Counting to 504

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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.

504 plan limit copyingThe 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.

Get “Focus Pocus, 100 Ways to Help Your Child Pay Attention” here.

*See Eric Digest

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

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

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. http://Darnell%20Lodriguss 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!

    • http://Maria says

      I’m going through the same problem right now. My daughter (even harder to get them to listen) is in 8th grade. She is extremely disorganized and incapable to stay on track. Due to her being a teenage girl, everything is be referred to as normal middle school behavior. Yes, I know that some behavior is normal, but she can’t can’t can’t and can’t again stay on one task until completion (I understand it as I have similar issues). The counselor said there is nothing they can do as the 504 is only accommodations and there is nothing in those plans to help her to get organized.
      One thing I can advise is to be the squeak. Email the teacher, the counselor, the principle. Every time you see the struggle at home you send an email. I’m tired of people judging children for bad behavior without seeing (and looking) at the big picture. My son (7th grade) is finally in special ed. All he really needed is to everybody coming together and holding him responsible, while staying positive and encouraging him. Communication between Administration, Teachers, and the Parents was key and his grades are rising. Now it is time to fight for our daughter. I told the counselor that it is ok that they don’t want to help (as they are not understanding what I want from them), but that I will write expectations down and present them to the 504 coordinator. With an official diagnosis, I don’s see how they can refuse service. However, should they continue, I have no problem moving up to the next level (principle, then board, etc.). You are the child’s strongest advocate, so you need to stay educated about his rights. Don’t let them bring you down. Be his voice.

  2. http://Erin says

    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. http://Robin%20Fitzgerald says

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

  4. http://MomOfBoys says

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

  5. http://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!

    • http://Chan says

      Hi Reinette, I also live in South Africa and the attitude towards ADHD kids are shocking in our schools. My son is now 11 and we need to find him an affordable school that can accommodate him with his ADHD. He is such a good boy…even the teachers say so! His problem is that he is very slow which takes him long to understand the work and has a problem with his writing. This has now affected his school grades by retaining him in his grade. Do you perhaps have any suggestions on schools in Jhb? I will appreciate anybody’s advise and other suggestions as well…Thank you!