Our second son was in fourth grade when his teacher approached me about having him tested for ADHD and a learning disability. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Despite a background in psychology, I associated ADHD with a hyperactive child. This child had only had his name on the board once in his life, so there was no way he had ADHD. He made decent grades and he was very bright and articulate. His teacher was right, however. He did have trouble focusing, and sometimes seemed spaced out. He was disorganized, and had a tendency to forget his homework. As the year progressed, he couldn’t keep up, and his grades began to slide. We began the long process of testing. It took six months.
The diagnosis was ADHD/Inattentive, no learning disability identified. Our son did not qualify for special education, so it was recommended that we get him a 504 plan. I’d never heard of a 504; it sounded like something you attached to your 1040. It turns out that 504 refers to a law mandating that children with disabilities receive modifications or accommodations to help them learn, even if they don’t qualify for special education. It’s for kids with disorders like ADHD, physical impairments, chronic illnesses such as asthma, and sometimes for temporary conditions like broken limbs. To receive 504 modifications, a student must have “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities…caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.”*
So many times children with Inattentive Type ADHD are not identified. Although they may be capable of performing well, because they don’t pose a discipline problem and are passing, they are not noticed. Because they don’t squeak, they aren’t offered any grease. I will forever be grateful to this fourth grade teacher for paying attention to his needs. Were it not for her, he might still be a child frustrated by an unlabeled fog of inattention.
As I studied about the Inattentive type of Attention Deficit Disorder, I began to understand why I had to remind our boy to wear a shirt to school, why he couldn’t get his class work turned in, and why his friends called him a space cadet. This was why he would lose his place while copying his math problems. This was the reason I found the ketchup in the medicine cabinet! Up until this point in his life, he was naturally familiar with the subject matter covered in school. A fourth grader is introduced to a lot of new concepts, like fractions and long division and adjectives and transition devices. He couldn’t absorb it all; his disorder had started to limit his learning.
The 504 was the first step toward getting back on track. His plan required that he sit in the front of the classroom, and for the teacher to cue him to stay on task. The teacher was to limit his copying from the board, and monitor what he wrote in his homework planner. (See our PAC-kit planner that we developed to help this modification.) Although the plan has now been modified, he still takes standardized tests in a separate room, has extra time to complete them, and writes in the book instead of on a bubble sheet. That’s it. And it helps!
Developing a 504 Plan for the ADHD/ADD Child. To develop a 504 plan, the teacher, student, parents and other school personnel customize strategies for each child. Modifications might include tape recording lessons, oral testing, allowing assignments to be typewritten, or changing assignments themselves. Other changes could offer children need a special cooling off place, or assistance with transitions. Each plan will be different, as each child’s needs are different. For strategies that work at home and school, read Focus Pocus, 100 Ways to Help Your Child Pay Attention.
If your child doesn’t qualify for special education, but you know he or she really could use some assistance, consider talking to your child’s teacher about a 504. If he or she can’t steer you in the right direction, ask your guidance counselor or principal to help you get your child evaluated. Of course the 504 is not a panacea, only another tool that will help you as you help your children to help themselves.
*See Eric Digest
Note: ADHD Inattentive is often referred to as simply ADD.