Ontario Specific Education Advocacy Information

Our Ask of the Ontario Ministry of Education


We, the Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada (CADDAC), the parents of children with ADHD, individuals with ADHD, professionals working in the field of ADHD and education, along with our allies, ask that the Ontario Ministry of Education formally acknowledge that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a serious learning risk by agreeing in writing with all three of these statements:

  • ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes learning impairments on par with Autism Spectrum Disorder and learning disabilities and will therefore be included with Autism Spectrum Disorder and learning disabilities in the same category of exceptionality;
  • students with ADHD have a right to access accommodations and special education resources for their disability, exceptionality notwithstanding; and
  • these resources and accommodations be based on a students’ specific needs and not generalizations, understanding that even a student with ADHD who is performing “well enough” academically can still be a student with a disability that requires accommodations to address barriers in education.

Ontario continues to refuse to officially recognize ADHD under one of their exiting five categories of exceptionality, often resulting in students with ADHD being refused resources, despite CADDAC’s numerous attempts to inform and advocate on this issue. Therefore, CADDAC is again asking that the category of Communication, under which two other similar neurodevelopmental disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and learning disabilities, now sit be renamed “Neurodevelopmental” and expanded to include all neurodevelopmental disorders.

If the Ministry continues to refuse this request, CADDAC and the parents of children with ADHD demand that the Ministry explain why they feel justified in allowing the categories of exceptionality to remain in their present form when they are being used by the Ministry and schools boards to renege on their “legal duty to accommodate the disability-related needs of students with ADHD to the point of undue hardship” as outlined by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.


Background Information  


I apologize for the length of this document, but felt that it was important that you understand the history and timeline of CADDAC’s advocacy work on this issue. I would also like you to take note on the rhetoric that has often been a part of the government and school boards’ response.




I first corresponded with the Ontario Minister of Education, Kathleen Wynn, in 2007 to express CADDAC’s concern that student’s with ADHD were not being identified as exceptional students and therefore not receiving special education resources. Minister Wynn’s reply stated that she shared my concerns and went on to say, “Although ADHD is not among the specific ministry definitions of exceptionality, it should not be viewed as a barrier to students with ADHD being identified as exceptional. The determining factor is whether a student is in need of a special education program or service. Once a student is identified, the IPRC can apply that the ministry definition(s) that most closely match the student’s special education needs.“ (Note: IPRC, is an acronym that stands for Identification, Placement, Review Committee, or a committee who decides on whether a student meets the criteria to be designated an exceptional learner.)


In December of that year, I received a letter from Barry Finlay, Director of Special Education Policy and Programs Branch, in an attempt to “clarify” Minister Wynn’s letter by stating that “The letter intended to indicate that, should a student meet the criteria for identification of a specific exceptionality, then that is the exceptionality that should be used for the identification of the student”. Essentially that meant that since ADHD was excluded from the criteria, or definition, of any of the five existing categories: behaviour, communication, intellectual, physical and multiple, boards could continue to use this fact to refuse to identify students with ADHD as exceptional learners.


December 2011


The Ontario Ministry of Education released a Memorandum stating that the explicit inclusion of medical conditions (i.e. autism) in the categories of exceptionalities is not intended to exclude other medical conditions, specifically mentioning ADHD. The Memorandum also states that the determining factor for the provision of special education programs is the needs of a student, and not a diagnosed/undiagnosed medical condition. The Memorandum further explains that “a student with ADHD may present learning needs in many ways in the school setting including, but not limited to attention/focus, organization, processing speed, working memory, executive functioning weaknesses, mathematical processes and skills, and expressive and receptive language.” And goes on to say, “A student who presents with such learning needs can be identified within the Communication (learning disability) exceptionality category, regardless of whether the medical criteria for a Learning Disability are met.“ It looked like some headway had been made, however boards pushed back.


TDSB Response


In less than two months after the release of the memorandum Ontario’s largest school board, the Toronto District school Board *(TDSB) released a report stating that the Memorandum had not signaled a change at the TDSB. They stated that, “If a student with FASD or ADHD, etc. meets the criteria, the IPRC can provide the designation” (under that category). This essentially means that a student with ADHD would need to have a diagnosis of Autism or a learning disability to qualify for an IPRC under the category of Communications. Or, they would need to meet the criteria of another category such as Intellect, Physical, Behaviour or Multiple to qualify for an IPRC according to the TDSB. While this would appear to be contrary to the Memorandum, the Ministry stated that school boards did have the right to decide the level of impairment required for a designation to occur. So, did that mean that we were back to square one? Yes and No.




