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Learning disabilities and other challenges

My child has a diag­nosed learning disability. Can he or she get into any schools?

The easy answer is, “Yes, of course!” — but let’s not get too cute. In fact, there is much to unpack in this very broad question, because there are many different types of learning disabilities and many different types of schools. Though many students may share similar profiles, each family’s situation is unique. Sorry to punt, but this question really begs for a more nuanced discussion. Call or write if you’d like to initiate one.

Do schools consider AD/HD a learning disability?

Maybe yes, maybe no, but that’s mostly semantics. The better question is how different schools regard attention challenges, and the answer is, not surprisingly: It depends on the kind of school and the severity of the attention challenge. The application process is holistic, so almost every school will accommodate mild attention challenges if an applicant presents other desirable qualities. Again, because this is such a personal and individual question, it would be best discussed one-to-one.

My child had a neuro-psych test. Do we have to disclose it?

This is really two questions: 1) Must we disclose it, and 2) Should we disclose it? Let me state up-front that I am not a lawyer, and my advice and understanding is based on a layperson’s (experienced) interpretation of applicable law. If you would like actual legal advice, I can recommend one or two capable education attorneys. From my own perspective, then:

The first question is whether you are obligated to disclose testing, regardless of its findings. You are not. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”), with which most people are familiar, provides that medical records are private and only available on a right-to-know basis unless a patient consents to disclosure. Your child’s neuro-psychological evaluation is governed by HIPAA rules, and therefore you cannot be compelled to disclose it. In addition, the Federal Educational Records Privacy Act of 1974 (“FERPA”) provides that parents of children under 18 own their children’s educational records, and may distribute them, or not, as they see fit. A neuro-psychological evaluation is also an educational record, so you may be protected twice.

The second question is whether you should provide testing results with an application. If the testing is older than three years, the answer is: Probably not. Most organizations won’t even use it if it’s that old. There are situations when the testing can be helpful, but most of those probably apply only after your child has matriculated. However, if the testing is more recent, the answer is: Probably yes, for two reasons: a) It is hard to believe a school will serve a student better if it knows less about that student; and b) While these issues can provoke anxiety, it’s hard for parents to expect a good-faith effort by schools if the parents do not show good faith themselves by trusting the school with sensitive information. Withholding important data is not usually the best start to a relationship. Remember as well: While this report is likely the first one you’ve encountered, and it feels very personal, admission officers and administrators at any school have seen scores of reports like this. They’re pros, right?

If you disclose information and your child is not admitted, I encourage you not to view that as a statement that your child is “not good enough.” Rather, it’s more likely that a school recognizes that serving your child effectively is not within their skill sets and capabilities. Even if rejection stings initially, my experience says that it’s preferable to spending many years at a school that does not serve your child well. That’s a losing proposition from the first day.