The ABCs of 504s and IEPs

When your child has ADHD, it’s important to make sure s/he gets the accommodations needed to succeed in school. Sometimes schools/teachers are happy to make accommodations informally. More often than not, however, it is preferable to have something formal in place. This is sometimes done through an IEP (Individual Education Plan) and sometimes with a “504 Plan”.

Both a 504 Plan and an IEP provide important protections to students with disabilities. But the protections offered to students with IEPs and 504s are not the same.

If a student with ADHD has an IEP, then he will likely not need a 504 Plan; necessary accommodations will be included in the written IEP.

If a student does not qualify for an IEP, then a 504 plan is the next best option.

Here are the differences between an IEP and a 504 plan:


An IEP is an Individualized Education plan that provides individualized special education and related services to meet a child’s unique needs (The law that applies to IEPs is the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA)). To qualify for an IEP under IDEA, a child must meet the criteria for one of 13 specific disability categories and the disability must affect the child’s educational performance and/or ability to learn and benefit from the general education curriculum.

Attention deficit disorder (ADHD) is not one of the 13 disability categories, but a child with ADHD may be eligible if he’s also affected by one of the specified conditions, which include learning disabilities and developmental delays. Or he may qualify under IDEA’s “Other Health Impairment” category. (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.)

To find out if your teen needs and IEP, the first place to start would be your teen’s school counselor or the school psychologist.

For more information about IEPs, check out this site.

504 Plan

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a federal civil rights law, prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability. A person with a disability is defined as having a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activity, including walking, seeing, hearing and aspects of learning such as reading, writing and calculating. The law requires schools to eliminate any barriers that prevent students with such disabilities from participating fully in their education. It requires a written 504 Plan setting forth reasonable accommodations that will be made to give the child equal educational access.

To get a 504 plan, there are two requirements: a child has any disability, which can include many learning or attention issues and the disability must interfere with the child’s ability to learn in a general education classroom. Section 504 has a broader definition of a disability than IDEA. That’s why a child who doesn’t qualify for an IEP might still be able to get a 504 plan. (Please be aware that the school will likely need documentation verifying the “disability”, e.g., a proof of a Dr. diagnosis before writing a 504 Plan.)

Usually, services included in a 504 Plan involve accommodations in the classroom like extra time to complete assignments. But the plan may also include the use of assistive technology, such as computer-aided instruction, or access to therapy. There are no legal requirements about what a 504 Plan should include, and the school isn’t required to involve parents in developing it (although many schools do). For more information, check out this site.

There is no one intervention (or set of interventions) that will improve the classroom functioning of all students. Classroom modifications must be tailored to the unique needs of each student.


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