Benefits of a 504 Plan for Children with ADHD

If your ADHD child is struggling in school, there is hope. There are many accommodations which can be made through the Section 504 Plan/IEP vehicles. An accommodation can be anything from a shortened assignment to preferential seating in the classroom and much more. In this article I will explain the process of getting a Section 504 (…of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975) Plan and an IEP, the consequences of the two plans, and common accommodations written into such plans.

First thing’s first. Does your student have a medical diagnosis? If yes, your efforts may very well be rewarded with a Section 504 Plan and/or IEP. If not, your student will have to, at the very least, show a discrepancy in academic ability vs. academic achievement. You can request that your child be tested to see if you can show this discrepancy. The tests used will range from academic achievement tests to IQ tests, to social history interviews.

Let’s first discuss the process of getting a Section 504 Plan in place for your student. Then we will move on to the process of getting an IEP and why these two plans can help. I live in Virginia so I will quickly describe how things are done in my state. A lot of parents look at a Section 504 Plan as a sort of stepping-stone to an IEP. Some children may simply need their rights to a free and fair education protected with a subsequent outline which serves as a game plan to make sure those rights are attended to. I came across a website which does a really good job of outlining and describing what a Section 504 Plan is and how a student is found eligible for one. Pasted directly from the site:

The purpose of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29. U.S.C. Section 794) is to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

“No qualified handicapped person shall, on the basis of handicap, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or otherwise be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity which receives or benefits from federal financial assistance.”

In the school setting, eliminating discrimination on the basis of disability is accomplished by providing equal access to educational opportunity by providing reasonable modifications and services.

Section 504 Definition of “DISABLED/HANDICAPPED” (Reg. 104.3 (j))

Any pupil who has temporary or permanent:

*physical or mental impairment, which substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment
*is regarded as having such an impairment.

Although Section 504 does not explicitly define the term “substantially limitsa major life activity”, the Office for Civil Rights has ruled that the phrase “substantially limits” is to be defined by the school district (Letter to McKethan. 23 IDELR Section 504 [OCR 1994]). Therefore the Scottsdale Unified School District has adopted the definition included in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990:

A major life activity is substantially limited if a person is “unable to perform a major life activity that the average person in the general population can perform” [29. CFR 1630.2(j)(1)(I)]. Therefore, the extent to which an impairment restricts a specific individual’s activities, and the duration of that individual’s impairment, must be considered.”


A major life activity is substantially limited if a person is “significantly restricted in the condition, manner, or duration under which an individual can perform a particular major life activity as compared to the condition, manner, or duration under which the average person in the general population can perform that major life activity” [29.CFR 1630.2(j)(1)(ii)].

To determine whether a student’s mental or physical impairment “substantially limits” the major life activity (of learning, writing, reading, etc.), the district should compare the student’s academic progress to that of the “average child” of comparable age, not a child of similar intellectual potential.

A student is not “substantially limited” simply because the student is not reaching his/her potential.
-[T.J.W. by Butler v. Dothan City Board of Education(D.C. Alabama 1997), 26. IDELR 999]
-[Title 29, Code of Federal Regulation section 1630.2(j)]

*A determination of whether a student is substantially limited in the educational setting within the meaning of Section 504 will be based upon information from a variety of sources. Those sources may include, but are not limited to, the child’s parents, teachers, school nurse, psychologist, Section 504 site coordinator, principal, counselors, etc. Any and all information submitted by the parent will be considered.

(Reg. 104.3 (j) (2) (ii))

“Major life activities” means functions such as:

*caring for one’s self
*performing manual tasks

The list of activities is calculated to include those basic activities that the average person in the general population can perform with little or no difficulty (ADA, 29 CFR 1630.2(i)).

