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ADHD Awareness Month, IEPs and 504 Plans

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October is ADHD Awareness Month. ADHD, which stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, “is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.” ADHD is a complex mental health issue, as all mental health issues are, but this disorder is complicated because there are no physical diagnostic tests for it, only questionnaires that are completed by psychologists, pediatricians, general health practitioners, teachers and therapists evaluating the person who is believed to have the disorder. Adults are diagnosed with ADHD, but not as often as children.

Children who are affected by the disorder can experience devastating effects on their schoolwork and their social relations. A child with ADHD cannot sustain focus on listening to teachers giving instructions or making assignments, and the child frequently interrupts conversation. Even if the child is academically gifted, he/she will have difficulty succeeding in class without treatment (Denevi, Hyper). Today, the standard treatment for children and adults with ADHD is medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (Schwartz, ADHD Nation). If a child with ADHD is going to thrive at school, reasonable accommodations from classroom teachers are critical. These may include small accommodations such as allowing the child to have a therapeutic fidget toy (“manipulatives”) and/or special seating in class, or a wider range of accommodations, such as special education. The need for classroom accommodations depends on how strongly the child is affected by the disorder.

Rural School Children, San Augustine County, Texas / photo by John Vachon, 1943 April []
Many times, parents or guardians must advocate for the child with school administrators to secure these classroom accommodations throughout elementary and secondary school. There are laws in place to protect children with ADHD and other special needs: the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Public Law 93-112 is among the most important of those protective federal civil rights laws; in addition to other requirements, in Section 504 it provides for special education for individuals with disabilities (hence the name “504 plan”). Parents may find it useful to obtain the services of a lawyer familiar with education law to advocate for their child. As mental health disorders are being increasingly better recognized and more commonly diagnosed, some lawyers, particularly in urban areas, are specializing in representing clients in education law at school meetings.

Many believe that a lawyer can make a critical difference to the success of a child’s education when the parent is working with a school district to set up an IEP or a 504 plan.  An IEP is an individualized education plan, which is

 “a plan or program developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives specialized instruction and related services, whereas a 504 plan is a plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment.”

To simplify explanations greatly, an IEP provides for specialized education for the child, and a 504 plan provides for accommodations for the child. As a Washington Post article explained, “IEPs, by law, must be very specific. … all children who qualify for an IEP will qualify for a 504 plan, but not all children who qualify for a 504 plan also will qualify for an IEP. This is because the Individuals With Disabilities Educational Act, the law that governs IEPs only applies to students with one or more of 13 specific disabilities.” ADHD is considered to be covered on that list of 13 disabilities.

When a child needs an IEP or a 504 plan, the child’s parent(s) will need to meet with school administrators and write a plan to address the child’s needs. Advocates representing the parent(s) and child work to get the best learning environment for the child. It is critical to be familiar with all the needs related to the child’s disability as well as being versed in educational and disability laws. To learn more about IEPs and 504 plans, and about ADHD, check out some of the Library’s holdings, below.


KF228.L686 G67 2009 ADHD on trial: courtroom clashes over the meaning of “disability”.

KF4209.3.J64 2016 Johns, Beverley H. Your classroom guide to special education law.

KF4209.3.L35 2007 Lake, Steven E. What do I do when–: the answer book on special education practice and procedure.

KF4209.3.N67 2007 Norlin, John W. IEPs that succeed: developing legally compliant programs.

ΚF4209.3.Ο82 2014 Osborne, Allan G., Jr. Special education and the law: a guide for practitioners.

KF4209.3.S27 2008 Sarathy, Padmaja. Striking a balance between IDEA and NCLB for students with significant disabilities: techniques and tools for aligning standards- based instruction, alternate assessments, and IEPs.

KF4209.3.S57 2017 Siegel, Lawrence M. The complete IEP guide: how to advocate for your special ed child. 9th ed.

KF4209.3.T38 2014 Tatgenhorst, Andrew What do I do when– : the answer book on special education law.

KF4209.3.W428 2013 Weber, Mark C. Special education law: cases and materials. 4th ed.

KF4209.3.W45 2007 Weishaar, Mary Konya. Case studies in special education law: No Child Left Behind Act and Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act.

KF4210.G58 2012 Giuliani, George A. The comprehensive guide to special education law: over 400 frequently asked questions and answers every educator needs to know about the legal rights of exceptional children and their parents.

KF4210.R68 2014 Rothstein, Laura F. Special education law. 5th ed.

KF4210.S47 2015 Sepiol, Christina Section 504: a legal guide for educators ; practical applications for essential compliance.

KF4210 .W42  Weber, Mark C.  Special education law and litigation treatise.

KF4215.Z9 L44 1993  ADHD Project Facilitate, an inservice education project designed to facilitate home and school partnerships to meet the needs of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

KF4244.M45 L38 1999 Latham, Peter S. and Patricia Latham.  Higher education services for students with LD or ADHD:  a legal guide. 

KFP395.9.H3 S64 2012 Snapshots of special education law.

For general background on the history of ADHD, in the Library of Congress’ general collection:

Denevi, Timothy. Hyper: a personal history of ADHD.

Schwartz, Alan. ADHD nation:  children, doctors, big pharma, and the making of an American epidemic.

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