Advocating for a Child with ADHD – 504 or IEP?

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I’ve scheduled my daughter for a speech & language evaluation due to CAPD and potential expressive language disorder. She also has a diagnosis of ADHD Inattentive. Our school district goes to any means to prevent giving a 504 for ADHD. They say it does not substantially affect learning. How do I advocate for all her needs?

You need to get a copy of Section 504 and read it. Search the Wrightslaw website for information about Section 504. Contact your state Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) to see if they offer training on the topic.

Section 504 says that a child’s disability must adversely affect a major life function. Going to school is our kid’s job. It is a major life function!

The school says your daughter does not qualify for a 504 because she does not have failing grades. Get them to put it in writing.

A good way to do this without seeming adversarial is to use a comment like this. “Wow.  I did not realize that my daughter’s grades had to be failing for her to qualify for a section 504. Do you have a copy of that law and could you put that in writing?” Write a polite letter to the school with your request.

Look at this a different way.  A student has a physical impairment that prevents him from getting to class on time. He is making passing grades. An appropriate 504 accommodation might be more time to get to class.  Would the school deny this student a 504, just because he is making passing grades? How would that be equal access and opportunity? This is the promise of 504.

Eligible for an IEP under IDEA?

If my child had an ADHD diagnosis, I would request a complete evaluation.  ADHD often goes hand in hand with a learning disability. If your daughter has CAPD, then she should be eligible under IDEA for an IEP with speech/language services. The IEP should include accommodations for all of her needs. IDEA says school cannot deny a child services because she is passing and moving from grade to grade.

An IEP provides your child (and you) with more rights and protections than a 504 plan. If your daughter has a disability that adversely affects educational performance, she is eligible for special education services under IDEA.  If your daughter is eligible for special education under IDEA, she is protected under Section 504 (but the converse is not true).

This diagram always makes it easier for me when I am trying to help parents understand that a child with an IEP is covered by 504.

  1. I have an 11 year old son who is nearing the end of 5th grade. He has been diagnosed with ADHD, OCD ODD, anxiety, depression and a sleep disorder and was placed on an IEP in 1st grade. He’s been doing pretty good the last two years so I have not insisted on having an IEP meeting. We had one the beginning of 4th grade and here we are at the end of 5th grade. He is now beginning to have behavioral issues that’s affecting his education. He’d gotten an in school detention for 3 hours. Then he just got suspended for two days. I have read somewhere that the school is required to have an IEP meeting annually. Since it has been almost two years, does this disqualify him from the IEP? Or are they required, still, to hold a meeting when I request?

  2. I have requested an IEP meeting for my 9 year old with adhd, ocd, anxiety, and sleep disorder. she is on grade level or average for academics but in my opinion is struggling at school. the teacher states she is no different. She has cheated on a spelling test, interrupts constantly , lies, left the playground without asking, wonders the halls in the morning without making it to class on time, does not finish work , is at time very rude and disrespectful , talks, asks tons of questions, etc . I realize these would be considered nuisance behaviors but to me and her dr they are causing her to not function fully in class and at school. She is on concerta 54mg in am and 20 methyphenidate 3pm, buspar, ocd med, trazadone, guanfacine to function. The dr wants a postive behavioral support plan in place, advice? I know it will be 504 if anything.

  3. my son is failing britisth lit and algr. 2 and bible. and he will have to take a summer class in may and when he grad next year he will more summer classes to get a dilp. he has adhd can you advise

  4. Lisa, You will need to work fast to help your son. My oldest was also shutting down at the same age & we did not know what to do. We got help from a local chapter of LDA (Learning Disabilites Assoc). There are web sites with info as well. Have you had a Multifactored evaluation done by the school? If not you can request one in writing. Once you have done that get with the school to sign the consent form for the testing. THis is important since the 60 day time frame does not start until you sign the consent form. Request a copy of the test results before the meeting to go over with a professional (physician or advocate). You do not have to sign anything when you meet if you disagree. You may request an outside evaluation at the school’s expense. The school has to at least consider the results of the outside evaluation.

  5. I have a 9y/o that is ADHD. For the last 2 years he has pretty much made straight F’s. He should be going into the fifth but will be retained back into the third grade in the fall of 2013. I have fought with the school for an IEP and continually get denied. My child is shutting down. What can I do now?

  6. STephanie, In order to get testing for our sons we put the request in writing & sent it to the special ed director & principal requesting to hear back within 5 business days & sent the letter certified mail to one of the people above. AFter 5 days if we did not hear back we would request a meeting to fill out the school’s testing consent form. Once this form is filled out & signed the school legally has 60 days to complete the test. This will help you get the process done faster. Once the testing is done you may request a DRAFT of the results to go over with any professionals you may want to in advance & you do not have to sign anything when you have the meeting to discuss the findings of the test. You may request a test be done by an outside professional if you do not agree w/ the results of the test at the school’s expense.

