What’s the Difference? Diagnostic labels vs. special education classifications.  


The doctor tells you your child has ADHD and so does the IEP team at school, so they’ve both diagnosed your child, right? Not exactly. 

Some parents enter an IEP meeting anxious for their child to receive a diagnosis. On the other hand, some parents may be hesitant or fully against diagnostic labels believing it will stay with their child forever. The truth is that schools do not diagnose students but rather label students from the 13 special education classification that are aligned with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The 13 classification include:  

  • AutismBlindness 
  • Deafness 
  • Emotional Disturbance 
  • Hearing Impairment 
  • Intellectual Disability 
  • Multiple Disabilities 
  • Orthopedic Impairment 
  • Other Health Impaired ( Includes Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder-ADHD) 
  • Specific Learning Disability 
  • Speech or Language Impairment 
  • Traumatic Brain Injury 
  • Visual Impairment 


So why can’t you receive a diagnosis from your child’s school? Diagnostic labels are typically used by a clinical psychologist or a doctor, pediatric neuropsychologist, or other qualified clinical professionalwho is trained to diagnose individuals using guidelines from the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual, fifth Edition (DSM-V). School psychologist or those professionals working within schools may classify rather than diagnose a student. In the school, conditions must affect the child’s ability to function in the classroom or elsewhere in the school to meet criteria for one of the thirteen classificationsA diagnosis does not automatically qualify a child for special education. However, a diagnosis might be enough to qualify your child for 504 accommodations504 classifications are specific accommodations to help a student if their condition is substantially limiting to a major life activity and impacts their education (e.g. preferential seating or reduced homework for a student with ADHD). School classifications can change every year as the child makes progress, and some children do so well with supports that they no longer need special education services. Therefore, parents should not be afraid of school classifications, as they are simply meant to assist in educational planning to ensure Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE).


By: Dr. Teneisha McIntyre 

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