Your child has been struggling in school, and at home, for what seems like forever. Grades are slipping, frustrations are escalating, the word “can’t” has been popping up a lot more, and every day you send them to school and pray they’ll make it through without another outburst.
Finally, you bring it up with your pediatrician, who asks all kinds of questions about your child’s behavior, nutrition, and sleep patterns. You fill out tons of paperwork, and even let the teacher fill out a bunch … cause it’s nice to share, right?
Once all the information is gathered, turned in, and evaluated, you see the doctor again. It’s official. Your child has ADHD.
After discussing medication options, social skills classes, and various types of therapy, your head starts to spin. The initial feeling of relief that came from getting answers starts to wear off and it sinks in. This is kind of a big deal!
You leave the office with stacks of helpful information and a determination to read it all as soon as possible. But you don’t. The kids need fed, homework needs done, the house is a mess…
Don’t worry! There are a lot of ways you can help your child at this point, but you don’t have to do them all today. I encourage you to make an effort to get through all that info little by little, but in the meantime, let’s talk about that 504.There are lots of ways to help your ADHD child, but you don't have to do them ALL today. Click To Tweet
What is a 504 exactly? It sounds like a secret code for something complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. In a nutshell, a 504 is a written plan where you and your child’s teacher can share what works and doesn’t work to help your child learn in the best way for them. This can be passed on to future teachers to keep them informed and can be added to or changed as needed. It requires the school to allow or provide certain accommodations for your child.
Since every child can not be put into one neat little box with all the same symptoms, challenges, strengths, talents, etc, this is a great way for you to speak up about what your child’s specific needs may be.
The process will go something like this:
Talk with your child’s teacher. This is always the first and most important step when it comes to your child’s education and classroom experience. I truly hope you have a teacher who is as amazing as my daughter’s was when we went through this. If not, you still need to get whatever input you can from them and keep them in the loop as things evolve.
My initial email was to inform the teacher that we had received an official diagnosis, that she would be starting medication so please watch for side effects (good or bad) and let me know what you see, and to ask if there was anything she needed from me or anything I should be aware of before talking to the principal.
Her response was very encouraging and helpful and included some of the things she had already been using in the classroom to help my daughter. For example, she likes to chew on her pencil erasers (ew!) and the teacher had provided her with something called a chew stick to use instead. Also, and this is my favorite, she had given my daughter three red cards to be used throughout the day. When she felt especially upset or was struggling to remain in control, she could place a red card on her desk and go for a short walk in the hall or get a drink from the drinking fountain. This was an effective tool for her to de-escalate and return ready to get back on task. She knew she only had three to use and needed to use them only when absolutely necessary.
Email the 504 coordinator. In our case, and I believe this is common, it was the principal of the school. If not, the principal can tell you who you do need to speak with.
I told the principal that we had received a diagnosis for ADHD for my daughter and that I was interested in whatever resources were available to help her.
Learn from my mistake here, and BE SPECIFIC!! The next thing I knew I was sitting in a meeting with the principal and the Special Education Director while they talked at me in a very intimidating way and informed me that my child does not qualify for Special Ed. I had not wanted Special Ed in the first place and was so thrown off that I basically just sat there feeling stupid. I left the meeting feeling ambushed and misunderstood. And most of all, I was worried. I had no idea how to proceed.
(Keep in mind that just because Special Education assistance was not what I needed that it might be a good fit for you.)
After I calmed down, we tried again.
I read the information our pediatrician gave me about the difference between a 504 and an IEP. I highlighted anything I thought might apply.
If you were not given this information, you can find it HERE, at Understood.org. You can also find legal info HERE from the Center for Parent Information and Resources, regarding section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Basically it states that if you qualify with a disability, the school cannot legally deny you assistance.
I requested a meeting about a 504 plan and let the principal know that this was all new to me and I would appreciate whatever help she could give me in figuring out where to go from here.
I also asked the teacher what she would suggest. Again, we hit the jackpot here, but the teacher compassionately shared how amazing she thought my daughter was and expressed a willingness to help in whatever way possible. She emailed the principal and gave her a list of classroom accommodations she had implemented and a brief description of my daughter’s needs.
The school will need documentation of everything before they can proceed.
You will need to provide anything in your child’s medical records that pertains to the diagnosis. Basically, proof that there is a need. Your doctor will know what to provide, so call and ask for information to give to the school about your child’s diagnosis. I recommend that you also make copies for yourself, but you can always ask your doctor for them again later if you don’t.
My daughter also struggles with sensory processing, so we had an evaluation done with an occupational therapist. If you have done anything like that, provide a copy of those evaluations as well.
Make a list of the accommodations you would like to put into place for your child. The teacher probably has suggestions, if they haven’t given them to you already.
Some ideas may include:
- Seating Preferences. Being front and center, or away from other children to minimize distractions.
- Fidgets. Something that is not distracting to the class, but allows your child to use their hands.
- Comfort item. Small stuffed animal or object that can be squeezed to help them calm down.
- Extended Testing Time.
- Quiet Testing Location.
- Shortened Homework Assignments. You may also break homework into smaller sections or ask for more time to complete them.
- Wiggle Seats. A different seat or something put on the seat to allow wiggling and movement while learning. Or they may prefer standing at their desk when appropriate.
- Social Skills Classes with Special Ed or School Counselor.
- Tutoring, help from peers, or other educators.
- Designate a way or place for them to calm down. For example, the red cards described above.
- Allow student time to write assignments in a day planner.
- Provide transition warnings or cues.
It’s time to meet with all those involved (parent, student, teacher, principal/504 coordinator) and write the actual 504 plan.
If you are nervous and would like to see a sample 504 plan, Understood.org has one HERE, but the good news is, you don’t have to write it. You don’t have to research or toil over how it works or what it looks like, because the principal/504 coordinator will bring all of that.
In the meeting, you will all go over a form together and fill in what is needed.
Section 1 states what information was reviewed and used, such as academic testing, grades, medical evaluations and behavior records.
Section 2 asks what major life activities are being impaired. You will check boxes for what applies. The options on my daughter’s form are: caring for self, hearing, working, performing manual tasks, speaking, reading, walking, breathing, concentrating, seeing, learning, thinking, communicating, eating, sleeping, standing, lifting, bending, and other.
Section 3 asks if the student has a physical or mental impairment affecting major life activities. We checked yes because her ADHD is affecting her ability to perform in school, which for a second grader, is a major life activity.
Section 4 asks if the student’s impairment substantially limits her compared to other students in general. Again, we marked yes.
Section 5 states whether the child will be further evaluated, or will not qualify for a 504, and whether the impairment is active, episodic, or in remission.
Finally, Section 6 will address what accommodations will be put in place, what special materials are needed, who will be responsible for implementing them, and what criteria must be met to be considered a success.
Need: Provide time for de-escalation 3 times per day. Red cards to help her leave room and return.
Special Materials or Training Needed: Teacher inservice
Who will implement accommodations? Teacher
Criteria for Evaluating Success: Student will not require additional time throughout day for de-escalation.
That’s it! Everybody signs the form and the principal/504 coordinator will input everything and take care of the rest. If at any time in the future, you feel that adjustments need to be made, you can request another meeting and update the plan. You will also meet annually to discuss and evaluate and can make adjustments at that point if necessary.