The ups and downs of my son’s 504 plan for ADHD

I don’t know how the 504 plan process goes for other parents, but it’s been a bumpy ride for our family. My son has ADHD, but he wasn’t officially diagnosed until sixth grade, which is still grade school where we live.

After my son was diagnosed, we asked his grade school for more support. He was struggling academically and had a lot of issues with impulsivity and lack of focus. The school principal was calling me every day about his behavior. I’d heard about 504 plans from a family member, so I decided to ask the school to give one to my son.

I’m not sure why the school was so ill equipped to handle the 504 plan process with us, but they were. And it was a mess.

We had endless meetings with the principal, yet we never seemed to make any headway. Technically, the school put in place a 504 plan for my son — it was “on the books.” But every meeting with the principal ended with him telling us we didn’t need to put anything into the plan.

Instead, we got parenting advice. If my husband and I were more disciplined as parents, we were told, we could nip all our son’s “bad behavior” in the bud.

I was so angry. What made things worse was that I didn’t really understand the process. Nor did I know what my rights were as a parent, never mind those of my child.

My son had a 504 plan, but he was still drowning at school. I couldn’t figure out how to get help for him. I felt like I’d failed as a parent, and I didn’t know what to do.

Between sixth and seventh grade, a friend of mine introduced me to Understood, where I found a lot of the answers I’d been searching for. I learned what my son’s rights were and how the 504 plan (and ) process should work. I got ideas for accommodations. I also dug deep into my local community and found better mental health professionals. They had the training and know-how to navigate my son’s ADHD.

My son was moving to middle school, and I desperately wanted to make his experience better. I decided to spend the entire summer working on a strategy for his 504 plan. I was lucky to make friends with a special education advocate, who gave me tips on what to do.

Between doctor’s appointments, more testing, school paperwork, and medical forms, it took the whole summer to get everything prepared. My advocate friend suggested I start at the school district level because of the past problems we had. On her advice, I called the superintendent. To my surprise, he called me right back and walked me through the process. He also gave me the contact information for the 504 plan coordinator at the middle school.

Our first middle school 504 plan meeting was at 7 a.m. on my son’s first day of seventh grade. I was nervous because I didn’t want a repeat of the disaster we’d had in grade school. But, amazingly, all my preparation paid off.

My husband and I sat with a team of five educators and hammered out a plan for our son with a decent set of accommodations for the school year. To address my son’s focus issues, he’d be allowed to take tests in the counselor’s office. He’d also be allowed to skip some of the repetitive math problems that caused him so much angst.

We left the meeting with assurances from the team that if our son’s needs changed during the school year, we could tweak the plan. They kept their promise when a short while later we adjusted the plan to prevent his homework from becoming overwhelming. As the year went on, I made it my job to stay in regular contact with all his teachers, his school counselor, and the vice principal.

Getting the right 504 plan in place changed my son’s experience for the better. It was completely worth it.

But if I’m being honest, it’s been a mixed bag emotionally for me. I’m beyond grateful that these plans exist to help kids like mine navigate the school system. But part of me is heartbroken that my son needs extra help to fit into classrooms that aren’t really made for him.

Here’s a confession. I regularly lock myself in the bathroom to cry about how hard it is to parent a kid with ADHD. It’s just a lot, all the time. Now add the full-time stress of managing a 504 plan to that daily struggle. There’s the constant barrage of emails and phone calls with teachers and administrators. The drop-in visits to see what really happens without me in the building. And the nonstop meltdowns over homework. Sometimes it’s more than I can handle.

So yes, I’m thankful for my son’s 504 plan. But the process is, and continues to be, full of ups and downs for both him and me.

Hear more from the blogger: Read the five things she learned about 504 plans when her son got one. And if you’re struggling with the 504 plan process, here are some resources to check out:

Get answers to common questions about 504 plans, too, including whether there’s a standard template or form for 504 plans.


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