Last Modified: October 30, 2023 | Published: August 28, 2022
If you’re a parent who has some concerns about your child’s progress in school, you may have heard of a 504 Plan. There is a great deal of confusion around what a 504 Plan is and how you can go about getting one.
In this blog post, you will learn the 5 STEPS TO OBTAINING A 504 PLAN for your child.
Before we dig in, let’s explain what a 504 plan is and who these are intended to help.
What is a 504 Accommodation Plan?
A 504 Plan is a legal document that describes how the school will accommodate a child with special needs. Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is in place to “level the playing field.” These plans are for students with learning issues. 504 Plans are also for students with medical conditions or disabilities, such as ADHD or autism.
Section 504 Accommodation Plans are enforced by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). This enforcement prevents discrimination against students with disabilities. The OCR has jurisdiction over schools that receive federal funding.
Section 504 states that: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . . .”
Do you need a medical diagnosis to get a 504 plan?
Students do not need a medical diagnosis to qualify for a 504 plan. They also do not need to qualify for special education.
Students need only…
- ‘have an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity’ AND
- ‘that impairment prohibits them from receiving the school’s services as adequately as non-disabled peers.’
So, let’s now assume that your child potentially meets the above criteria. The next question to ask yourself is would my child be better suited for a 504 or IEP? Although this is not an easy question to answer, here’s a basic guide to 504 Plans vs. IEPs.
The difference between a 504 and IEP for ADHD
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is also a legal document. An IEP protects kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other disorders.
You may be asking, wait, so is an IEP different from a 504 Plan? Again, confusion abounds about these two important educational support programs.
There is one critical difference. An IEP is within special education. All IEPs are legally mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).
IEP’s and 504’s for attention deficit disorder share one important aspect in common. Both plans have accommodations. Accommodations for ADHD might include fidget toys, a pressure pass, and extended time on tests. Other common examples include preferential seating, a copy of teacher notes, and extra prompting from the teacher.
Both IEPs and 504’s start with an eligibility meeting and are reviewed every year. Both IEPs and 504s fall under the umbrella of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Both IEPs and 504s require documentation that your child’s teacher must read and follow in the classroom.
The main difference is whether your child qualifies for special education. The threshold to qualify for special-ed services is much higher than for a 504 plan.
Two questions that are part of IEP eligibility
With an IEP eligibility, two questions are asked that form the basis of the qualification criteria.
1) Does your child have a disability that qualifies? Those disabilities can include ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, speech-language disorders, and more.
2) Can your child receive reasonable benefit from general education alone?
If a few other exclusion criteria are addressed, these are the only two conditions that have to be met. If the answer to question 1 is ‘yes’ and to question 2 is ‘no,’ the child qualifies. In that case, the child would be eligible for specialized instruction and services from a special education provider.
The simplicity about eligibility ends there. It is fairly routine to meet criteria #1. If your child has been diagnosed with a disorder, they will probably qualify for this condition. The diagnosis must have come from a doctor, psychologist, or another licensed health professional.
The answer to the second one is much more difficult to assess. Some educators call this “educational impact.’”
Just because your child gets a diagnosis does NOT mean that they qualify for an IEP or 504. This diagnosis does really help, however, in meeting criteria #1.
IEP qualification has another somewhat tricky aspect. School districts have certain thresholds for eligibility. But, staff are also given a degree of subjectivity in making this decision.
For example, one student with very low academic performance is not on an IEP. Another student may have higher grades and be on an IEP. This can happen because the child with low scores did not have enough intervention or education in that area. Sometimes, that student has insufficient attendance or is an English Language Learner. They may simply be a struggling student who is responding to interventions and needs more time to catch up to peers.
The higher-performing student may be on an IEP for other reasons in the child’s life. They may have significant behavior issues that necessitate some support from special education. Whole books have been written on this topic about qualifying for IEPs and 504 plans.
General differences between 504 plans and IEPs
504 Plans are generally best to serve students with less severe needs vs. IEPs, which are not
504 Plans are meant to be provided entirely within the general education classroom vs. IEPs, which are not
At this point, you have a basic understanding of IEPs and 504s and the differing qualification criteria for each. If your child does have, or does seem to have a disorder, AND would benefit from accommodations in the general education classroom, a 504 may be the way to go.
Now, you may be thinking, “okay, I think that fits for my child – how do I get one?” You have come to the right place. In this next section, we will walk through 5 simple steps for obtaining a 504 accommodation plan for your child.
The 5 Steps for Obtaining a 504 Plan
1. Get a diagnosis if you can.
As described earlier, a diagnosis is not required but it is helpful to this process. If you know or suspect your child has a disability or disorder, you are wise to get documentation. This document could be a letter or full report that describes the disorder and how it is impacting the child’s education. The paperwork needs to be signed by a psychologist, medical doctor, or other qualified professional.
What to do if your child doesn’t have a diagnosis…
A. Pediatrician. If your child is suspected of having a disability or psychological disorder, and you think you can get a diagnosis, go ahead and start the process. If you are ready to pursue a diagnosis for your child, one place to start is with your pediatrician. Come prepared and describe your concerns clearly. To enable that process, you can complete an assessment on https://app.cadey.co and share your results with your child’s doctor.
