Back to School with ADHD

When your child has ADHD or ADD, one of the best tools to help them while they are in school is an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan for ADHD.  Securing accommodations doesn’t have to be daunting, but it’s easy to be confused on where to start. We’ll walk through the steps so you can set your child up for success.

  1. What’s the Difference? First, let’s talk about the laws. There are two laws that specifically direct how your child can be accommodated in school with either an IEP or 504 Plan.  Both of these Acts provide your child with free special education services.

    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) protects kids with specific conditions including: intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbances, hearing impairments,  speech and language difficulties.  Your child may qualify for this type of coverage if they have one or more of these difficulties in addition to ADHD or ADD. 

    Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act covers ADHD kids who don’t qualify under IDEA, but still need extra help in their classroom. This law prevents schools from discriminating against students because of physical and/or mental impairments. This law requires the school to make modifications for children with learning barriers like ADHD or ADD.

  1. Evaluation. This can be done through the school or your child’s pediatrician can write a referral for a private evaluation. If you go through the school, you will want to write a letter requesting the evaluation because you think your child with ADHD would benefit from academic accommodations. You should send it certified mail or hand deliver the request to the Director of Special Education Services. 

  1. Teamwork. The school will arrange for a multidisciplinary evaluation and this will be your child’s team going forward. The team will include special education teachers and the school psychologist or counselor. They will meet with you to discuss your child and how they function at school.  They will also review the child’s academic records, perform an assessment of their behavior, and observe them in their classroom environment. With all this information, they will then discuss with you if your child would benefit from accommodations and how that will impact their learning. 

  1. Which plan is best suited for my student? If qualified under IDEA, meet with the team to finalize an IEP.  This will be the outline of the accommodations your child will receive and what the goals are for the upcoming school year. It’s important to advocate for your child to create the least restrictive environment possible, allowing your child to thrive in a regular classroom setting. An IEP gives specific instructions on how the school will be able to help your child meet their goals through educational accommodations. Your child will be given tools and aids to assist them during class time and tests.  

    Under Section 504, the school will have a representative that will aid you and your child’s teacher compile a 504 Plan or written list of accommodations. These will need to be followed at all times and unlike the IEP, there is no legal requirement that says what is included and the school is not required to include you.

    Click here to learn more about IEPs.

  1. Customize your child’s IEP or 504 Plan. IDEA requires customization, but if you aren’t fully satisfied with your child’s IEP, don’t sign off on it. Ask the school to work with you on drafting accommodations that you feel will be beneficial to your child.

  1. Progress. You’ll meet annually to go over your child’s IEP, and keeping an eye on your child’s progress is vital to this process. You’ll review current practices and strategies and set goals for the upcoming school year. If new challenges arise during the school year, you can request a meeting to readdress goals and practices. 

  1. Paper Trails. Always document your meetings, conversations you have with teachers and administration. If you review medication and how it’s affecting your child, keep a record of those appointments as well. The school should provide you with copies of the IEP after your annual review, keep these in a safe place where you can easily access them if needed.

  2. Support. If you feel like you aren’t making headway with your child’s school, it may be time to have an expert join you during your meetings. You can contact an educational advocate or attorney, some even offer free or low-cost consultations.  Here are some resources to find someone in your area:

What’s next? You may be asking yourself what accommodations your child is entitled to and what it will look like for them in their classroom.  Here are some tools that can be made available to your student:

  • Preferential seating. Seating your child in a spot that is less distracting, closer to the teacher or even the back of the classroom.
  • Getting help from another student. Your child may benefit from being able to get help with their notes from a classmate.
  • Progress reports outside of report cards from the teacher. Your child’s teacher may be able to provide weekly behavioral updates.
  • Extra time on tests or homework assignments.
  • Frequent breaks between assignments or tasks. Some students may benefit from being able to stand or stretch if sitting for extended periods makes focussing difficult.