What's a 504 Plan?: Q&A With Dr. Mary, School Psychologist

Mary Rosen

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The school years are more complex than ever. If it's not the curriculum, it's the relationships. Dr. Mary Rosen is here to provide answers to your most pressing school issues. She's a school psychologist, licensed counselor, graduate school instructor, and parent.

Today, Dr. Mary is addressing the topic of the 504 plan.

Q: My fourth-grade son has ADHD. His school suggested he have a 504 Plan. What is this?

A: It sounds kind of high-tech, but actually a 504 Plan is something that stems from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a federal mandate that requires schools, among other things, to give "support" to students who have a "physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity." Some major life activities include walking, eating, and learning. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is considered to be a mental impairment or medical condition (most experts agree that ADHD is a brain-based condition).

Children with ADHD, whether they take medicine or not, often have difficulty learning well in large, noisy classrooms. We know they can be easily distracted and may not follow through on instructions. They may be disorganized, have difficulty completing in-class assignments, or have behaviors that are referred to in school-speak as "off-task." In short, they may be doing a whole lot of things other than what they should be doing. Some examples are: Getting out of their seat, playing with their pencil, doodling on their notebook. While perhaps this is a typical day in corporate America, it's not that productive in school.

One important piece to the 504 Plan is what are known as "accommodations." These are changes to the student's environment or instruction that will help him have "equal opportunity" for school success, despite his ADHD. That is, he's given the same learning opportunities as his peers who aren't ADHD. It's like the academic leveling of the proverbial playing field. Some common accommodations include "preferential seating," which involves seating the student away from any possible distractions (like a noisy hallway or a window that's near the playground), near the teacher or a near a student who can act as a good role model; more time to finish tests, particularly standardized tests that often allow a limited amount of time to complete; help with organizing school materials and desk area; and decreasing the amount of homework given.

The classroom teacher is usually the staff member responsible for making sure the accommodations are being made. This is yet another example of how a teacher's job is more complicated than it looks.

Got a question about school learning or behaviors for Dr. Mary? Leave it in the comments below of email us and Dr. Mary may answer your question in a future post.

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