IEPs & 504 Plans

Q: “504 Plan vs. IEP: What’s the Gateway to College Accommodations?”

“Colleges can provide ‘504-like’ accommodations, but the burden of ensuring that any accommodations are provided shifts to your child.”

College Prep for ADHD Teens
College Prep for ADHD Teens

Q: “My son has had a 504 Plan, due to his chronic migraines, with reasonable accommodations, including lenient due dates for tests and assignments. He’s now a senior in high school and has just been diagnosed with ADHD by his psychologist. I want the school to add his diagnosis to his 504 Plan before he goes to college. But I wonder: Should I request an IEP? In the college’s view, does one carry more importance?” — 504Mom

Hi 504Mom:

I’m so happy you could get an ADHD diagnosis for your son. I tell parents that it is never too late – even if it’s senior year.

Whenever I suggest to a parent that their child may benefit from an IEP or a 504 Plan for ADHD, I usually know more about the child’s diagnosis and difficulties, as well as the type of services the school offers. Based on the information you provided, my advice is to update your son’s current 504 Plan to reflect his ADHD diagnosis.

I don’t think it makes sense at this point to go through a lengthy IEP process for what might be just a few weeks of additional services, as your son is graduating in a few months. In addition, a diagnosis of ADHD does not guarantee an IEP. Children with disabilities — including ADHD — can receive an IEP only if there’s evidence that the condition affects their ability to succeed in school. That is another factor to take into consideration, if you haven’t already.

However, your son may be eligible to receive additional accommodations under an updated 504 Plan. These could include reduced homework, extended test-taking time, intensive tutoring, access to teachers’ notes or outlines, or a study-skills class that focuses on organization and time-management skills. You should discuss what might be beneficial and available under the 504 Plan with your son and the school.

[Free Chart Comparing IEPs to 504 Plans]

Whether a 504 Plan or IEP carries more importance in college, the answer is simple: Neither do, as there are no IEPs or 504 Plans in college.

Colleges can provide “504-like” accommodations, but the burden of ensuring that any accommodations are provided shifts to your child. Your son will need to ask for his services and support, and provide documentation such as past copies of his 504 Plan that describes the services he received in high school. You can find out how your son’s (prospective) college provides accommodations by reaching out to its office of student/disability services.

Life Skills for College

Speaking of college, here’s my suggestion to you: With only a few short months until your son’s high school graduation, I would focus on making sure he has the life skills needed to be successful in college.

As an academic/life coach for students with ADHD, I’ve seen many of my high school coaching students develop good study habits, practice planning their time, and learn to write persuasive papers, all in preparation for attending college. However, their day-to-day success in college truly depends on the life skills they develop prior to leaving for school.

[Self-Test: Does My Child Have an Executive Function Deficit?]

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Can your son get up on his own in the morning, get himself ready, and get out the door in time for class?
  • Can he articulate his challenges and the accommodations he needs to his teachers and/or the school administration to ensure he receives them? And if not, does he know who and how to ask for help?
  • Does he practice self-care? Shower every day? Eat healthy, balanced, regular meals? Do his laundry? Know how to take his meds properly? Prepare a few basic dishes? Keep his room relatively clean and organized?

Having these types of skills before heading off to college is critical to your son’s success. Remember, college is not about knowing all the answers or earning a perfect score on a calculus quiz. It’s about identifying and establishing the strategies to succeed, and then communicating that plan to those who can ensure it happens.

504 Plan vs. IEP: Next Steps


ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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