Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC
There are times in your child's educational career where they are struggling with a medical condition and may fall behind in school due to circumstances beyond their control. When a child's education is compromised due to a condition, such as ADHD, you have a legal right to request a 504 plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that will enable your child to get ADHD accommodations that will help to put them on the same playing field with other kids in their class, or school, that do not have medical-related challenges.
What Is An IEP Plan?
When a child is receiving special education services, an Individualized Education Plan will spell out exactly how the child will receive help and their individualized goals for their grade level. While these goals may not match those of a child that does not have an IEP, the idea is that there is a documented plan in place that spells out what your child should be able to complete successfully by the end of their current grade year. It is called an individualized plan because it is specifically tailored to your child's strengths and weaknesses in the academic setting.
Whether your child is enrolled as a special education student or is recommended by their teacher, health professional, or yourself to have them evaluated for special education, it is important to understand what an IEP is and how it will be utilized in the classroom.
Some students do not have problems comprehending information, but they may have sensory processing disorder (SPD), where they get overwhelmed by bright lights, loud sounds, or too much stimulation. An IEP would benefit a child with SPD in a way that would allow them breaks for the classroom setting so they can "reset" their mindset and regain the ability to stay focused for the next segment of their day. However, not every parent can request resets in their child's education. For something like this to be asked and granted, the child must have an IEP or 504 in place, documenting their medical or socio-educational need and the benefits of that break.
What Is A 504 Plan?
A 504 plan is essentially a blueprint that will dictate your child's school what they will supply to your child with a learning or medical disability; this plan removes barriers to learning and allows your child to use tools that will help them succeed academically. Overall, the goal of a 504 Plan is to give students equal access to school.
When a child has ADHD, they may:
- Tend to fidget
- Lack of focus
- Lack of organizational skills
- Have trouble with multi-step problems
- Have difficulties remembering verbal instructions
While this is just a shortlist of symptoms and issues children with ADHD face, these problems can seem like walls or academic hurdles to students with ADHD.
What Is The Difference Between An IEP And A 504 Plan?
While some people may use IEP and 504 interchangeably, they are two different educational services that fall under two different educational law divisions. An IEP is governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal special education law for children with learning or mental disabilities. As for the 504, that refers to section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This Act is a federal civil rights law that essentially stopped discrimination against people with disabilities in the classroom.
Do these both sound similar? Yes, however, some differences will become apparent the more you understand each.
An IEP is geared towards specific disabilities and provides individuals with one or more diagnoses. Whereas a 504 will provide services for any disability that impacts or affects a child's education.
Further, an IEP is a written document that must be agreed on by all parties, teachers, and parents. A 504, on the other hand, does not have to be written out but is an agreement on what the school will provide. Typically, a 504 is put in writing to clear who will be providing what accommodations, such as 504 accommodations for ADHD.
Both plans need parental consent and are reviewed annually. They are also reevaluated approximately every three years, known as a triennial meeting, to determine if more accommodations for ADHD (or whatever the diagnosis is) need to be added, taken out, or adjusted.
An important point to note, an IEP is only for kindergarten through grade 12 students, where a 504 will carry a student through college or an after-high school program. This difference will become essential to consider when determining whether you want to continue with an IEP in high school or transition to a 504 plan.
What Are Some 504 Plan Accommodations For Students with ADHD?
When a child with ADHD is easily distracted, some techniques are to have them sit at the front of the classroom to not other students are not a deterrent from following the teacher's instructions. While this seems like a modest change in a classroom setting, it can become important and invaluable for a teacher to keep a child's attention.
Another accommodation may be to let the child sit on a gym-ball chair or use a standing desk to do their work. There are a ton of different fidget chairs for students with ADHD accommodations. If your child fidgets with stuff on or in their desk, you can put in their 504 that they are allowed to use a specific fidget device that will not be a distraction but can reduce the number of things they can touch. Another tool is using the gum. Sometimes allowing a child to chew gum can help to keep them focused.
The more you know about accommodations, and their difference from modifications, the better prepared you will be should you need to call a PPT (Planned Placement Team) or for a Behavior Intervention Plan.
What Are Some Unusual Accommodations For ADHD That Parents Have Asked of Schools?
Every student has something that will help them work a little harder or stay focused more when given the right tools and incentives. Do not look at this as bribing for good behavior, but instead offering incentives or alterative learning/playing environments.
Here are some unusual but helpful incentives you can have written into your child's IEP or 504 Plan.
- Food: If students can participate actively in class or not interrupt, they get a special snack during breaks. Ice cream, a lollipop, gum, popcorn, etc., have all been used successfully as an incentive for ADHD or students with other medical diagnoses.
- Extra recess: Children with ADHD need to move; however, in a classroom, excessive movement can be a distraction to others. If a child knows if they can stay focused and not be disruptive, many times, having the opportunity to earn an extra recess at the end of the day is a great incentive. This free time can be used to allow a child to run and be loud without being reprimanded for it.
- Advanced Warnings: Children with autism (ASD) or SPD often do not like changes to their routines or loud noises. If there are advanced warnings of a change in their schedule, these children will often respond more appropriately than with outbursts due to sudden or alarming issues. For example, if there will be a fire drill at school, give the child notice that there will be a fire drill and that it can be noisy. Maybe provide him or her with earplugs to be used right before the alarm goes off. Sometimes a student needs to know exactly what will happen. Walking them through the drill before it can alleviate many unknowns for students with ASD or SPD.
- Toilets: If your school has an automatic flushing toilet, this can be problematic for some children with ADHD, ASD, SPD, and other disorders. The sound or sudden gush can scare children. For children with "non-automatic flush toilets" written into their IEP or 504, a handle-flush toilet will be necessary. If the school does not have one in the building and cannot get a plumber in quickly to install one, you can request that the auto-flush sensor be blocked with a post-it note or something similar when your child uses the bathroom and the sounds are problematic.
- Noise-silencing or Noise-reduction headphones: For children with SPD, loud classrooms, congested hallways, the school bus, and the cafeteria can make them feel like they are physically being assaulted and result in a meltdown. To avoid your child having this kind of stress and anxiety, you can request that your child be allowed to wear noise-reduction or noise-canceling headphones during non-class times. You can also specify what times would be appropriate for the headphones to be used.
- Weighted clothing: Weighted hats, vests, blankets, weighted wrist cuffs, and or even a backpack can help reduce children's anxiety. Having a requirement that your child can wear a weighted device can help them stay focused in the classroom and reduce their anxiety levels.
These are just a fraction of the types of accommodations that can be written into a child's IEP or 504 Plan to help make the school day more manageable and less stressful for them.
Schooling for a child with a learning disability or disorder can be stressful and overwhelming. Having an IEP or 504 Plan can help keep them more focused and their moods on an even keel. While this is just one small part of helping your child through their school day, it is an important aspect. If you are looking for more information about ADHD, check out Mind Diagnostics.