At this time the TDSB states that its policy is that a student with ADHD may receive an IEP (Individual Education Plan) if “the principal, in consultation with members of the In-School Team (IST) and/or School Support Team (SST) feel your child needs additional support to achieve his or her learning expectations”. Therefore, an IEP can be put in place at the school’s discretion, but would not be tied to an IPRC designation which allows for the legal must of an IEP until the end of a student’s high school career.


What about other Boards?


CADDAC continues to receive e-mails and calls from parents throughout Ontario who are being told their board refuses to designate their child as an exceptional learner because ADHD is not included in the categories. Others are stating that their child is also being refused an IEP; some boards, or perhaps principals, still link an IPRC designation with the right to an IEP so refuse an IEP for the student.  Some schools within boards like the TDSB are providing an IEP, but not tied to an IPRC. Some are providing an IEP for a period in elementary school and then pulling it for high school. And some enlightened schools are actually following the memorandum and agreeing to identify the student under one of the five categories that they feel best fits the student’s needs.


So, currently in Ontario there is total inconsistency across boards and even between schools within the same board on this issue. While it seems to depend partially on the board policy, it also appears to depend on the good will and ADHD knowledge level of the principal and teachers in your child’s school. An educator who is up-to-date on ADHD research will understand how significantly ADHD can impair a student’s educational attainment despite having the capacity to learn.


The Ontario Human Rights Commission


In 2018 the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) released their policy paper on Accessible education for students with disabilities. This is a very important document that should be used by parents who feel that their child with ADHD is being refused special education services and accommodations for their disability.


Since the paper is quite lengthy and covers many topics on accessible education I shared key points along with their citations in a Blog, summarizing the content of a letter sent to CADDAC by Cherie Robertson, Senior Policy Analyst, Policy, Education, Monitoring & Outreach Ontario Human Rights Commission. For your convenience, I will include part of the paper that covers issues of categories of exceptionality and how they impact students with ADHD, the education providers’ legal duty to accommodate and the potential liability of Ministry of Education.


“It is important to note that, while the Ministry of Education has devised its own framework for identifying ‘exceptional pupils,’ it is the Ontario Human Rights Code and human rights case law that establishes that education providers have a legal duty to accommodate the disability-related needs of students to the point of undue hardship. This legal duty exists whether or not a student with a disability falls within the Ministry’s definition of ‘exceptional pupil,’ and whether or not the student has gone through a formal IPRC process, or has an IEP.


Example: The OHRC has heard concerns from parents and advocacy organizations that some Ministry of Education documents fail to specifically name ADHD as an ‘exceptionality’ and that, as a result, some education providers are failing to provide accommodation for this condition. The definition of disability in the Code, and as interpreted in human rights case law, is broader than the Ministry of Education exceptionality categories. For example, human rights jurisprudence has explicitly recognized ADHD as a disability requiring accommodation under the Code. It is important to note that the Code has primacy over other legislation, including the Education Act. This means that where there is an inconsistency between the Code and the Education Act, the Code will prevail. And, in one case, the HRTO found that the Ministry of Education could be potentially liable for discrimination where its definition of exceptionalities prevented or delayed a student from receiving required accommodations.”




While some headway has been made, in many ways we are still on the same merry-go-round that we have been on for decades; the Ontario Ministry of Education continues to claim that the categories of exceptionality are meant to be inclusive while many school boards continue to claim that the criteria of one of the five categories of exceptionality need to be met for a student with ADHD to be identified or even receive an IEP.


The Ministry claims that the boards are at fault for not interpreting the categories as inclusive.  And further share that a memorandum is more of a suggestion because they have no way to hold the boards accountable in the implementation. The boards correctly state the categories of exceptionality have very detailed definitions which exclude ADHD which allows them to refuse to identify students with ADHD and no other disability that meets criteria.


However, the Ontario Human Rights Code and human rights case law states that education providers have a legal duty to accommodate the disability-related needs of students with ADHD to the point of undue hardship regardless of Ministry of Education exceptionality categories. So, the question of the day would be, what are the Ministry of Education, school boards and schools going to do about their potential liability for the discrimination of students with ADHD where the definition of exceptionalities prevented or delayed a student from receiving required accommodations.  


CADDAC is therefore asking that all those with an interest in this issue contact their MPP immediately to express your concern about the ongoing failure of Ontario to provide students with ADHD equitable access to education and ask that their MPPS to support The Right to Learn Campaign, #ADHDRightToLearn as it applies to Ontario.    


Send and e-mail or Tweet to your Ontario elected official (your Minster of Education will be copied)

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