Evaluations for Section 504 Purposes:
The process for determining Section 504 eligibility begins with a determination of eligibility meeting coordinated by the site Section 504 coordinator and parents. This meeting can occur at the request of the parent or school personnel. The evaluation to determine whether or not a child qualifies for Section 504 accommodations is completed by a team of individuals who know the child. The evaluation must be appropriate to the needs and circumstances or the individual pupil. However, “evaluation” does not necessarily mean “test”. In the Section 504 context, “evaluation” refers to gathering of data or information from a variety of sources so that the Section 504 team (group of persons knowledgeable about the child) can make the required determination).

The Section 504 team will carefully consider any pertinent information as it relates to the pupil in the school setting. The information typically considered comes from several sources: physician reports, parents, teachers, school records, observations or interviews by school personnel, etc. The Section 504 team/Student Support Team may include the pupil services director or designee, psychologist, guidance counselor, nurse, teachers, parent, and/or pupil. Unlike IDEA, Section 504 does not give specific time lines for conducting the evaluation, but the district is expected to conduct any evaluations in a timely manner.

An evaluation for Section 504 purposes may include information gathered informally and/or may include some testing (review of records, teacher/parent/pupil interview, etc.). Based upon the information, decisions are made regarding whether or not the pupil has a temporary or permanent mental or physical impairment which substantially limits his/her learning. If a pupil is found eligible, a Section 504 service/accommodation plan is developed.

Eligibility for Section 504 Services:
Whether or not the pupil is eligible for Section 504 services will be determined by a consensus of participating public school personnel after consideration of all relevant data, including consideration of any information the parent and pupil wish to provide. If the pupil is found to be eligible for Section 504 accommodation, written documentation will be placed in the pupil’s file. The pupil’s eligibility and the specific plan of service will be reviewed annually.

A general education classroom with accommodations and /or the use of supplementary materials/equipment, is the appropriate setting for pupils who are determined disabled under Section 504. Should the Section 504 team determine a pupil requires more intense services, written documentation should include:

*Evidence that a Section 504 services plan has been implemented over a reasonable period of time and has not resulted in pupil progress.
*Evaluations which are expanded and may include standardized assessments from specifically trained personnel such as speech therapist, psychologist and resource specialist.

(If “findings” are not consistent with what you are trying to gain for your student, there is an appeals and mediations process available to parents by contacting the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). You may find this information by contacting your local school board.)

You may wonder how stating that a child is impaired can help. There is much debate over this; parents will opt for no treatment and no labeling in hopes of avoiding social stigmas. My personal opinion, based on my particular set of experiences, is that if your child is struggling so very much that his daily life becomes a hard and sad experience for him, social stigmas mean nothing in the grand scope of things when you consider your child is miserable. A little label can get him get the help he needs to be happy with himself, have a great day, and learn the skills he lacks in order to find success. One of the hardest, most gripping issues ADHD kids face, other than the focus and hyperactive/impulsive issues, is the emotional challenge of fitting in with their peers. When a child is consistently getting into trouble and having difficulties getting along socially, he feels bad about himself and sees himself as a failure in every way. Depression often follows these kids until they are getting the help they need, allowing them to feel good about themselves once again.

Understanding ADHD is important to helping kids with ADHD and knowing what to provide to an ADHD student. Identification, in our case and many others, was necessary to help our child get the support he needed, helping him become who he wants to be. When you sit with the ARD committee (administration, review, and dismissal) you should know about all these things and how they apply to your student, so you are able to play an important roll in determining if your child is eligible for a Section 504 Plan and even an IEP. Not all kids are found eligible, so if you know something about your student that the ARD committee may not, speak up.

