IEPs & 504 Plans

“Is My Child with ADHD / ADD Entitled to a 504 Plan?” It Depends.

Your child may be entitled to special school services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but ADHD alone does not merit an IEP. Learn why a 504 Plan is often implemented instead, and what that might look like for your child.

Children with ADHD playing with blocks in classroom while teacher looks on as part of school accommodations under IEPS and 504 plans
Children with ADHD playing with blocks in classroom while teacher looks on as part of school accommodations under IEPS and 504 plans

Two federal laws require public schools to provide additional educational services to children who need them — at no cost to parents.

To qualify under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a child must meet the criteria for one of 13 specific disability categories. Although attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) is not one of these 13 listed disability categories, your child may be eligible on the basis of one of the specified disability conditions, which include learning disabilities and developmental delays. Or, often, children with ADHD / ADD qualify under IDEA’s “Other Health Impairment” category.

In either case, having ADHD / ADD (or LD) alone doesn’t guarantee eligibility for special services. To qualify for an IEP or 504 Plan for ADHD, the disorder must substantially affect a child’s ability to function in school. Read on to learn what different laws cover, and what a finalized plan might look like for your child.

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What Your Child Is Entitled to Under IDEA

Children who qualify under IDEA are entitled to special education services, including individual instruction by education specialists. Parents, teachers, and other school staff work together to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

An IEP is a plan for the delivery of special education and related services. It should describe the child’s learning problems, detail the services to be provided, set annual goals, and define how progress will be measured. By law, parents have the right to ask for changes to the plan.

What Your Child Is Entitled to Under a 504 Plan

The other federal law providing educational support is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It guarantees certain rights to people with disabilities, including access to a “free and appropriate public education” (also called FAPE).

If ADHD symptoms “substantially limit” a child’s ability to learn, he is entitled to Section 504 services.

[Free Download: IEP vs. 504: What’s the Difference?]

Usually, services included in a 504 Plan involve accommodations in the classroom — like extra time to complete assignments. But the plan may also include the use of assistive technology, such as computer-aided instruction, or access to therapy. There are no legal requirements about what a 504 Plan should include, and the school isn’t required to involve parents in developing it (although many schools do).

4 Comments & Reviews

  1. While this article addressed the right to FAPE as established by federal statute, it excludes details included in a DOE Office of Civil Rights “white paper” that while not having force of law, is a Letter of Significant Guidance, for all districts obligation to IDENTIFY and ENSURE “regular or special education, related aids and services, or supplementary aids and services” to ensure FAPE for all students. (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights. Students With ADHD and Section 504:A Resource Guide. Located at

    The July 2016 document delineates why the DOE considers the mere inference that a child may have add/ADHD based on the observation or informal evaluation of child’s performance by ANY professional working in the public school system, who regularly observes or interacts with the child; has reason to suspect the behavior demonstrates the possibility that add may be involved; triggers the requirememt that there be an official evaluation of that child and the existence of ADHD.

    In addition, and most relevant too this article, the DOE, OCR Dear Collegue Letter includes a 35 page documemt “Students With ADHD and Section 504:A Resource Guide”. The supplement delineates the legal reasons that a diagnosis of ADHD presumptively satisfies both prongs required for making a disability determination for children they educate. The OCR states that a determination that the student has any type of add or ADHD satisfies that a student has an impairment. And the ocr’s position is that absent evidence to the contrary a student who is diagnosed with ADHD is presumed to possess substantial limitations in one or more major life activities. As such the OCR holds that the diagnosis of ADHD is evidence that a student may have a disability. The following quotes from the document delineate the reasons that kids with a diagnosis are presumed a member of the class protected by federal statute.

    “Because Under section 504 FAPE is the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet individual educational needs of students with disabilities as adequately as the names of students without disabilities are met and that satisfy certain procedural requirements related to educational setting evaluation and placement and procedural safeguards.”

    “Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act clarified a broad scope and definition of the term disability more students with ADHD are now clearly entitled to the protections under section 504…further a diagnosis of ADHD is evidence that a student may have a disability. OCR will presume unless there is evidence to the contrary the a student with a diagnosis of ADHD is substantially unlimited and one or more major life activities”

    “Section 504 provides a broad spectrum of protections against discrimination on the basis of disability including one key aspect on which this guidance focuses the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). All elementary and secondary school students who are individuals within disabilities as defined by section 504 and need FAPE are entitled to FAPE.”

    Based on the white paper and guide, along with ADD symptoms that create substantial challenges that are individually specific features inconsistent with developmental level and at that negatively impacts directly on social and academic activities. For an attentive add one such qualifiers often has difficulty sustaining attention and tasks has difficulty remaining focused during lectures conversation or lengthy reading.

    Some examples from the ocr’s paper with regard to major life activities are reading thinking and functions of the brain AND concentration (aka ability of sustained mental focus and attention). They are clinically identified features associated with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder.

    Therefore, a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD, absent evidence to the contrary, “The OCR will presume thar a student with a diagnosis od add/ADHD is substantially lited in one or more life activities.” As such, merely informing the school of a diagnosis of the condition made by a qualified professional OUTSIDE the educational setting. And absent their own evaluation to the contrary, said diagnosis is sufficient for the DOE OCR TO PRESUME (and that the school must as well) the student is elegible for regular or special education, related aids and services, as provided by federal statute.

    This document is one of the most powerful tools to use in gaining accomodations for ADHD students. Because it eviscerates the common misunderstanding leading to the claim that a diagnosis is insufficient to alsatisfy the two prongs that trigger protection and assurence of a child recieving FAPE; absent the evaluation of the child by a neutral third party trained in testing for add ADHD. Which is EXTREMELY rare. So providing docs indicating a Professiomal ADHD Dx = right to 504. Unless the school contrary evidence.


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