEP in a classroom, what is the classroom teacher’s responsibility to that child and also to the rest of the class? For example, if a student has 4 IEP’s and the teacher has to spend 4 times as much time for 1 IEP and then it doubles for each additional IEP, when is that teacher supposed to actually teach the rest of the students in the classroom? It seems to me the rest of the class is not going to get any learning if the classroom teacher has to spend so much time with the one student.

    • Kurt: I’m confused about your statement that “a student has 4 IEPs and the teacher has to spent 4 times as much time for 1 IEP then it doubles for each additional IEP …”
      One child has one IEP (not 4). Each child’s IEP includes measurable annual goals to meet that child’s needs. In developing these goals, the IEP team looks at the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. The IEP is a plan that describes in writing the special education services, related services and supplementary aids and services the school agreed to provide that child.

      The purpose of the special education law is to meet the child’s unique needs and prepare the child for further education, employment and independent living. This sounds a lot like like the purpose of public education.

  21. Kristi,

    CFR 300.306 (c) Procedures for determining eligibility and educational need:

    (2) If a determination is made that a child has a disability and needs special education and related services, an IEP must be developed for the child in accordance with Sec. Sec. 300.320 through 300.324.

  22. HELP, My daughter has ADHD, sensery intergration disorder, ODD, PDD, and major depressive disorder and school says she dos’nt need a IEP. yeah right! please help. Has anyone else been in this situation? Do you have ideas? Is there a law saying she needs to have an that I can refer to, saying you need to help and give my child a IEP because she is falling thrugh the cracks? HELP!!!!!!

  23. My son’t IEP says autistic. I know he has multiple disorders from his medical diagnosis, but the child study team didn’t identify the rest. Can I have them added based on his medical diagnosis. I think that’s why he’s not getting everything he needs. When I questioned the team, they said I wanted things for him that were not education-related. Like, social skills training, occupational therapy, riding therapy for sensory integration. Should I go back and insist? Thank you, I love this site. I may never stop reading!

  24. My child has several disabilities stemming from a neurological condition. Among these are ADHD, sensory integration disorders, speech and constructional dyspraxia, dysgraphia. Even has not been evaluated in all areas of suspected disability because no such professional exists in our area to evaluate (audiological processing). The school system labeled MMR and pulled speech services due to this (they claim child reached highest expected level of performance). This is common in our area.

  25. As a special education teacher, I know that a child certainly can have more than one disability. Sometimes I wonder if we are applying too many labels, but I understand that labels are mostly there to help direct services. I am wondering about the one statement in bold that says, “In the law it is clear that the child does not even have to have a label to be eligible for services.” This is confusing to me…are you referring to a 504 plan? I would love to be able to qualify a child for services even without a disability. Where can I find this language in the law?

  26. In my experience as a psychologist, the IEP is written for the child’s needs as identified, the evaluation is the where the classification is determined. On the evaluation is where we list all the areas where a child may need service. As others have pointed out, there are many instances where children have multiple needs. Otherwise we wouldn’t have related services if speech, occupational therapists, etc, because we would only address the main concern. Where I live, there aren’t any ‘labels’ on the IEP at all, you have to look at the evaluation data to see which of the 13 eligibility catergories was considered. Therefore in this case, the child’s medical needs could be mentioned in the IEP with no problems, as it is something that adversely impacts his education.

  27. As an Educational Advocate and parent of a child with multiple challenges I have experienced years of IEPs and misperceptions. An IEP should address any disabilities that may interfere with your child’s ability to learn. While there may be one primary disability listed, by no means does this mean it can be the only one. Good Luck.

  28. I speak as both a special needs consultant and the parent of an adult child (now gainfully emloyed as a hydraulics technician on a nuclear submarine) who benefitted from a properly written and implemented IEP. If a child exhibits more than one disability that will inhibit him/her from “making effective progress” without the appropriate modifications and/or accommodations, each disability with the corrective action must be written into the IEP and implemented as prescribed.

  29. My daughter has PDD, Dysgrapia, Verbal Apraxia, and Motor Dyspraxia and ADHD. Her IEP lable is EMH. With having that lable being in the duval county school district, I was told that she did not quailify for small group setting and autism program they have untill her lable changes. They said they have to do a reevaluation on her IEP before they can change it. Why can’t they just add PDD to her lable and send her over to the school with the program? I gave them all the documents that have her diagnosis on them.

  30. Amy: It is not unusual for a child to have more than one disability. Many children with SLDs are labeled ED. This is common if they don’t learn to read and write, are not successful in school, and become frustrated and depressed.

    A child who is blind, deaf, has cognitive impairments and/or autism, may have emotional problems that stem from the original disability. A child with ADHD may be “labeled” as having a specific learning disability, other health impairment, and/or emotional disorder.

    This is why schools are required to complete a comprehensive evaluation. It’s essential to identify all conditions that may have a negative impact on the child’s ability to learn.

  31. IDEA does not require a child to be labeled with a disability before receiving special education services.

    “… Nothing in this title requires that children be classified by their disability so long as each child who has a disability listed in Section 1401 of this title and who, by reason of that disability, needs special education and related services is regarded as a child with a disability under this part.” See 20 USC 1412(a)(3)(B)

    If the child has a disability that adversely affects educational performance (i.e., the child is eligible for special education services under Section 1401(3) of IDEA) the school is not required to determine the child’s “label” or classification before providing services. Schools often spend months doing evaluations before providing any special education services while the child falls further behind.

  32. Can a child be emotionally disturbed and mentally retarded? Are there cases to support this? What about emotional disturbance and learning disabled? I know that the IEP should reflect the needs of each individual child, but how common could this be?

  33. My Zac has been diagnosed with: MMR, ADHD, Severe mixed language disorder, PDD/NOS, ODD ,OCD and Tourettes. But he is considered MMR, Period. So none of the other conditions are addressed. I simply do not know how to get it through to the school to help him in these other areas! By the way, he receives two SPED classes a day , period, regular ed the rest of the day. One fifteen minute session once a week with the school counselor.

  34. I am a moderate/severe special education teacher. If a child has more than one disability (i.e. the student has learning disorder and the student is hard of hearing) the pysch assessing the student may document both disabilities. Since hard of hearing students are considered low-incidence, this would benefit both student and school because they would receive special funding (at least in the state of California). The psych is not REQUIRED to list more than one disability since the primary disability qualifies the student for special education services. However, the IEP is not legally limited to one disability. The decision to list more than one disability is left to the discretion of the psych doing the assessment. However, it is against the law to tell someone that only one disability may be listed on an IEP.

      • IDEA rules do not address whether a student can have more than 1 disability label. The rules do say the evaluation must be “sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.” 300304(c)(6)

  35. My son has autism and Type 1 diabetes. Both are documented in his IEP. Indeed, both MUST be documented. If we left out the diabetes, it could lead to life threatening consequences. If we left out his autism, he would not receive the accommodations he needs to be academically successful.

    You might approach this by being sure the school had the appropriate documentation, and it sounds like you did. Then you might use the “Columbo” approach, asking questions about how the specific consequences of the sleep disorder will be addressed.

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