B. Testing psychologist. Sometimes the pediatrician does not handle more psychologically related concerns or developmental disabilities. In that case, you will want to find a psychologist who does diagnostic assessments. To do this, you have a few options: 1) ask the school psychologist at your child’s school, or 2) search on psychologytoday.com
C. No formal diagnosis. It may not be possible to get a diagnosis due to financial or time constraints. In that case, you can still request a 504 based on ‘evidence of an impairment.’ Go through prior school records, teacher notes and emails, report cards, state testing results, and the like. Look for any evidence that your child is showing signs of an impairment. This impairment must be significantly limiting their ability to take part in the classroom. You can gather evidence and a report of your child’s challenges at https://app.cadey.co and use that for your meeting with the school. This path can be a tad rockier. But, it can work well if you and the school team share considerable concerns about your child’s learning difficulties.
D. No disability. These plans are not intended for students without disabilities. Non-disabled students generally have access to other types of interventions. These interventions are available through the school’s Response to Intervention (RtI) program. You may see that your child is struggling but does not meet the criteria for a disability or disorder. You can still get help by reaching out to an administrator. Ask about tutoring, homework helpers, study hall, or intervention programs at the school.
2. Request the 504 evaluation.
Once you are ready with documentation, you can reach out to your child’s school counselor or school administrator. Request the 504 evaluation. You would want to send an email that says something like, “I am requesting a 504 evaluation for my child” and describes your concerns. The school staff member will reach back out to you. They will ask you to complete some paperwork such as ‘Consent to Evaluate.’ You will need to sign that to start the process.
3. Prepare accommodations.
It is not required, but it is helpful to gather a list of the types of accommodations that would be appropriate for your child. The accommodations depend on your child’s specific needs. Here are some examples for a child who has ADHD or attention issues.
504 Plans for ADHD
A child with ADHD may need ‘extra prompting’ and ‘extra time.’ They may also need ‘special seating away from distractions,’ ‘pressure pass,’ or similar support. These accommodations would all need to be offered within the general education classroom and most often by the teacher.
Some other common accommodations include:
- Allow extra time on tests
- Small group for assessments
- Use of assistive technology
- Extended time on assignments (usually up to time and a half)
- Intermediate due dates on longer assignments
- Allow use of keyboard for written work
Although all the above could be helpful, do not let this list overwhelm you as a parent. You do not need to have this completely sorted out in advance of the meeting. If you would like some more specific direction to walk you through this process, we offer a course to do just that. Check out our 504 Course for parents. This course addresses 504 accommodations. We address ADHD, autism, OCD, anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities.
4. Attend the meeting.
Once the team is done gathering data, they will reach out to schedule the meeting with you. That meeting is typically in a conference room or classroom and includes the 504 Coordinator and at least one teacher. Most 504 meetings also include a school administrator. You can expect the team to discuss eligibility for the 504 plan first. They will determine if your child has an impairment that is substantially limiting. They will also determine if this impairment makes it difficult for your child to receive the school’s services. If both of these determinations are made, then a 504 plan must be developed.
This meeting is also the time to discuss accommodations to support your child. With the school staff, you will discuss accommodations for your child in the classroom and the school building.
The Beauty of the 9-Item Plan
In my experience, shorter plans are better. Make sure that each impairment is addressed but keep it clear and brief so that everyone understands the plan and how to implement it.
Our typical recommendation is to have up to 3 areas of difficulty to address and up to 3 accommodations for each. Thus, your child’s 504 plan would include up to 9 accommodations and would be less than 2 pages in length.
5. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
These plans are put into place in good faith that everyone will understand them and remember them. However, keep in mind that most teachers have 25 or even 100 other students. Teachers in classes like art and music have even more students. Spend the time at the beginning of each school year to make sure all the teachers know about your child’s plan. Be sure they clearly understand what is needed for your child to be successful.
By following these 5 steps, you will generally find the process of getting a 504 plan streamlined and straightforward. These plans can be extremely helpful for children who are struggling, particularly when all the team members communicate and collaborate.
Your Next Step
Download the Cadey mobile app. We are pioneering new ground in child psychology. Instead of waiting months or years, you can help your child today. To get started on life-changing interventions, visit courses.cadey.co.
Related articles about 504 accommodations on Cadey.co
Transitions: to learn about children transitioning between schools or grade levels, including between high school and college
Learning problems: to learn about how to identify conditions that can impact learning skills such as ADHD, processing, and mental health
Learning disabilities: to learn about the types of learning problems that may qualify for either a diagnosis of a learning disability or the educational criteria for an IEP or 504 plan
Reading problems: to learn about how to identify learning disabilities in reading like Dyslexia and to understand school services for these challenges
Resources from the psychologists at Cadey.co
If you would like to learn more about how to get and manage a 504 Plan, see our 504 parent course. Download the Cadey mobile app and get quick answers to your parenting questions. You can set goals, watch helpful Show-Me-How videos, and more!
 US Department of Education. Protecting Students with Disabilities: Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities. Retrieved: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html