504 Plan or not … Let’s help kids with ADHD learn!

CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), the national education and advocacy organization, recently released the results of a survey they conducted to explore its “longstanding concerns with the process, quality, and implementation of Section 504 plans and with compliance with the regulations governing them. The results of their survey highlight the problems I find in my practice on a regular basis. There is a tremendous disconnect between the services parents believe their children need (often with the guidance of knowledgeable professional clinicians), and the services teachers and administrators are willing and/or able to effectively provide. Further complicating the problem, there is a lack of awareness on the part of parents regarding their rights to receive services and pursue disagreements as well as a startling lack of sufficient knowledge by school personnel regarding proper design and implementation for effective Section 504 Plans, as well as their obligations to do so under certain criteria.

The sad reality is that there are countless children who are struggling at school and with homework that are not receiving the support they need in order to develop appropriate skills and confidence to perform up to their potential and become independent learners. While the CHADD survey clearly points to the problems that exist within the legal and school systems, I would like to offer some suggestions for changes that can happen without the need for changes in policy or legislation.

Provide teachers with the essential information they need about ADHD and Executive Function skills

Each year, I conduct full day trainings for teachers and support staff to education them regarding how ADHD and deficits in Executive Function skills impact learning and behavior. By the end of the training, participants express confidence and feel empowered, knowing that they have gained insights and tools to help them understand and support their students’ struggles at a deeper level. When children are truly understood and accepted regarding their challenges and intentions, stress levels go down and learning and behavior improve. The teachers I train know that there are a wide range of interventions and environmental changes they can make on a class-wide level that can improve the learning and performing for ALL of their students, with special aid for those most in need.

Provide parents with support and guidance to help their children carry out their teachers’ expectations

Very often there seems to be frustration and disconnect between teachers, parents and students. I find that teachers often rely on parents to help children learn to manage the homework process as well has how to manage their time, materials and efforts regarding projects and test preparation. I find that parents are often unsure of how to truly help their children and whether the support they are providing is over reaching or merely necessary to help their children keep pace with curriculum expectations. The reality is that children need to be explicitly taught HOW to be efficient CEO’s of their brains – effectively utilize their Executive Function skills. They must learn how to take an overall approach to managing their time, materials, efforts and emotions in order to effectively manage there homework, projects, and test preparation. Since this learning and performing must be done at home, parents are the one’s there to witness and support the efforts. In my homework workshops for parents, they learn how to teach their children the management strategies they need. I believe the schools should provide this parent education in order to effectively coincide with grade and curriculum expectations.

Teach students, teachers and parents the tools necessary to reduce overall stress both in school and at home

The science is very clear. When we are under excessive stress and pressure our ability to think clearly, manage our emotions, and perform effectively is reduced. (Read my blog about Mindfulness and Education). This is true for students, teachers and parents alike! Mindfulness practices help us learn to manage our thoughts and emotions. Many schools are beginning to incorporate Mindfulness practices into their daily class routines. The research has found that a few minutes each day can reduce behavior problems and increase academic performance across the board. As parents learn these to incorporate these practices at home, the positive impact is felt across the family.

Ruth Hughes, PhD, former CEO of CHADD, and Matthew Cohen, JD, Special Education Lawyer, wrote an excellent blog (“Do 504 Plans Help Students with ADHD?“) summarizing the results of the CHADD survey and they include important information if you feel your child’s 504 plan is not working. They also include an excellent Call to Action advocating for new guidance for school districts. Please join the efforts for positive change for all involved. Let’s stop making independence and peak performance for students the overarching goal. Let’s focus instead on allowing children to learn the tools they need to be successful in classrooms where who they are and how they need to learn is embraced, accepted and supported.


2 thoughts on “504 Plan or not … Let’s help kids with ADHD learn!”

  1. Great article! So helpful for parents. I have many clients complain that the school does not follow through with the 504 plan, so I will be referring them to your site and CHADD as well. 🙂

  2. Cindy: The quality of a 504 plan is largely irrelevant; the fact of the matter is the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act doesn’t really confer any rights. There is no right to an annual review of the plan, there is no requirement for goals in the plan or legal requirement of implementation. At all. To prevail on a 504 claim, the claimant must show that they have a disability that interferes with a major life activity, exclusion from the program AND bad faith and gross misjudgment. 504 plans are often offered where the child really is entitled to an IEP – and the flaws that you point out regarding 504 are the same ones seen in IEPs – all stemming from the lack of awareness and training that you cite – and lack of common sense and school staff intractability. Classification under the IDEA, in comparison, entitles the child to reevaulation every 3 years, tracking of progress, creation of goals with the parents’ input, annual review of the program AND consequences for failure to comply with the IDEA if progress is negatively impacted. Failure is NOT a trigger for qualification under the IDEA. That’s in both State and Federal regulations. The relief allowed by the IDEA requires proof that the child hasn’t made meaningful progress. That’s a much different standard than gross misjudgment or bad faith. An example is a case where the district gave a child numerous services under a 504 plan for around 3 years. In the 4th year, the parents’ request for an IEP was denied. They removed the child to private school and sought tuition reimbursement. The Second Circuit (which controls in N.Y. and Ct.) held, among other things, that the child should have been given an IEP, that he hadn’t made progress and that the parents were entitled to tuition reimbursement. The court also held that there was no proof of a 504 violation – gross misjudgment wasn’t shown. It’s really important for parents to understand their legal rights under the IDEA – not that an IEP is a fix, either, but at least there is real recourse under the IDEA.


Leave a Comment