This past February, our middle was diagnosed with combined-type ADHD. This simply means that she exhibits concerns with both impulsiveness and hyperactivity, and a struggle with focus and attention. Having the diagnosis answered many questions I had had for years as to why she was struggling with unfavorable behaviors. And although it wasn’t affecting her current grades in school, her behaviors were having an affect on how she was able to approach and complete school assignments. Of course, if these behaviors went unchecked, I was concerned as to how they were undoubtedly affect her grades as the workload became more challenging. I knew something had to be done.
Once she was diagnosed with ADHD, I immediately requested a meeting with the school to see what kind of accommodations could be done to ensure her challenging behaviors would not continue to impact her ability to succeed in school. Because ADHD is considered a medical condition, a learning impairment, and a special need, children with this diagnosis can be given a 504 plan OR an IEP. I was familiar with an IEP because at the time of her diagnosis, I already had a child with one. And after doing some research and comparing the behaviors and challenges between the oldest and the middle, I decided that a 504 plan would work best for her.
So why did I decide this? How did I make this decision? First, it’s important to remember to make the distinction. A child with ADHD can benefit from both legal documents, but choosing the right one is essential for meeting his or her unique needs. Just like with Autism, child with ADHD cannot be lumped into one disability and have it be assumed that they exhibit the exact same behaviors. Even children with the combined type maybe exhibit those impulses due to different triggers or need different types of accommodations to help them retain their focus when completing a task. So what’s the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan?
An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is a legal document that is created to provide specialized services to children with a diagnosed learning difference or special need. It then needs to be determined if that challenge will adversely affect that student’s education. Often a series of evaluations and observations are done prior to the IEP meeting and it’s drafting. Parents are an equal part of the IEP team and their input is crucial to what is drafted into the document. Typically, if a child has a one-on-one aide throughout the day, or if they are pulled out once a week for speech, he or she probably has an IEP stating that these accommodations or services are necessary for this child to be included within the least restrictive environment, which is the goal for both the IEP and the 504 plan.
A 504 plan, on the other hand, is developed for a child who has also been diagnosed with a medical condition or impairment that limits his or her functionality in at least one major life activity, such as school. Like an IEP, a team will assemble to determine if that child’s diagnosis will adversely affect them in an academic setting. Sometimes, the child is observed, but there is typically no evaluations that precede a 504 plan drafting and so the process to draft one is not as time-consuming, making it easier to possibly obtain one. Unlike the IEP, which ends after a child completes high school, the 504 plan is a document that can stay with a child well into their adult years. However, this plan does not include services, only accommodations which can change at any point throughout the year. I wouldn’t worry about this if you have a good rapport with your child’s teacher and the school in general.
After the middle received her diagnosis, I did some research as to which documentation would be most beneficial for her. The main issue she had in the classroom was her inability to maintain her focus on assignments, especially those in the subjects that least interested her. After her loss of focus, she struggled to catch up with the rest of her peers as they moved onto something else. Feeling left out and behind, she’d then become so frustrated that many days, she’d end up on her desk and flat out on the floor, unable to be moved. There was no way of even catching red flags before these behaviors exhibited themselves. I didn’t think an aide being present would help, and she was already receiving counseling for her behaviors. And after talking at length with her teacher, we came to the conclusion that all she really needed was a way to communicate when she was getting frustrated or overwhelmed. She needed some in class accommodations that would help her reach out for help before it was too late and would help her teacher determined she needed help before it was too late. Together, we decided that a 504 plan would be suit her needs. This documentation would help level the playing field for my daughter by granting accommodations aimed at reducing and possibly eliminating those challenges that had been negatively affecting her educational experience. These accommodations include but are not limited to:
- Providing check-in opportunities with trusted staff member before school begins
- Preferential seating near teacher and away from distractions
- Access to alternative seating, such as a wiggle stool or even a standing desk
- Access to headphones to allow for better concentration
- Frequent checks for understanding and/or redirection to task, especially during independent work
- Use of break pass for nonverbal communication for need of check in or break
- The allowance for a break or practice of calm-down strategies
- Incorporating movement breaks throughout extended activities
- Use of a behavior modification chart
- Choice to continue assignments within designated or returning to them later if need be
These accommodations may not be used every day, and some may not be needed at all. But it gives the teacher, and my daughter, options depending on what the day and the particular situation calls for. These accommodations allow my daughter to have what she needs to better regulate her own emotions and impulses and to learn how to better focus while in the classroom. They are not meant to give her a pass, but rather meant to teach her responsibility of self, and to encourage perseverance through unfavorable tasks.