5 Reasons a 504 Plan Can Be a Game Changer (For a Child with ADHD)

IEP      Hyperfocus     504 Plan     Melatonin     SPD

Confused, yet?

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, you begin to hear unfamiliar, confusing terms and wonder if you missed an important memo somewhere along the way. What does all of it mean?  If you’re like me, my previous knowledge of ADHD was ZERO. At best, I thought it was a combo of hyperactivity and lack of focus, but that’s just scratching the surface. So, when our oldest child was diagnosed as a 6-year-old, this mom was in denial despite several warning signs that we didn’t know were ADHD symptoms. (Read about the red flags we missed when we first started his journey HERE.) You can imagine my hopeless feeling when our usually well-behaved son was being reprimanded in school because he was struggling in a structured atmosphere. The rigid routines and inability to keep moving was similar to being in a crowded elevator where you desperately wait for the doors to open because you need to move NOW.

My son didn’t want to cause problems in class, (definitely a people-pleaser) but found it difficult to transition from the bus, to morning work, to lunch, to class instruction, to recess, and then circle time as quickly as other kids. When I learned his desk had been moved to the chalkboard, away from his peers, ‘until he can behave,’ I intervened. My son needed an advocate, someone in his corner, to help him navigate this ship. After all, he was 6. Like most six-year-olds, he wanted to know when he could meet his favorite WWE star and why he couldn’t have two grape popsicles. He didn’t want to solve the mystery as to why he rolled around on the cold gymnasium floor during baseball evaluations. Heck, I’m not sure he even NOTICED that he was the only one not waiting in line for a turn.

But, I did.

Back then, I thought it was a choice. I said things like ‘You need to behave, or we aren’t getting a treat later.’ His father would ask why he interrupted during family dinners (impulsive!), when he had just been warned to wait his turn, and all our son could do was shrug his shoulders. As he should, because he didn’t know why he did what he did. It’s how his brain worked. It changed channels, often, without surveying the room and consideration of others talking.

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By 3rd grade, I realized our son wanted to do well, and knew what was expected, but did not know HOW TO GET THERE. He knew he had an assignment, but forgot to bring home the special lined paper to write out his essay. Or he would somehow remember to bring home his math worksheet, and with tears we got through it ever so slowly, only for him to forget to turn in his work the following morning. We made several trips back and forth between our home and school, after-hours, praying the janitor would let us in to get the necessary materials, including the time a teacher-friend of mine used her keys to gain access to the building so my son could avoid one more zero. It wore all of us out. Worse, my son felt inadequate. There were days when classmates turned in assignments and he thought to himself, ‘I didn’t even know we HAD homework.’ He was always 3 steps behind.

Eventually, someone suggested we get a 504 plan or possibly an IEP for our child, and at the time, I knew nothing about either. The IEP, otherwise known as an Individualized Education Program, benefits children who are academically affected due to their diagnosis. This plan gives students access to special education services if they are deemed to have intellectual disabilities, due to ADHD or another diagnosis. Students are often tested by a school psychologist, as was our son, (or you can choose to have them tested privately). Our son was not a candidate for services under the IEP. His grades weren’t suffering, however his self-esteem was certainly taking a hit.

A 504 plan allows a student to have special accommodations created to help them succeed in the classroom. Toward the end of 3rd grade, we attended a meeting with the necessary school officials, and agreed that our son needed these accommodations for support. Looking back, it’s one of the best decisions we have made as parents. The 504 plan offered my son a safety net, just when he was drowning a bit. Every 504 is different, (a student who has a peanut allergy may have a 504), and it is customized to each student’s needs. Of course, the plan can be adjusted as each child ages.

Here are 5 reasons why your child needs a 504 Plan. (Like yesterday.)

Check-in/Check-out

Remember those back-and-forth trips to the school when my child forgot a book or an assignment? I could nearly do the drive in my sleep. (And made several trips in my pj’s!) Those drives ended after we began ‘Check in, check out’ with his teacher as part of his 504 Plan. Meaning, she made sure he turned in homework each morning with a friendly reminder, and that afternoon, she would confirm that our son had the following day’s homework written in his assignment notebook. The visual reminder in his notebook when it was time to pack up was helpful as he grabbed his work from his desk.

Phantom Helper Trips

Remember the need to get out of the ‘elevator?’ Our son’s teacher recommended sending him on phony errands (taking a ‘note’ to the principal’s office; filling up her water bottle) when she sensed he may need a break to move around and recharge his focus. Not only did it work, he felt important, like her assistant. This goes a long way in a child’s confidence, instead of being labeled the outcast, or the kid who constantly gets corrected and disciplined throughout the day.

Longer Time on Tests

If most students received 45 minutes to complete an exam, my son was given additional minutes. This allowed him to take his time and not worry about the clock running out. He was able to think about his answers and not rush, and his test scores improved as a result. Kids who receive additional time on exams usually take tests or quizzes in a separate classroom.

Reduced Homework

Look, we’ve all been there: Sitting at the kitchen table each night, trying to get through difficult assignments with frustrated kids who can’t stay focused. It is exhausting. One of my son’s teachers told us when we reach that point, pack up the homework and call it a day. This spared us from meltdowns and power struggles between parent and child, and it was the answer we needed. The pressure to finish can be enormous and my son didn’t suffer from turning in 7 incomplete math problems on occasion.

Mandatory Recess

I’m a huge advocate for ensuring that kids who have ADHD do not have recess removed as a form of discipline. Many teachers take away recess if students misbehave or didn’t finish an assignment. As your child’s advocate, you have every right to ask that your child not lose their recess. I did, and it was included in my son’s 504 Plan. Exercise INCREASES focus and mood. It’s the very break kids need to reset their brains, ADHD or not. An elementary school in Colorado recognizes the benefit of motion for kids, and has launched a new program that I think is genius. Read about it HERE on my blog.

I also recommend registering your child for a social skills group that is often offered by elementary schools for free. The group teaches kids with ADHD how to form and maintain friendships, how to listen without interrupting, and encouraging one-on-one hangouts rather than getting overlooked (or overwhelmed) in a group setting. Be sure to take advantage of other resources offered at your child’s school. Our son benefited from working with the school’s speech therapist, and he now has great inflection and loves to give presentations in high school. (Exactly how are we related?)

I’ve said it before, and will say it again. Your child WILL be okay.

That first-grader I described at the beginning of this post is about to go on his first college campus visit. He’s well-liked, funny, and respectful. He has a girlfriend, is involved in team sports, (where the coach has recognized him for leadership awards!) and I’ve had more than one teacher email me to say he is a joy to have in class.

This is the kid who rolled around on the gym floor, folks.

Your child may be doing the same. So, if you’re wondering if it gets better, my answer is YES. (Picture me screaming it with pom poms!) With a Mom and Dad’s support and understanding, it gets wayyyyyy better. Kids with ADHD need you to be an advocate in their corner. Need proof that things will improve? Read about the message I received from his teacher last year HERE. Full disclosure: I cried. 

I created this site to give families just like you hope. You can do this!

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