Developing Section 504 Accommodations for Students With ADHD

What is a 504 Accommodation Plan?

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"Our daughter is 13 years old and has ADD. She qualifies for special accommodations at school under Section 504. We are getting ready to meet with the school to develop her 504 Plan. Can you give me information about what types of help she might be able to receive? Also, what exactly is a 504 Plan?" -- Reader

Students with ADHD like your daughter are eligible for services and an individual accommodation plan under Section 504 if they have significant difficulty learning in school due to ADHD impairments.

Once it is determined that a student is eligible for services, the next step is to develop a 504 Plan which often includes a written list of specific accommodations, supplementary aids, and related services that will be provided to the student in school. The purpose of these accommodations is to ensure that the individual educational needs of the student with disabilities are met as adequately as the needs of those students without disabilities.

There are actually two federal laws that address the educational needs of students with disabilities -- Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (or simply Section 504) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (also known as IDEA). Section 504 and IDEA guarantee that students with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) that is comparable to the education available to non-disabled students.

Both laws require placement of a child with disabilities in the least restrictive environment. IDEA requires an individualized educational plan (IEP) with educational goals for the student and specifically designed special education, instruction, and related services that the school is responsible for providing in order to help the student reach those goals.

Section 504 does not require a written IEP, but it does require a plan of reasonable services and accommodations for the student with disabilities.

The definition of a disability is much broader under Section 504 than under IDEA, so more students tend to be eligible for services under Section 504. Most students with a 504 Plan are served in the general education classroom. Often these are the students who have milder impairments and do not need the intensity of special education, but could benefit from extra supports, accommodations, academic and behavioral adjustments and modifications in the regular educational curriculum. A 504 Plan also tends to be a much faster, easier procedure for obtaining accommodations and supports since IDEA has stricter eligibility criteria and regulations. Read more about IDEA and Section 504

Developing a 504 Accommodation Plan

The first step in developing a 504 Plan is to identify how the student's disability (in your daughter's case - ADHD) is affecting learning and impairing academic performance and then to determine the specific instruction supports and accommodations that are necessary.

These accommodations should significantly reduce or eliminate the effects of a student's disability in the educational setting.

Symptoms of ADHD can affect each person in quite varying ways and so your daughter's 504 Plan must be tailored to her individual strengths, learning style, behavioral challenges, and educational needs. Chris Zeigler Dendy, M.S., is a highly regarded expert in the ADHD and education field. She is also theĀ author of Teaching Teens With ADD, ADHD, and Executive Function Deficits. In addition to inattention, Dendy identifies several areas that can be challenging for students with ADHD in the educational setting including:

  • deficits in working memory: memory skills that are essential for writing essays, doing complex math problems, and understanding what they read
  • difficulty getting started and finishing tasks
  • an impaired sense of time: often late, don't manage time well
  • difficulty controlling emotions: more likely to speak impulsively or "blow up"
  • difficulty using "self-talk" to control behavior
  • difficulty analyzing, problem-solving, synthesizing, and implementing a plan
  • slow reading and writing: produce less written work, read less material
  • disorganization: lose things, disorganized notebooks, backpacks, and lockers
  • forgetfulness
  • undiagnosed coexisting conditions like learning disabilities or depression that make it more difficult to learn

If your daughter is experiencing any of these learning challenges, it is important that they are addressed in her 504 Plan. Also, keep in mind that approximately 25 to 50 % of students with ADHD may also have a specific learning disability. Common learning disabilities seen alongside ADHD include disabilities in reading, math, spelling, and written expression.

The following page includes a listing of accommodations that are often helpful for students with ADHD. Your daughter's 504 Plan might include some of these. Depending on a student's individual needs related services may include speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, assistive technology, counseling, as well as training in study strategies, organizational skills and time management.

Accommodations Available to Qualified Students With ADHD

  • Preferential seating (away from distractions - away from door, window, pencil sharpener or distracting students, near the teacher, a quiet place to complete school work or tests, seating student by a good role model/classroom "buddy")
  • Extended time for testing (especially helpful for students who tend to retrieve and process information at a slower speed and so take longer with testing)
    • Modification of test format and delivery (oral exams, use of a calculator, chunking or breaking down tests into smaller sections to complete, providing breaks between sections, quiet place to complete tests, multiple choice or fill in the blank test format instead of essay)
    • Modifications in classroom and homework assignments (shortened assignments to compensate for amount of time it takes to complete, extended time to complete assignments, reduced amount of written work, breaking down assignments and long-term projects into segments with separate due dates for completion of each segment, allowing student to dictate or tape record responses, allowing student to use computer for written work, oral reports or hands on projects to demonstrate learning of material)
    • Assistance with note taking (providing student with a copy of class notes, peer assistance with note taking, audio taping of lectures)
      • Modification of teaching methods (multisensory instruction, visual cues and hands on activities, highlight or underline important parts of a task, cue student in on key points of lesson, providing guided lecture notes, outlines and study guides, reduce demands on memory, teach memory skills such as mnemonics, visualization, oral rehearsal and repetitive practice, use books on tape, assistance with organization, prioritization and problem solving)
        • Providing clear and simple directions for homework and class assignments (repeating directions, posting homework assignments on board, supplementing verbal instructions with visual/written instructions)
        • Appointing "row captains" or "homework buddies" who remind students to write down assignments and who collect work to turn in to teacher
        • Adjusting class schedule (schedule those classes that require most mental focus at beginning of school day, schedule in regular breaks for student throughout the day to allow for physical movement and "brain rest", adjustments to nonacademic time)
        • Adjustments to grading (modifying weight given to exams, breaking test down into segments and grading segments separately, partial credit for late homework with full credit for make-up work)
        • Organizational assistance (including teacher/school representative meeting with student at end of each class or end day to check that homework assignments are written completely in homework notebook and needed books are in back pack, providing organizational folders and planners, color coding)
          • Extra set of books for student to keep at home
          • Highlighted textbooks and workbooks
          • Setting up a system of communication (such as a notebook for weekly progress report, regular emails or phone calls) between parent and teacher/school representative in order to keep each other informed about the student's progress or difficulties. Notify parent of homework and project assignments and due dates

          If you are a parent of a teenager with ADHD or are a teacher of a student with ADHD, I highly recommend Chris Zeigler Dendy's book Teaching Teens With ADD, ADHD, and Executive Function Deficits: A Quick Reference Guide for Teachers and Parents. It is jam packed with important information you need to know to understand how ADHD can impact learning and ways to help your teen manage these challenges and be successful in school and beyond.

          Additional Reading:
          Accessing Special Education Services
          Understanding Learning Differences
          Helping Children With ADHD Succeed


          Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, Teaching Teens With ADD, ADHD, and Executive Function Deficits: A Quick Reference Guide for Teachers and Parents (Second Edition). Woodbine House. 2011.

          Sydney S. Zentall, ADHD and Education: Foundations, Characteristics, Methods, and Collaboration. Pearson Education, Inc. 2006.

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