The assessment of students with disabilities occurs across several settings. In some cases, a disorder is suspected early in a child's life, and appropriate evaluations are conducted before the elementary school years in order for the child to qualify for early intervention services. In other cases, classroom teachers suspect the existence of a disorder and use a variety of pre-referral strategies and assessments to determine whether a full evaluation and referral to special education are necessary. If a full evaluation is warranted, a variety of assessment instruments are used to evaluate the child's abilities. Although many experts in ADHD advocate for comprehensive psychological and even medical evaluations, IDEA '04 does not require such costly medical or psychiatric diagnoses for these individuals (Weyandt, 2001; U.S. Department of Education, 2005). Finally, unless otherwise noted in an IEP, all students must participate in state- and district-wide standardized testing; in these cases, assessment accommodations may be warranted for a child with a disability. All of these situations, and applications for students with ADHD, are discussed next.
The symptoms of ADHD do arise during early childhood, but the acknowledgement of their presence is often retrospective. In other words, few preschoolers are identified as having ADHD because of (1) the fear of misidentifying children as having disabilities when their problems may be due to developmental lags or immaturity and (2) the fact that the characteristics of ADHD (e.g., short attention span, being in constant motion) are typical of many young children without ADHD. Thus, unless doctors and education professionals can document some incident that caused brain damage, identification during the early childhood years is not likely (NIMH, 2005). Nevertheless, the federal government requires that for students to receive special education services for ADHD, the symptoms must have been present before the age of seven (OSEP, 2003).
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