  7. My son is already in an iep self contained classroom and was found through cmh to have high functioning autism. I’ve requested the school several times to give him at autism test and they have denied my request. can they do that? we live in mi. I rescheduled my sons iep and they had it anyways without even notifying me. can they do that ?? I feel like im fighting this huge fight to get my son the proper education. Please help

    • I’m sorry, but what is cmh? What are your reasons for wanting his school to test your son with autism if he already has IEPs? Federal requires that schools include parents in the IEP process and their child’s annual review and dismissal process.

  8. My daughter is having trouble in her first year of high school. She was showing signs last year too, but she kept her grades up so we didn’t understand that there was a problem. She has a hard time understanding and following directions, also is confused as to what is expected of her quite often. And she has extreme difficulties in studying and testing in noisy settings. Her grades are still decent. What if anything, can be done to get things slowed down a bit for her to ensure her success? Thank you.

  9. Maria, Having an IEP or 504 or both or neither depends on the specific needs of the child. Yes many people do not know that a child can be on both an IEP and 504 if that is what is needed. My ADHD son was on an IEP when young, later on a 504 & in high school on an OHI (other health impaired IEP ) because of his ADHD. All of these worked well at the time when he needed them. I am partial to the IEP because I believe there is clearer legal language in it & more options to get the goals and needs met.

  10. Nicholas, I have observed my sons many times throughout the years. I cannot just show up. I have to follow their process which in my area is to request the observation in writing, why & find out when I can come in in the next 2 weeks. I have never had an issue.

  11. Can you define, “disability that adversely affects educational performance”? My son has ADHD and has an extensive behavior plan under 504. The behavior plan makes it possible for him to stay in the classroom (most of the time); however, he consistently fails math tests and is in the 17th percentile for math in the district’s tests. I’ve requested an IEP, but he has been denied because ‘there is no educational need.’ How can there be no educational need? Why can’t the behavior plan be inside an IEP?

  12. my son is haveing truble in one of his classes and i would like to know if i can accompiny him to his classes and sit in on them. i want to know if i do that can the school kick me off the campous. we live in CA.

  13. I need help because my daughter is not getting the help she needs at her school. I am lost and do not know where to go for help. Can you help me out?

  14. Hi
    I am looking for help. My 4th grade daughter has been diagnosed with ADHD and recently had testing done through her school which was requested by me. The results were that she would not receive services as she is “progressing”. At this point she has a D average in math and is struggling to complete homework assignments due to retention of information. I am very frustrated. The school is essentially telling me she has to fail before they will help us!!

    Any help/advice is greatly appreciated

  15. If a child has ADHA and is on medication and does well in school, without the medication he fights and no control does he qualify for a section 504 plan?

  16. My daughter is 11 was diagnosed at 5 with ADHD/bipolar. I have been trying for the last 4 years to get 504 and/or IEP. I have had no luck since she is very smart and can make the grade. They threatened yesterday to suspend her for 45 days due to her behavior. I dont feel that is fair for my child who is having problems due to her disabilities. The doctors say she is the most severe they have seen at her age. She is medicated and topped out on the doseage. I take her to therapy every 2 weeks. I am doing all I can do and need help with the school. I am the only one fighting for her and I will NOT give up on my daughter. Any advice would be great. Thank you

    • Carrie, I applaud you and your efforts. Keep on fighting for your child. You are the only one who can fight for her until she can do it herself. I am doing the same. My advice is to hire an educational advocate. It has made all the difference.

  17. My 8 year old grandaughter has had anxieties about her current school for over a year. It has been difficult to have her stay all day and on some days she doesn’t want to go at all. She gets physically ill at times. When she is excited about going, she gets bullied, singled out for one thing or another. She finally got and was denied eligibility for both an IEP and 504 Plan. She’s had two therapists and one emergency psychological evaluation. Testing twice has proven that her IQ to be 124-125. Now Child Services via the Public School system is trying to accuse the parents of Educational Neglect. What can we do next? A year ago we obtained an Educational Advocate who was never provided the requested documents from the child’s school. What next.

  18. Michelle, I would request a full blown evaluation in writing and then followup in 5 days. Sign the school’s consent form and then the school has 60 days to complete the eval. You can request a DRAFT copy of the results of the test to go over with a professional psychologist, physician or advocate. AFter you have the initial meeting you can discuss all of the issues. If you do not agree DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING. You may request an outside evaluation at the school’s expense and you do not have to use any of the school’s suggestions of where to get the outside evaluation. My son is dyslexic. We chose a professional that was an expert on the subject to do the outside test. THe results were very useful and we got a great IEP out of it.

