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Accommodations for Learning Disabilities and ADHD

by Dr. Stephen Mouton, Clinical Psychologist, LOs Angeles, CA

Accommodations are a way to "level the playing field" for individuals with learning disabilities or ADHD when the disability affects their performance in the classroom or on specialized exams such as the SAT, LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, Bar Exam or Medical licensing exam.

A diagnosis of a learning disability or ADHD is not enough to qualify for accommodations on a national standardized exam, but may be adequate for the school classroom, provided the diagnosis was made by a qualified, licensed professional, using recognized testing instruments and testing was performed within the last three years for children and five years for adults.

Having a history of treatment for learning disabilities or ADHD is also not adequate by itself to qualify for accommodations. One of the biggest mistakes made by parents and patients is thinking that their history or diagnosis made by a professional is all that is required to get extended time on tests such as the the SAT, LSAT, MCAT or GMAT.

The professional who is treating LD or ADHD symptoms, may not have objectively measuring the impact of the symptoms, using age equivalents, grade equivalents and percentile rankings based on national norms and analyzed the results to provide objective evidence and support for accommodations in a report.

Most often a professional, such as a Psychiatrist, who has been treating a patient for ADHD for a number of years or a therapist who has been working with the symptoms, writes a letter recommending accommodations without providing test results that would support the accommodations recommended. Requesting accommodations on a board exam with only an opinion letter is a sure way of getting denied accommodations and getting "red flagged."

Very specific, nationally recognized tests are required to receive accommodations. Additionally, a recognized diagnosis from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision, DSM-IV-TR is required in the petition paperwork. Generic diagnoses such as "learning disability", "dyslexia" and "auditory processing disorders" are not recognized diagnoses, but rather a description of a broad range of symptoms in a particular area. The DSM-IV-TR gives specific code numbers that identify a diagnosis and have specific criteria that must be met to be eligible for a particular diagnosis.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA is the law that mandates reasonable accommodations for individuals with a recognizable disability. The professional writing the supporting report must provide evidence of "significant impact" to qualify under the A.D.A. It is often A.D.A. requirements that testing board committees cite as being the reason for denial, even when a diagnosis exists and there is a history of treatment and previous accommodations.

It is up to the individual petitioning to be sure all of the required tests are administered, that the tests are the most current versions, that all required paperwork, evidence and deadlines are met. Cut off deadlines for accommodations are usually different than the deadlines for taking a standardized test without accommodations.

Small towns often do not have experts in accommodations and it is often worth while to travel to a larger city to seek an expert with previous experience assessing for the accommodations requested. It is especially important to get an expert in the area of accommodations, rather than the broader area of testing for learning disabilities or ADHD when the test is of significant importance to long term education or career, such as the GMAT, MCAT, LSAT, Bar exam or Medical licensing exam. Unfortunately, once a committee has denied an applicant for insufficient evidence, regardless of the reason, the chances of actually being able to reapply for accommodations and get them accepted is reduced substantially.

Researching professionals on the internet and inquiring about testing, fees, tests given, previous experience, licensure and educational level will help increase the chance you are dealing with an expert in the area of accommodations you seek. The consumer is at the mercy of the professional and it is especially important for the consumer to be aware of all the requirements, tests and forms required. Visit the test website and print the required documents and tests and reference it when you are interviewing professionals.

Relying only on a professional telling you they have done this type of testing before is an invitation for disaster. I have heard from dozens of "duped"parents and students who unfortunately took the professional at their word without doing an informed interview about tests and how they document the disability's impact. Quiz their knowledge, inquire about their understanding of the ADA, ask for the number and type of tests, ask about the length of their report and what is included. Usually the required report is 15–25 pages long with supplemental forms that must be completed depending on the exam requirements. Insurance does not cover educational testing, however it may cover psychological testing, but not the extensive requirements of writing a detailed report that explains the impact as it relates to the accommodations on a test. Using a credit card to pay for testing is the most common method of paying for psychoeducational assessments. Expect to pay $1,200-$3,500 depending on where you live and the amount of testing and documentation required.

Plan to test significantly in advance of the cut off date to get the testing completed. If there is a need for clarification by the board or additional evidence required, you will want to have time to resubmit in time for the testing date for which you have applied. If you wait to the last minute, you may get a rejection letter after the appeal date and have to wait until the next exam for accommodations. Expect at least two weeks for the professional to complete the report, in addition to the time you will need to schedule the testing dates.

Accommodation testing is a specialized skill within the broader field of testing for learning disorders and ADHD testing. Seek an expert when the results matter and avoid using a generalist unless you are applying for school accommodations or at the SAT testing level.

Dr. Stephen Mouton is a Clinical Psychologist practicing in Los Angeles, California since 1989. He has multiple offices throughout Los Angeles and Orange County and frequently has patients fly to Los Angeles for expert testing for accommodations.

Dr. Mouton is sought after for interviews as an expert by news agencies and is a frequent speaker about disabilities and accommodations at conventions and public agency trainings. You can see more about his work or contact him or at(800) 794-0062 for more information.

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.
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