IEP vs. 504 Plan: ADHD Accommodation Options For Students

By: Corrina Horne

Updated January 30, 2020

Mental and behavioral disorders can come with plenty of stigma and misunderstanding. These stigmas and possible misunderstandings give men and women plenty of reason to fear a diagnosis and avoid seeking an official name or identification for their concerns to prevent the stereotypes associated with a given condition. This is also the case for ADHD, even in children. Despite the possibility for stereotypes and stigmas, however, there are some pros to having a diagnosis, including the ability to qualify for special services in school, including an IEP for ADHD symptoms, and special accommodations in the workplace.

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Some people, however, are not able to secure diagnoses or define measurable targets, whether this is due to a technicality regarding diagnosis criteria, or the unavailability of a qualified diagnostician. Whatever the reason for a child's inability to qualify for an IEP, there are other options to help students work through ADHD symptoms in a scholastic setting. The most common source of assistance for ADHD symptoms not qualified as drastic enough for an IEP is a 504 plan.

What are 504 Accommodations for ADHD?

While an IEP is an official school document that is required by law to be offered to students with special needs meeting a high criteria standard, a 504 plan is an assistance plan created to help students who do not qualify for an IEP due to a lack of adequate interference in a child's education. IEPs require students, students' parent(s), and educators to meet to create measurable goals for the student, which are updated regularly to make sure progress is being made. Conversely, a 504 plan outlines the additional services, alterations, or assistance required to provide an acceptable level of schooling to a child with a disability, without requiring a formal demonstration of progress and measurable goals.

504 accommodations make sure students with special needs have an equal opportunity to receive educational services as their peers without special needs. Where an IEP will have goals and targets put in place that are documented as the year progresses, a 504 plan will simply describe to the child's educators what types of modifications need to be made to offer the same level of education to those with different educational needs. Typically, a 504 plan does not offer provisions such as one-on-one instruction or specialized therapy, but instead gives students extra testing time, extra breaks during school hours, and other small alterations of that nature.

Common Accommodations For ADHD In 504 Plans

ADHD accommodations differ from modifications, in that accommodations change how instruction is delivered, while modifications can change the actual instruction. 504 plans focus on accommodations rather than modifications. Typically, ADHD-specific accommodations include changes such as keeping children closer to the front of the room (and, consequently, closer to the teacher), a study skills class to teach organization skills, the ability to keep notes for tests, or the ability to use assistive technology.

Different children with ADHD experience different challenges. Some children, for instance, struggle to keep their focus on a single task, while others might hyper-focus and struggle to engage in more complex, stimulating schoolwork. For this reason, evaluating your child's needs and making a personalized plan is essential when creating a 504 plan. Although your child's school might have a general plan in place to offer students with certain special needs, be aware that not all children-and not all 504 plans-are a good match for existing accommodations.

How To Request A 504 Plan

To receive a 504 plan, you must gather the materials demonstrating your child's diagnosis. A simple doctor's note identifying your child's official diagnosis will do. From there, you must contact your child's school and request a 504 plan. Like an IEP meeting, a 504 plan requires a meeting between the child's caregiver(s) and educators, and you work as a team to create ideal accommodations. Some 504 plans go quickly and smoothly, with all parties on board with one another's needs, while others require more finagling. Whatever the case, coming prepared is ideal.

To prepare for a 504 plan meeting, gather all materials related to your child's diagnosis, and walk in with an idea of the accommodations your child might require. If you aren't sure, take a few days to document the areas in which your child seems to struggle, and consider how they might apply to your child's learning style and needs. Some children with ADHD might benefit greatly from being able to avoid oral quizzes in favor of written ones, while others might be better off providing oral responses to a test, rather than composed ones.

If you are unsure about a 504 plan, consider getting your child's teachers or therapists (if applicable) involved, to offer some peace of mind regarding your decision to proceed with a 504. Most teachers familiar with a child's work will be able to offer some suggestions and advice regarding how to call a 504 meeting, and what accommodations might be best suited to your child.

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Can 504 Plans Be Removed?

504 plans should be reviewed once per year to make sure all of the accommodations are still necessary and working. Revisions can be made if any of the accommodations are not proving useful or require tweaking to provide success to the student with ADHD. As unlikely as it is, students can lose their 504 plans if a disability diagnosis is removed. A 504 plan could also be removed if an education team determines that the child in question does not require special provisions to succeed in his or her education.

In this situation, parents can contest the removal of the 504. While there are no guarantees, a contestation will work to keep a 504 plan in place, demonstrating the need for additional help for a child with ADHD should result in that child receiving a 504 plan. Again, having all of the potential needs laid out beforehand could be immensely helpful in showing educators the need for additional assistance outside of the standard educational parameters.

Get Everyone Involved

504 plans are considered a legal right for children with special needs, including those with ADHD. To successfully secure a 504 plan for your child, do not hesitate to get a wide group of people involved. Talk to the director of special education, enlist the opinion of your child's primary care provider, and round up past or present teachers and teaching assistants, if possible, to get a well-rounded idea of the kinds of assistance your child may need.

Ask questions of family and friends, to determine whether there are any playtime or routine issues that arise with your child, such as an inability to sit still during mealtime, or difficulty responding to one's name while with peers, as these can transfer to academic settings, and demonstrate the need for ADHD accommodations.

Potential Roadblocks

Unfortunately, students without an official diagnosis do not qualify for 504 plans as a legal right. Students who are having difficulty in school, but do not meet diagnostic criteria for a learning disability or behavioral disorder will be unable to secure 504 plan accommodations for students with ADHD under the IDEA act and do not possess the same legal protections children with verified special needs possess. In these cases, the first step toward developing accommodations or modifications for your child is requesting an evaluation to determine whether or not your child qualifies for a diagnosis-a process that may be done through your child's school psychologist.

504 plans are not quite as detailed as IEPs, so some teachers might find too much leeway in implementing the accommodations described within the 504. Regular communication with your child and your child's teachers will help ensure all accommodations are being met and followed through on. Yearly 504 plan meetings can also help educators remain consistent in implementing plans, as a review will require a detailed overview of what has been done throughout the year, and what might need revising.

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Existing plans for certain diagnoses can also prove difficult; while it might seem helpful to have accommodations already put in place for each specific diagnosis, many children and their parents find that learning and behavioral disorders are unique, and affect each child differently. What is helpful for one child with ADHD could prove problematic for another. If your school has a ready-made ADHD 504 plan, do not hesitate to request a specialized plan, and remember: tailored 504s are a legal right, not a privilege. Know your child's unique needs, and present these needs to your 504 plan team in as straightforward and detailed a way as possible.

Finally, recognize that 504 plans are protected for public education spaces, not private ones. If your child attends a private school, a charter, or a homeschooling co-op, 504 plans may be available, but accommodation for ADHD cannot be demanded as a matter of legality. In these cases, your child may benefit from outside services, such as those delivered by a qualified psychologist or occupational therapist.


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