Once your child is found eligible for a Section 504 Plan there are many accommodations which may be written into the plan. I typically suggest to parents that they get to know the list of possibilities specific to their state of residence. My state of Virginia offers but is not limited to:

Flexible Schedule
Group Size
Environmental Accommodations
Visual Aids
Amplification Equipment
Large Print
Assistance with Directions
Increased Size of Answer Bubbles
Braille Test/Braille Answer Document
Reading in English of Test Items
Audio-cassette of Test Items
Interpreting of Test Items
Communication Board/Pictorial Presentation
Bilingual Dictionary
Mark in Test Booklet
Math Aids
Large Diameter Pencil
Use of Word Processor
Augmentative Communication Device
Spelling Aids, Spell Checker, Spelling Dictionary
Tape Recorder
Dictation Device
Use of Calculator
Reduced Language

Usually the ARD committee will meet initially to determine eligibility for this Section 504 Plan and reconvene to write the Section 504 Plan. Attend the writing meeting knowing what you want for your child.

For some children, this Section 504 Plan will be the only necessary vehicle to help your student achieve. Although this Section 504 helps to communicate your student’s needs, an IEP may be needed as well, especially for children with excessive needs. Social needs are considered reason enough to provide additional Federal funding, not just IQ and academic needs. In that case, there are many individual case studies on the ‘net which detail a student’s needs and outline the ARD findings for eligibility. Pasted directly from

Cases on Failure to Identify as OHI/ADHD (IDEA)

Patrick H. v. Stephenville ISD, Docket No. 333-SE-699

(Sp. Ed. Hearing Officer Stephen Webb December 30, 199 9).

Nine-year-o ld student with ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Depression had long history of emotional and behavioral problems at home and suicidal ideations, all of which required hospitalizations and medication. Student has 129 IQ, however, and high grades in gifted-talented classes. Aside from two incidents when he got upset at school, he exhibits no behavior problems at school and has a good attitude there. After parents obtained a filled-out OHI form, they requested sp. ed. placement. They contended that Patrick was “holding it together” at school but releasing his emotional distress at home. They claimed he said he hated school. When the District refused to qualify the student, the parents filed for a hearing.

Finding: Student not eligible under IDEA . Hearing Officer Webb held that Patrick was not eligible under IDEA because his emotional problems simply did not manifest themselves in the school setting to the point of requiring sp. ed. services. Although he commented that, ideally, a student that was continually becoming upset as a result of school attendance would qualify for services, that is “simply not the law.” At the present time, Patrick’s disabilities do not adversely affect his educational performance to the point that he is in need of sp. ed . services.

Vincent S. v. Pasadena ISD, Docket No. 324-SE-699

(Sp. Ed. Hearing Officer Janis HerdOctober 22, 1999).

A 17-year-old high school junior had been in sp. ed. for several years due as OHI (ADHD), LD, and Speech-impaired. After an extensive reevaluation, the District concluded that Vincent was no longer LD or SI and dismissed him from sp. ed. (No updated OHI form had been submitted at the time to keep him in IDEA as OHI). Vincent exhibited no behavior problems at school, except occasional inattentiveness and talking. He was never suspended or disciplined in any serious fashion. He achieved passing grades on TAAS, and some high marks in courses, even on difficult classes like Physics and Chemistry. The District offered to place Vincent under 504 and provide any needed accommodations through that program. Vincent’s mother obtained a signed OHI form from a doctor and contested his dismissal from special education. The District argued that, despite the OHI form, Vincent had no need for sp. ed. services at the time, and thus was not eligible.

Finding: Student not eligible. Hearing Officer Herd found that Vincent’s ADHD does not require sp. ed. services at this time, and that he could be served outside of IDEA (i.e. under 504). She specifically noted that any required modifications could be provided through 504 Committee action, which the District had already offered. The Hearing Officer stated, in conclusion, that “special education is not the least restrictive environment appropriate for Vincent at this time.”

Richard N. v. Corpus Christi ISD, Docket No. 343-SE-799

(Sp. Ed. Hearing Officer James HoltzNovember 29, 1999 ).