  19. Michelle. I would write a letter asking if his IEP should not address all areas of his disability. Actually, at this point, if my kid had language problems plus ADHD I would make a written request for a full blown eval. Often times (not always) a kid with ADHD may have some type of learning disability.

  20. My son is adhd and he also has a speech problem as well. he has an IEP in speech but they wont give him one for the classroom. I feel like they can they wont. he is on medication 3 types of everyday so I need help.

  21. Need advice. My nine year old third grader has inattentive ADHD, diagnosed two years ago. She was put on a 504 plan at that time however it is pretty vague. She had a wonderful teacher last year and her grades did improve, school has denied my requests to have her tested for additional learning disabilities both in first and second grade. This year her teacher is less than wonderful and she has F’s. I have her working with a friend who is a special education teacher with a masters degree, she tutors her once a week. She believes my daughter has a processing or working memory issue also. The school still is denying my request even with this info in hand. They are doing math and literacy intervention but will NOT test her or set up an IEP. I just want my daughter to get the help she needs. what do I do?

  22. Amazing- all the kids with ADHD and their parents are fighting the same battle in different places! My kid is 17, has ADHD, suicide watches, good and bad grades, not stable, self medicates and drugs, and I have to prove to a school with new or unqualified people that he needs an IEP or in his case, therapeutic boarding school. FAPE was proven in a hearing, but the school doesn’t have to abide. Hearing officers don’t know health characteristics of OHI or other related services, so parents fight against school districts, who have the last say, unless you chose to mortgage your house to get what should have been given and lawyers aren’t real interested on contingents as there is little or no monetary damages- Only in America!!

  23. beth – The school is obligated to provide special ed services that meet the goals in the IEP.. If they have to bus your son to another facility than they must do this at no cost to you. However this sounds like a very restrictive environment but I am not sure based on what you have written. Your son is supposed to be taught in the least restrictive environment. You may need to have an advocate help you through this process. If you have a local chapter of the Learning Disabilities Association they may have someone or some information that can help. Wrightslaw’s various books are a wealth of information as well.

  24. karentiberghien – Have you requested an evaluation from the school to determine if your son qualifies for services? If not, you have the right to request that and sign their consent form. If you do not sign their consent form they tend to wait and stall. Once you get the test results request a DRAFT version so you can read it and/or have a professional look at it. Then you meet with the team to discuss it. If you do not agree with the test results you may request an outside evaluation at the school’s request.

  25. My son is 12yrs old; dx of ADHD, Asperger’s, and PDD. He is currently being served in general educaion, but is barely passing. He has been suspended 2x so far, in ISR 1x, and ASD 2x so far this school year for “behavior” issues. These behaviors are part of his dx. He has an IEP and BIP in place that the school is not following because they do not have a “special education” program. Under the “least restrictive environment” act, it says that if his behaviors are impeding the learning of himself and others he can be placed in “specail education” environment. What are the schools responsibilities now? Do they have to provide him with transportation to a facility (school) that does have the “special education program/class? I have been fighing this battle for many years and feel as though I am standing in front of a brick wall.

  26. MY SON IS 14 with adhd , anxiety, and ocd. SCHOOL SAYS HE DOESNT qualify for 504 because he is passing- he is smart and capable of doing the work.
    HIS BEHAVIOR Effects his abilty to pay attention in class. What do we do?

  27. I am a school social worker in NYC and I have this question:

    If IDEA states that a child cannot be denied services simply because she is passing from grade to grade, how is that consonant with the Rowley ruling?

  28. At my oldest son’s IEP Eligibility Review meeting this year, the school decided to change his IEP status to a 504 Plan. Although he has ADHD and several other issues, the school felt that because his grades were excellent, he does not need an IEP. The Ed Diagnostician stated that he did not receive his modifications, that he did not need them, with the school psycologist agreeing. Other information was twisted to fit the school’s agenda in denying my son an IEP for the last two and a half years of High School.

    I accompanied at the meeting by a representative from a Parent Informaton Center so she could hear what the school’s IEP team said to me, and to spot student and parent rights violations. Although she was supposed to help with comments that were not accurate, she insisted that I sign the school’s forms.

  29. I have a daughter who has Cerebral Palsy and will be 6 in February. CP has affected her mobility and left side. She goes to school on Wheelchair/wlaker. She is and has been on an IEP since she turned 3 and started the Preschool system. She is doing very well academically and they are currently screening and doing tests on her to determine whether or not she will qualify for the IEP and down to a 504 this year… They are saying they are going to remover her from the IEP and we have a PPT set up next month. Can they do this? I heard from another mom whos daughter has Cerebral Palsy and is in the 8th grade and still continues to have an IEP. She says that I need to fight this because her daughter in 2nd grade began to have difficulties… So I’m afraid of this happening to her and then not being able to get her back on to an IEP.

