Counting to 504

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504 planOur 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.

I love How To Reach And Teach Children with ADD/ADHD: Practical Strategies.)

*See Eric Digest

Note: ADHD Inattentive is often referred to as simply ADD.

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About Kayla

Kayla Fay is a freelance writer and the mother of four boys, three of whom have been formally diagnosed with the inattentive type of ADHD. When she started “Who Put the Ketchup in the Medicine Cabinet?” in 2002, her sons were ages 8 through 14, when her life was a “progression of dirty laundry, lost homework, misunderstood Algebra, and a whole lot of love and fun”.

Connect with Kayla online Google+


  1. Darnell Lodriguss says:

    I have a 14 year old, high school freshmen, boy who is having so much trouble staying on task in class. He is also having problems keeping all the assignments organized with the different due dates, binders and folders. He has an official diagnosis of ADHD and attentiveness is his biggest problem. I am having a very hard time getting the school to evaluate him, qualify him etc. They continue to put all the ownership on him and his behavior. They don’t seem to be listening to the argument that the ADHD is the very thing that is contributing to his activity or lack of activity in class. He is looked at as a talkative boy who just doesn’t want to complete his work. How can I get the school administration to hear me?

    Thank you,
    Darnell L.

    • Darnell, it’s really hard when the school doesn’t listen. Have you tried to find other ADHD parents who may know someone who could advocate for your son? And does your son want help? One of ours did not – especially in ninth grade.

      If he does want to do better, read through our site and grab all the hints you can on staying focused and organized. Grab a copy of “Focus Pocus”. Have him work on one skill – one hint – each day or week. Let him get a taste of the success. If the teachers see your son really trying, hopefully they will be more inclined to help him a bit. Success breeds success.

      And if he’s really talking, tell him to do whatever it takes to stop. Have him ask the teacher to move him to a place where he won’t be so tempted. What sort of dire consequence could you mete out at home to encourage a bit more self control. And yes, I know that self control, 9th grade, boy and ADHD probably don’t belong in the same sentence!

      One word of encouragement. Each of our bouts with 9th grade almost killed us, but in the end we survived – and all the boys graduated on time. I think you will, too! Keep us posted!

  2. Kayla and Darnell, I have a 15 year old who has been struggling with ADHD since 3rd grade. I also have been struggling, but with the schools and my son to get them to follow my sons 504 accommodations. Kayla I am glad to hear your children made it through high school because that encourages me to know my son can also. Darnell, I have learned to document everything. It’s the only way to get the school to listen.

  3. Robin Fitzgerald says:

    This was the most the best article I have read since my daughter was diagnosed. thanks

  4. Do you have any advice on what to expect in the first 504 meeting?

  5. Reinette says:

    We live in South-Africa, we don’t have anything like 504. Our only option was to take my son of 11 then out of school. The school just said that they cannot acommodate him. He has blossomed into a 13 year old with self esteem, but he is stil working very slow and his handwriting is really bad. But it is much better to be the one to encourage him, without teachers telling him he is stupid and useless!


  1. […] limits a major life activity.” Children with ADHD/Inattentive often will be eligible for a 504 plan, because inattentiveness often impairs their ability to be successful in school. A child with a 504 […]

  2. […] each side. Of course, I had to refer to the textbook (which she gets to keep at home thanks to her 504 accommodation!) to help her with it. She used a large (24″x18″) white wipe board and colored markers […]

  3. […] his brothers’. Another boy has a 504 plan and has special modifications. (Read about them in Counting to 504.) Another son has relied on medication to concentrate during his exams. And one is always […]

  4. […] Counting to 504. Tags: 504 plan adhd, Bright Spark […]

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