A 12-year-old sixth grader experienced serious behavior problems, TAAS failures, disciplinary referrals, retention, and AEP placement prior to the 6th grade. Throughout these problems, the District twice approached the parent a bout a referral to IDEA, but the parent refused consent for testing. After the student was placed in AEP, his grades and behavior improved, and he passed the TAAS. In response to Richard’s placement in AEP, however, the parent obtained an ADHD diagnosis (privately) and a completed OHI form. When the District finally was able to perform a comprehensive assessment, the ARD committee found the student not eligible for sp. ed., in light of his academic performance The parent filed for a hearing.

Finding: Student eligible. Hearing Officer Holtz found that the ARD committee improperly focused solely on Richard’s academic performance, while it was clear that behavioral and social issues were also areas of potential educational need.

Moreover, he found that the ARD committee ignored the past pattern of behavior problems that culminated in AEP placement.

Abran M. v. Corpus Christi ISD, Docket No. 042-SE-999

(Sp. Ed. Hearing Officer James HollisDecember 1, 1999).

Abran is a 6-year-old first grader with ADHD who exhibited behavioral problems in Kindergarten, but has improved significantly since then (after medication regiment). He only received one disciplinary referral in the first grade and is currently on a 504 Accommodation Plan. He receives good grades and is generally well-behaved now. The parent contested the District’s refusal to qualify Abran under IDEA and filed for a hearing.

Finding: Student not eligible. Hearing Officer Hollis noted that the student appeared to be receiving both academic and nonacademic benefits from his current program and 504 Plan (applying the Michael F. v. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD test). He did not see a need for special education services at this time, and also noted the parent’s failure to obtain a completed OHI form.

When it comes time to evaluate and determine eligibility for your child and an IEP, school professionals rely on parents’ opinions and suggestions but have to weigh them with the School County’s guidelines for a fair education. A parent may believe their child has needs but in consideration of the County’s ability to meet those needs in a fair way for all students, your student may still be determined ineligible for services and the IEP, because possibly, in the grand scheme of things, your child may be of the least needy for services, compared to all the other children vying for services. Know your child, know what services are available and how they may apply to your student personally and you stand the best chance of getting the help he needs. If you are ready for learning the IEP process, read on.

The first order of business in attaining an IEP for your child is to fill out a form stating your intentions. This is a simple referral form which will, in a nutshell, say that you, the parent, feel your child has educational needs which cannot be accommodated without assistance, and that you want some light shed on the issue, possibly including testing. Most Counties call it a multi-purpose referral form.

You fill out a form and wait. After a few days the County is obligated to respond to you with a meeting time. Most schools are VERY good about working with your schedule BUT are not legally obligated to include you in a meeting to determine eligibility. Also, if a teacher or other professional deems necessary, she can fill out a multi-purpose form on behalf of your child, without your consent, creating a meeting to determine eligibility. A parent can deny services but the ARD committee can still find your child eligible without your consent.

The initial meeting is a ‘meeting of the minds’ in which you all gather to state formally that you feel there is something up with your student (and why) and to get an outlined description from the professionals involved (usually the classroom teacher, an administrator, a school psychologist, a social worker, and sometimes a guidance counselor) of what will be done to determine eligibility, with tools ranging from testing to parent and teacher interviews, etc. It would be best and most efficient to have a medical diagnosis on hand at this point, or, to be in the process of a medical evaluation. Be sure to communicate the status of the evaluation during this initial meeting. After all testing and interviewing is done you may have to be ready with that diagnosis.

Now you wait. And wait, and wait, and wait. There is a legal time limit in which things need to be finished, but when you are in the middle of things, it seems as if every day that goes by it is one too many days in which your child is idle and not getting what he needs. In Virginia I believe the time limit is 60 days. Check with your state to see what you can expect for a time frame, then relax, the system is in motion. There is nothing more for you to do at this point, other than to be sure that you are as educated as you can be.