  30. Michelle – I have had my child on a 504 plan and we were able to get all the accommodations/modifications and we did get a copy of books at home. You may also be able to get audio books via RFB & D (Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic) online. Look it up on internet and see if you qualify. We had to have our physician sign a letter that our son was dyslexic and he qualified for this service for free. We had difficulty getting the modifications enforced while my sone was on 504 so we got in on OHI (Other health impaired) IEP because he is ADHD. Once you do that you may use the IEP like any other IEP for modifications, etc. I believe it holds more weight than 504. The funding is different, also which makes a difference.

  31. I have a son who is adhd and in high school and has some basic modifications in place with the 504, we wanted to make changes and implement more accommodations. The 504 Coordinator/Vice Principal did not want to implement all the modifications we requested, does she have the power to decide what’s implemented and what isn’t? We had 3 teachers present, not all the teachers could make the meeting. Also I requested my son to have a tape recorder in class, she came back and said no it violated the privacy of other students, if their voices were on it, is that true? Also we asked for a second set of books for home, and were told no, the state of Texas does not allow that, is that true?

  32. Shawnee-Many kids with ADHD are to use your words “VERY smart.” Having a high IQ does not mean a child does not have a disability that adversely affects educational performance. He scored too high on a test? What test? Was it a comprehensive psychological evaluation or was it a screening? To determine eligibility under the IDEA a comprehesive evaluation must be done. A parent can request an IEE (independent evaluation) if the parent disagrees with the evaluation the school has done. QUESTION: Has the school done a real evaluation to determine eligibility or did they only do a screening? Read “From Emotions to Advocacy” and “Special Education Law” by the Wrights and contact your states Parent Training and Information Center. Also, some good reading on ADHD-anything by Chris Zeigler Dendy is great. Make yourself an EXPERT!

  33. Our state law defines “Health impairment” as: “Health impairment” means an impairment that limits the strength, vitality or alertness of the pupil, including, without limitation, a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli which results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment and which:1)Is caused by chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder…,&, 2)Adversely affects the educational performance of the pupil. Our state law also has eligibility language that states a pupil is eligible for special services/programs of instruction if team concludes student has health impairment & team concludes that the pupil has a health impairment,,,which could reasonably be interpreted as adversely affecting the affecting the ed performance of student

  34. Kate – The first thing I would ask the school is to provide you the evidence that he does not qualify for a 504 plan or IEP. AFter that request a full multifactored test in writing and then get in there and sign the paperwork that the school has so that the clock starts ticking and they don’t take forever to do the testing. Once their paperwork is signed by you requesting the multifactored evaluation they will have 60 days to do the testing. Request to see the scores in grade level equivalents. They will probably not want to do this and try to talk you out of it but if you insist they should do this. It is easy to do from the raw scores of the test.

  35. My son has a diagnosis of ADHD, he was diagnosed when he was just 4 y/o. He is very talented in art and music and until this year has always had good grades. I asked for information @ 504 and IEP for him and was told that he tests “normal”, with the rest of his grade. Basically I was told that he has to FAIL before they can do anything. I am so frustrated with this situation. Any suggestions to help me WIN against the school?

  36. My son is 17. Diagnosed with ADHD at 6 yrs. We’ve never asked for help until now. He is very intelligent but has struggled in school tremendously the last few years (flunked 2 classes & barely passing the rest). I researched IEP & 504 and thought he was eligible so we asked the school to test him. They say he’s not eligible because he scored too high on the test and that he just needs to try harder. I agree with the test results. He is very smart – but why is he flunking? I’ve asked the school to do more testing & they ask me what test I want them to do. I didn’t know so I took him to a psychologist. The school said they have to do the tests 1st before they’ll consider paying for an IEE. They just asked for permission to do psychological testing. I don’t think that’s his problem but agreed so we can rule it out. PLEASE HELP!

    • Check for discrepancies 17-21 points even is the child is in average range. OHI classroom performance must be considered.

  37. My 17 yr old son was just diagnosed with ADHD…he has been “self medicating” and I am freaking out, I don’t know what to do next…is he too old to be helped?

    • He is not too old. As with every student, he will need to take advantage of every service and modification he needs to be successful.

  38. You need to get “hatted” up on Section 504 and your daughter’s rights. Check out this great U.S. Department of Education article:

    Things changed in 2009 and it should be easier to get your daughter qualified now. They can no longer consider mitigating measures when testing, and may be applying an outdated standard.

    Getting an attorney can usually help if you can’t get anywhere by yourself.

    Best of luck
    Sacramento California Education Attorney advocating for the rights of parents and students since 1995.

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