Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common childhood neurodevelopmental condition that can affect how children do in school. If ADHD is causing your child to struggle at school academically, emotionally, or behaviorally, then they have a legal right to certain accommodations, including a 504 plan.
A 504 plan can provide your child with the support that can include deadline extensions, preferential seating, and more. Although your child may be entitled to get a 504 plan, many parents find that the process of actually getting one is confusing.
In this article, I’ll detail every step you need to take to get a 504 plan for your child with ADHD as well as what, exactly, a 504 plan entails.
What is a 504 plan?
A 504 plan refers to Section 504 of a federal civil rights statute know as the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law states that students with physical or mental impairments in public schools are legally entitled to accommodations that help them be successful at school. The law also protects people with learning disabilities from facing discrimination in any federally-funded area.
Section 504 of the federal law requires public schools to provide “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE) to every student with any kind of disability. ADHD typically qualifies as a disability under this law.
A 504 plan is distinct from another common type of education plan, the IEP. Even if your child has been found ineligible for an IEP, they could still qualify for a 504 plan.
With a 504 plan, your child may receive extra time when taking tests, take tests in smaller chunks of time, use a calculator during an exam, along with other special education services.
How to get a 504 plan
There are several steps you need to take to be successful in getting a 504 plan for your child. It’s important to know that getting a 504 plan is a joint effort involving every member of your child’s education and treatment team. These are the steps that you can take as a parent.
Document the child’s needs
It is helpful for assessment professionals to have documented evidence of what your child needs to be successful at school. This is especially true if they haven’t yet received an ADHD diagnosis.
Your child needs to have a documented disability, such as ADHD, to be eligible for a 504 plan, so any evidence of this will be helpful during the evaluation and decision process.
As soon as you notice that your child is struggling at school, start documenting all of your observations. Consider keeping a daily journal of how your child behaved during each school day along with any teacher or school staff reports.
Keep any paperwork, like returned homework, testing results, or independent evaluations, that could indicate that your child needs additional support at school. If you have documentation from your child’s doctor or therapist about their ADHD diagnosis or other health concerns, keep these in your child’s file as well.
Find out who to contact
The first step you’ll want to take is finding out who is responsible for starting the 504 processes at your child’s school.
At some schools, the school psychologist is the person you need to talk to. Other helpful staff members could include the school counselor, your child’s therapist, your child’s teacher, or the school principal. Any of these people are likely to be able to point you in the right direction.
Ask for the correct person’s name and contact information, and get in touch with them as soon as possible. You can also get in touch with your district’s Director of Special Services.
Write a formal request
As soon as you’ve gotten in touch with the person responsible for 504 plans at your child’s school, deliver a formal request for your child to be evaluated for a 504 plan.
Sending a formal request letter or email, rather than asking the person over the phone, may make it more likely that your request is taken seriously. Some districts may require a written request.
Make sure your letter is well-written and thoughtful. Detail all of your observations about how ADHD affects your child and the reasons you believe that your child needs a 504 plan to be successful at school. Include any documentation that supports the claim that your child’s ADHD is a disability, including medical records and letters from your child’s doctor or therapist.
Ask for the coordinator to set a date and time when you can discuss this further and schedule an evaluation.
Many state-wide non-profit organizations have letter templates you can use, including the Iowa-based Ask Resource Center. Some counties and/or school districts may also have their own request forms that parents need to fill out.
Get an accurate evaluation
The next step is for your child to complete the evaluation. The evaluation team will include various school members including special education teachers, a school counselor, your child’s current teacher, and other relevant professionals.
This team of professionals will talk to you and your child about your child’s academic performance and conduct a behavioral assessment. They may also conduct a classroom observation to see how your child functions in the school setting. Their evaluations will determine whether your child has a disability and what eligibility they would be granted.
The school must provide this evaluation at no cost to you.
For your child to get a 504 plan, they must get an evaluation. If your child’s school denies your formal request for an evaluation, the only legal reason is that there is no evidence that your child’s ADHD is severe enough to be a disability. If they have evidence to suspect your child could have a disability, then they are legally required to provide an evaluation.
If you are denied an evaluation, then ask the school to provide a written response about why they denied your request. You can also arrange an independent evaluation to provide more evidence to the school that your child does have a disability. You have the right to file a due process complaint or hire an attorney to help.
Work collaboratively to create a plan
If it’s determined that your child is eligible for a section 504 plan (and not an IEP plan), then it’s time to work collaboratively to create a 504 plan that works for your child. Think about your child’s needs, and how ADHD affects them throughout the school year. Insist on a customized 504 plan that will address your child’s specific needs.
Some examples of accommodations that can be included in a 504 plan include:
- Extended time for tests
- Preferential or alternative seating
- Reduced classwork
- Excused tardiness
- Verbal or visual aids
- Pre-approved nurse’s visits when they need to take medication
- Audio-visual materials (like subtitles for videos)
- Occupational therapy
Follow up with the evaluation team as well as your child’s teacher to make sure the 504 plan is being followed.
How long does it take?
You should hear back from the evaluation team within a reasonable amount of time, typically around 60 to 90 days. Follow up with your child’s school if you haven’t heard from them in over 60 days.
Under Section 504, the school must provide you with “due process,” which includes notifying you of any actions taken and allowing you to appeal.
A 504 plan can make it easier for your child with ADHD to succeed at school, both academically and behaviorally. If your child has a disability like ADHD, then their school is legally required to provide them with an evaluation at no cost. Follow these steps to request this evaluation and get your child with ADHD the support they deserve at school.