ADHD In Public School – 504 or IEP

ADHD is a common diagnosis to find in a typical public school classroom. Some of these students are on IEPs, 504 Plans, or nothing. It is also common to have students that may exhibit qualities of ADHD but do not have a diagnosis.

Students with ADHD may have a 504 Plan or an IEP, depending on their needs. ADHD is not a qualification for an IEP, but if they fit IEP qualifications, the school should write an IEP with proper accommodations for their individual needs.

It has become typical for school districts to resist writing an IEP, or even a 504 Plan, for students, even when parents and teachers agree that it will help the student. This is unfortunate for the students. As a mother to children with ADHD and someone who went unidentified with ADHD through school, I strongly believe in identifying and supporting these students.

How ADHD Presents Challenges in a Classroom Setting

When looking for a child with ADHD, most people would look for the child up out of their seat, running around the room. This stereotype fails to consider the difference between hyperactive and inattentive ADHD and how different individuals present within a neurotype.

Here are a few things that might indicate a child has ADHD when observed in a classroom:

  • Walking around the room
  • Finding excuses to get out of their chair (in an excessive amount)
    • Sharpening pencils
    • Blowing their nose
    • Going to the bathroom
    • Getting supplies
    • Looking at the time
    • Checking on something
  • Doodles on assignments
  • Daydreaming
  • Asking to repeat directions
  • Not knowing what the instructions were
  • Looking lost
  • Repetitive behavior
    • Fidgeting
    • Tipping back in chair
    • Tapping feet
  • Chewing on items (ie, pencils, hair)
  • Doesn’t finish assignments in class
  • Forgets to bring homework
  • Does poorly on tests but knows the material
  • Misreads assignments or directions
  • Creative
  • Quickly masters new concepts
  • Complains they are bored but haven’t done their work
  • Talks during class
  • Offended easily

Many of these points above can be witnessed in typical children. Still, if many of them happen in one child, especially many times during a class, you may consider these “misbehaviors” symptoms of ADHD.

This doesn’t mean that you should attempt to diagnose or treat a child, but you could try some strategies that are known to help children with ADHD in the classroom without labeling them. Many strategies will help a child who exhibits these behaviors, no matter the underlying reason.

This section is not written to supplement or replace medical advice. If you are concerned about ADHD, seek out the help of the appropriate medical professional for an evaluation.

Qualifications for an IEP: ADHD

ADHD is not a qualification for an IEP under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).

The areas of qualification are:

  1. Developmental Delay (ages 3-9)
  2. Autism
  3. Deaf-Blindness
  4. Deafness
  5. Emotional Disturbance (sometimes worded differently by state, typically identified for children experiencing behaviors in school)
  6. Hearing Impairment
  7. Intellectual Disability
  8. Multiple Disabilities
  9. Orthopedic Impairment
  10. Other Health Impairment (OHI)
  11. Specific Learning Disability (SLD)
  12. Speech or Language Impairment (ie, language impairment)
  13. Visual Impairment

What this means is that if a child has been diagnosed with ADHD, they must fit one of the above categories to qualify for an IEP. The most typical areas you will look at are Emotional Disturbance (if significant behaviors are present), Other Health Impairment (ie, ADHD), or Specific Learning Disability.

In addition to fitting into one of these categories, IDEA states:

Child with a disability means a child evaluated … as having disabilities, and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.

This means that if a child has been diagnosed ADHD and qualifies under one of the catgories above, they still may not qualify for an IEP. They must need special education. If they only need related services (ie, speech therapy) and no “specially designed instruction” they do not quaify. (But should still receive related services.)

504 Plan for ADHD

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to it. However, if a child has an official diagnosis of ADHD, they will likely qualify for a 504 Plan. This will provide them with accommodations they need to particiapte in a typical classroom, but does not quaify them for placement outside of the general education class.

Qualification for a 504 plan is much more straightforward:

(1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or (2) have a record of such an impairment; or (3) be regarded as having such an impairment. 

Section 504

Basically, if they have a diagnosis that is impacting their ability to access their education in school, they should qualify for a 504 Plan (but I’m not a lawyer, please consult a lawyer for advice on your student).

Accommodations and Modifications for ADHD Students

Accommodations and modifications are available on both a 504 Plan and an IEP. Both provide help for the student in class, but in different ways.

Accommodations provide help to access the curriculum for the child (but the material they learn remains unchanged).

Modifications are a change to the level of the material provided (ie, a student in grade 4 is taught grade 2 material).

Typically, modifications will be based on a number of factors and specific to the student and the teacher. The school is typically the one who decides what modifications will be made. However, there are a number of different accommodations that could be requested.

Some of the below options cross-over from ADHD to Giftedness. Some Gifted students are mistakenly identified as ADHD and some ADHD students are Gifted or find benefit from receiving services as if they were gifted.

The following list may be helpful for some students with ADHD, but none will be appropriate for all. All 504 Plans and IEPs need to take into consideration the individual needs of the student. But here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Fidgets
  • Chewies
  • Chair bands
  • Wiggle seats
  • Swivel chair
  • Quiet space for work (especially testing)
  • Audiobooks (mention Bookshare to your school, it is free!)
  • Text to speech
  • Speech to text
  • Digitally delivered materials
  • Materials in dyslexia font
  • Teacher check-ins
  • Shortened assignments
  • Alternative ways to show mastery
  • Verbal tests
  • Preferential seating
  • Longer time on assignments
  • Additional materials to promote further understanding

I am not a lawyer and I do not intend this article to provide legal advice. Please contact an education or disability lawyer if you need further interpretation. I have included references to read the law for yourself as well as the interpretations that I found helpful in writing this article.


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