My now 13-year-old son was diagnosed with ADHD in grade school. From a young age, he struggled with hyperactivity and a lack of focus in the classroom. He often missed homework deadlines and bombed tests on material he’d already mastered. All this led him to feel overwhelmed and frustrated by school.
After he was diagnosed, the school worked with us to create something called a , with to help him in school. This was all new to me. But I did my best to get up to speed.
Here are five things I learned about 504 plans when my son with ADHD got one.
1. A 504 plan is based on an actual law (and you have rights).
When I first heard the term “504 plan,” I thought it was just an unusual name. I also thought the plan was optional — the school could decide whether to offer one or not.
But what I learned is that “504” refers to an actual law. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protects people with disabilities, which can include learning disabilities and ADHD, from being discriminated against in schools. This was a huge revelation for me. My child had protected legal rights, and the school was required to help.
I also realized there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in getting a 504 plan. The law exists to help make sure that kids like mine have the chance to learn the same material as their peers.
2. You can ask for accommodations specific to your child’s needs.
At first, I also thought 504 plans were the same for every kid. You simply got a fixed list of supports. But then I found out that because each child with a 504 plan is unique, every plan can be too. You can have unique accommodations for ADHD.
For instance, my son likes to walk around the kitchen while he does homework at home. So, at school, as part of his 504 plan, he’s allowed to take movement breaks and walk during class. My daughter, who also ended up getting a 504 plan, has an accommodation that lets her listen to music during her school day to calm and focus her.
3. There’s a team of people involved.
I expected my first 504 plan meeting to only include me, my husband, and the school principal. But I was pleasantly surprised.
My son’s seventh-grade 504 team included a psychologist, his school counselor, a special education teacher, and the vice principal. One of our meetings even included two of his favorite teachers. They shared what was working in their classrooms for my son.
4. You need to follow up on the 504 plan.
When we got our first 504 plan, I assumed someone else (maybe a counselor?) would take the lead. But I quickly learned that, as a parent, I need to stay on top of the 504 plan to make sure it’s followed.
Now, I make it a point to follow up with my son’s school every week to make sure my son’s needs are met. I email, call, and show up at the school regularly to see how things are going for everyone involved. The school doesn’t always know what’s going on for my son at home, and I don’t always know what’s going on at school. So it’s important to connect regularly.
5. A 504 plan can change as the school year goes on.
Another surprising thing I learned: My son’s 504 plan isn’t set in stone for the year. If something worked in September, but isn’t working by November, I learned that I could ask for changes.
For example, my son had a teacher who was a bad fit right out of the gate in seventh grade. After talking to his school counselor and working with the 504 plan team, my son switched into a new class. We also tweaked some of his accommodations.
I’m still learning, but it’s a good feeling to know that we have a 504 plan in place that’s helping my son. Now I just need to figure out the difference between a 504 plan and an IEP.