Soon you will be sitting in an eligibility meeting in which, if you are anything like me, you will be feeling like all your child’s successes in school years now and to come are resting in the hands and thoughts of this ARD committee with whom you share a conference table. And, for some kids, especially those with excessive needs, their successes WILL depend on this decision of “eligible” or “not eligible”. Findings of IQ tests, academic achievement tests, interviews, etc are all discussed at this point. The classroom teacher will communicate to this committee her thoughts to the extent of your students needs based on classroom academic behavior as well as social behavior. This is the part of the process which made me want to fall apart. I was sitting at this hopeful conference table hearing about my child’s high IQ score, my child’s high achievement scores, and my child’s high interview scores. Wait one minute – didn’t I just talk about everything every parent wants for her child? Yes, I did. You see, I knew and everyone at that table knew the fact that my child was suffering from the characteristics of ADHD. Disorganized mental activity, social incompetencies, the inability to be patient, hyperactivity, etc…. These and more are all the earmarks for the downward spiral of emotional and academic ill-health. The fact is, because he was so lacking in social skills and required so much individual attention, he was determined eligible. But the whole while that I was sitting through listening to all these wonderful testing results (knowing an IEP is meant for a child with a discrepancy of ability vs. achievement), I was on the edge of my seat watching my chances of getting my son the help he needed being decimated exponentially with the verbalization of each remarkable score. I knew, the way the staff and I all knew my son and his needs, that his academic and self-worth doom was inevitably just around the corner if he didn’t get some help getting through the school day, i.e. with additional staff support. The moment it came time to talk around the table for a consensus of thoughts of “eligible” or “not eligible” I felt my head get light. I had visions of my son as a little baby, looking at me the way a baby looks at his mommy – with love in his eyes, asking me to care for him and love him. I had to tell myself to be patient and brave and to listen to the consensus. All parties involved were sitting there telling me they felt “eligible” was the decision to be made. I couldn’t believe it. I was so overwhelmed with relief and thankfulness that my hands started shaking and tears streamed down my face. I knew, as his mom, that this is what he needed so I did everything I could to learn every aspect of this process and every “in” which would enable me to find help for my child. Looking back on this experience I cannot recommend any more strongly that you decide to become your child’s best cheerleader and do everything in your power to get what is best for your child. No one has more of a vested interest in your child than you.

Now that you have been told your child is “eligible” you will be setting another appointment to write this IEP. Get used to all the appointments – they seem to happen a LOT! If you are employed, you may want to take your boss aside and explain the situation briefly, stating that you have been involved in getting help for your child and that there may be necessary meetings you will have to attend. Things will settle down eventually but if there is an expectation that you may be AWOL from time to time, there will be understanding for the reason why. If your child has been found “not eligible”, please know you have the right to appeal and further testing/evaluations. See your local school for details.

Like the Section 504 Plan, it is important to consider all possible accommodations which may apply to your child. There are many more accommodations available in an IEP than a 504, so be sure to ask your local school for a list.

Once you have a chance to sit and write the IEP, be diligent in seeing that it is followed. Some schools switch classrooms for math, for example. When your child goes to another teacher for math or any other subject, be sure to communicate to this additional teacher that your child has an IEP, and to perhaps highlight necessary accommodations which have been outlined in the IEP. Don’t assume that the news of the IEP will get to all teachers involved. I have talked to many parents who have complained of this situation. I have faced this issue myself as well. Also, be sure to chat with the PE teacher, the art teacher, or anyone else your child may come into contact with each school year. Let them know of your student’s needs and necessary accommodations. It isn’t your responsibility, but you will be avoiding a lot of possible problems if you do.

Over time, depending on your child’s situation, you may find the success of your child takes an excruciating amount of effort from you. In the end you will be happy you worked so hard for him because you will see great strides in your child’s progress. You will see your child get off the bus and smile and wave and skip up to you, rather than step off the bus, connect eyes with you trying desperately to hold it together and not cry in front of his friends until he has a chance to slump into your arms, sobbing about his horrible day. He will again look at you the way a baby looks at his mommy – with love in his eyes, asking you to care for him and love him and hug him, because he will be happy and life will be good. Everything will be ok.