Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: Can My Gifted High School Student Still Get an IEP or 504 Plan?

Your child has always excelled in school, until suddenly – in high school – the workload is too much. Is the school still required to provide special services even though she takes honors classes and is close to graduation? Our expert explains.

Q: “My daughter is entering 11th grade. She’s always had attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), but has never had an IEP or 504 Plan because she has always performed well in school. She even took honors classes. But now her workload is overwhelming her – she needs help taking notes, extra time, and breaking big tasks into smaller parts. Is it too late to put an IEP or 504 Plan in place now? Will it help her get accommodations for the SAT?” – Starting to Struggle

Dear Starting to Struggle:

It is never too late to seek help for school challenges, and the fact that your daughter has been performing well in school does not mean that she doesn’t need assistance or that she isn’t entitled to it. Sometimes, schools are reluctant to provide IEPs or 504 Plans to students who are high achievers, on the mistaken belief that neither the IDEA nor Section 504 are available to students in honor or AP classes or those with top grades. That is just not correct. A student with a disability can need the support of one of these laws, yet still do very well in school.

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has noted that while the IDEA doesn’t mention “twice exceptional” or “gifted” students, those students who have high cognition, have disabilities, and require special education and related services are protected under the IDEA. The DOE gives as an example that a child with high cognition and ADHD could be considered to have an “other health impairment” under the IDEA and could need special education and related services to address a lack of organizational skills, homework completion and classroom behavior, if appropriate. The same legal analysis would apply to Section 504 accommodations.

For your daughter, it might make more sense to seek a 504 Plan, because that generally will be put in place more quickly and will still provide her with what she needs to help her manage her ADHD in the face of her challenging workload.

I would start by meeting with the head of the school’s 504 Team. For a student who has a long-standing medical diagnosis, such as your daughter’s diagnosis of ADHD, a statement from her physician (often on a form the school will provide) which explains her diagnosis and what she needs to handle her schoolwork in light of her ADHD should be sufficient. Based on the information provided by her doctor, the 504 Team will come up with accommodations to help your daughter succeed despite her ADHD.

[Smart Accommodations for Twice-Exceptional Students]

These accommodations will often include taking tests with extended time and in a separate, quiet location. Other accommodations, such as assistance with note taking and with breaking down complex assignments into smaller parts, may also be provided under a 504 Plan.

The College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, generally looks to the school to see what accommodations a student has been receiving – and using – and will usually provide the same accommodations for the SAT exam. However, when a student doesn’t receive accommodations from their school until the very end of high school, the College Board can be skeptical about the need for them. Your daughter and her school may want to submit a narrative of how her ADHD has affected her work, how much longer it takes her to complete her work than it does other students, and other information that will illustrate why she needs the accommodations she is requesting (which should align with those she gets in school). The best resource for information on SAT (and ACT) accommodations is the website of the testing service.  It is still possible that the College Board may deny the request or insist on additional documentation, including a full educational assessment. There is an appeal process if this occurs, but it can take time. Make sure your daughter submits her request for accommodations as soon as possible.

[Free Resource: Sample 504 Plan]

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The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.