A brief rundown of the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan in regards to students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADD. The following information was reprinted with permission from Darcy Andries.
What is IDEA?
IDEA stands for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Basically, it is the federal law that defines and mandates the rights of students with disabilities. It defines thirteen different categories of disabilities. ADHD is considered a disability under “other health impaired.” It also provides funding to schools in order to ensure a “free and public education” for students with disabilities.
What is 504?
504 is shorthand for the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. It is a civil rights statute that protects people with disabilities from discrimination. Anyone with a “physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity,” “has a record of such impairment,” or is “perceived as having such impairment” can qualify as disabled under Section 504. Students who fall under 504s do not qualify for special education and do not receive special education services (such as physical or speech therapy or classes taught by a special education teacher) but can receive modifications. Students with medical conditions such as depression or cancer might receive modifications under this statute.
What’s the difference?
It’s a matter of degrees. Students who have been diagnosed with ADHD are evaluated by the school system and a determination is made at how severely ADHD affects the student’s ability to function in school. If they are severely impaired, or if they have a co-existing condition, they will qualify under IDEA and be in “special education.” If they are moderately affected, they will receive modifications under Section 504. If they are only minimally affected, they might not qualify for either.
Which is better?
This is tricky. IDEA has a lot more protections and specific guidelines that the school system is required to follow. However, often times a child’s needs can be adequately covered by writing up a 504 plan. I would suggest deciding on what you want and then discussing with the school system on how these things can best be met. Do not get so tied down to the concept that you have to have an IEP; it’s not always necessary.
“My school says my child ‘tested too high’ to be covered under IDEA.”
I run into this question a lot and the reason behind it differs from system to system. What this refers to is a comparison between IQ testing and performance testing. These are done to “test” for a learning disability. Because a high number of students with ADHD have a learning disability, they are often tested for it. If they are able to do grade-level work (which is what the tests showed) and have no other disability, then your child will only require modifications and these can usually be done under Section 504.
“But my child is only getting C’s and I know with modifications, she could get A’s.” or “My child is struggling in one class, and I know that if he was given more assistance he could do better.”
Every parent wants their children to do the best. However, the law only allows us to require them to be average, not better than average. And the average child struggles in at least one class. These situations do not indicate a need for special services under IDEA, or even under Section 504. Furthermore, both those statements are true for any child and, unfortunately, there are not enough resources to do this for every child. Only for students whom the school system can prove have a disability and that this disability significantly impairs their function. Both these conditions must be true.