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Dear ADDitude: Should We Pursue an IEP or a 504 Plan?

“My 9-year-old son was just diagnosed with ADHD. He’s doing fine academically, but he often acts out in class. Is it best to look into an IEP or 504? Or do I wait and see how he responds to the medication?”

ADDitude Answers

It is always a good idea to have a complete evaluation done. Many children with ADHD have additional learning disabilities, which often go unnoticed when a child is twice exceptional. Her high intelligence allows her to do well in school, so no one suspects she has learning challenges. You might want to ask for an executive functioning rating scale, which will give you concrete information on skills, such as organization.

A diagnosis of ADHD is not a guarantee that she will receive a 504 plan; however, many children with ADHD them. Certainly, the diagnosis is important, but the complete results of the evaluation will be taken into consideration.

Posted by Eileen Bailey
Freelance writer, author specializing in ADHD, anxiety, and autism

ADDitude Answers

Some kids qualify for an IEP with the single diagnosis of ADHD. That’s not the majority, though. (If you ask me, ADHD should be an automatic qualifier.)

A 504 Plan is just an official document outlining accommodations to be implemented at school for the student. To qualify, a child’s condition simply has to be affecting his or her learning in one way or another. Unless he’s skating by without any issues, he should be able to get a 504 Plan now, before the medication is started.

An IEP is part of special education programs. An IEP provides services in addition to accommodations. It is the plan that is drafted to individualize education for each special needs student. It is tougher to get an IEP, and requires an evaluation by the school.

Follow this 12-step guide to securing accommodations through an IEP or 504 Plan.

Here’s our step-by-step guide to achieving school success.

From what you’ve shared, it sounds like academics aren’t currently a problem, but behavior can be. It would be an uphill battle in that instance to get the IEP, in most schools.

At this juncture, I might ask the school to do a 504 Plan and a Behavior Intervention Plan – that way you have some help in place in an official way, and it can always be changed as his needs/challenges change. You can request an evaluation for special ed and an IEP at any time.

Posted by Penny
community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

A Reader Answers

I would see what benefit comes from medication over the next couple of weeks. If behavioral issues do not improve, pursue a 504. He will have to demonstrate an educational impact to qualify for an IEP and receive specialized instruction. If he doesn’t have a behavior plan, you may want to pursue that as well. Most schools do this regardless of whether a student has a 504 or an IEP.

Posted by Mary K

A Reader Answers

According to the officials in my school district, it takes more than just having two diagnosis to qualify for an IEP. We were granted a 504, even though my child has many diagnoses. It was explained to me like this: If your child needs a school-based service such as speech, a shadow, a sign language interrupter or special-ed classes then an IEP is warranted. Personally, I think it’s silly. Technically the nurse administering the medication is a ‘school-based service,’ but apparently that doesn’t count. So, accommodations is what we get with the 504. As long as all teachers are on board it works fine, but sometimes it’s hard for teachers to keep up with which child has accommodations. Not a perfect system by any means.

Posted by LPotts

A Reader Answers

To qualify for an IEP, you need to have a disability AND require more than a modification to the general education program to gain access to a measurable educational benefit. The definition of a measurable educational benefit is not that high from a legal standpoint.

However, the biggest error with the second prong is that it is often misinterpreted to only mean grades and academics. Future employability and independent living, for example, are considered part of educational access. So the conversation has to be much deeper than just ‘getting good grades’ – but there still needs to be a high level of functional impairment that is preventing educational access.

504s are very misunderstood and mishandled on all levels. For them, I recommend that you go directly to the source, the Federal Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights 504 FAQ page.

Posted by Dr. Eric

A Reader Answers

My 9-year-old son has ADHD. He has a 504 plan (for us to get it, it was just a matter of his pediatrician sending a note and stating he needed it). The school then gave him a “rubber stamp” ADHD 504. A year later we made revisions after much research on our part and customized the accommodations to our son’s needs. It is difficult to enforce though – no accountability for the school.

I would give anything for an IEP. The school refuses because they claim his disability does not affect him academically because he’s very intelligent. His test scores are falling, though, and he will soon be struggling without access to special-ed teachers who know and understand his disability.

If you’re confused about the difference, it will all be laid out in the initial meeting. I suggest you at least go and hear them out, then follow your heart as to what you think is best for your son. Best of luck to you.

Posted by Peacfldove

A Reader Answers

My son has been turned down twice for an IEP because he is not ‘special needs’ enough. He only qualifies for occupational therapy through his 504. It’s impossible to get the accommodations he so clearly needs. I’m really worried as we approach third grade what it’s going to be like.

It’s ridiculous, but the IEP vs. 504 distinction all comes down to certain criteria. If they don’t match it all, sorry – no extra services!

Posted by carrieberry