Section 504 Accommodations for Students With ADHD

What Is a 504 Accommodation Plan?

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Students with ADHD are eligible for services and an individual accommodation plan under Section 504 if they have significant difficulty learning in school due to ADHD impairments.

Once it is determined that a student is eligible for services, the next step is to develop a 504 Plan which often includes a written list of specific accommodations, supplementary aids, and related services that will be provided to the student in school.

The purpose of these accommodations is to ensure that the individual educational needs of the student with disabilities are met as adequately as the needs of those students without disabilities.

Section 504 and IDEA for ADHD Students

There are actually two federal laws that address the educational needs of students with disabilities—Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (or simply Section 504) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (also known as IDEA).

Section 504 and IDEA guarantee that students with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) that is comparable to the education available to non-disabled students.

The definition of a disability is much broader under Section 504 than under IDEA, so more students tend to be eligible for services under Section 504.

Most students with a 504 Plan are served in the general education classroom. Often these are the students who have milder impairments and do not need the intensity of special education but could benefit from extra supports, accommodations, academic and behavioral adjustments, and modifications in the regular educational curriculum. This includes extended times on tests for students with ADHD.

A 504 Plan also tends to be a much faster, easier procedure for obtaining accommodations and supports since IDEA has stricter eligibility criteria and regulations.

Both laws require the placement of a child with disabilities in the least restrictive environment. IDEA requires an individualized educational plan (IEP) with educational goals for the student and specifically designed special education, instruction, and related services that the school is responsible for providing in order to help the student reach those goals.

Section 504 does not require a written IEP, but it does require a plan of reasonable services and accommodations for the student with disabilities.

Developing a 504 Accommodation Plan for ADHD

The first step in developing a 504 Plan is to identify how the student's disability is affecting learning and impairing academic performance and then to determine the specific instruction supports and accommodations that are necessary. These accommodations should significantly reduce or eliminate the effects of a student's disability in the educational setting.

Symptoms of ADHD can affect each person in quite varying ways, and so a 504 Plan must be tailored to her individual strengths, learning style, behavioral challenges, and educational needs. Chris Zeigler Dendy, M.S., is a highly regarded expert in the ADHD and education field. She is also the author of "Teaching Teens With ADD, ADHD, and Executive Function Deficits."

In addition to inattention, Dendy identifies several areas that can be challenging for students with ADHD in the educational setting including:

  • Deficits in working memory: Memory skills that are essential for writing essays, doing complex math problems, and understanding what they read
  • Disorganization: Losing things, disorganized notebooks, backpacks, and lockers, forgetfulness
  • Impaired sense of time: Often late, don't manage time well, difficulty getting started and finishing tasks
  • Planning deficits: Difficulty analyzing, problem-solving, synthesizing and implementing a plan
  • Slow reading and writing: Produce less written work, read less material
  • Trouble controlling emotions: More likely to speak impulsively or "blow up," difficulty using "self-talk" to control behavior
  • Undiagnosed coexisting conditions: Such as learning disabilities or depression that make it more difficult to learn

If your child is experiencing any of these learning challenges, it is important that they are addressed in their 504 Plan. Also, keep in mind that approximately 25 to 50% of students with ADHD may also have a specific learning disability. Common learning disabilities seen alongside ADHD include disabilities in reading, math, spelling, and written expression.

Accommodations Available to Qualified Students

These accommodations are often helpful for students with ADHD. Your child's 504 Plan might include some of these. Depending on a student's individual needs related services may include speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, assistive technology, counseling, as well as training in study strategies, organizational skills, and time management.

Classroom Modifications for ADHD Students

The types of modifications available for students with ADHD include adjustments to testing format and delivery. Students may be permitted the following, for example:

  • oral exams
  • use of a calculator
  • chunking or breaking down tests into smaller sections to complete
  • breaks between sections
  • a quiet place to complete tests
  • multiple-choice, or fill in the blank test format instead of an essay
  • extra time

Modifications in the classroom and homework assignments may include shortened assignments to compensate for the amount of time it takes to complete, extended time to complete assignments, reduced amount of written work, or breaking down assignments and long-term projects into segments with separate due dates for completion of each segment.

Students may also be allowed to dictate or tape-record responses, use a computer for written work, or do oral reports or hands-on projects to demonstrate the learning of the material.

Teaching methods may be modified to provide multisensory instruction, visual cues, and hands- onities, highlight or underline important parts of a task, cue student in on key points of the lesson, or provide guided lecture notes.

Outlines and study guides may be offered, along with reductions in the demands on memory, teaching memory skills such as mnemonics, visualization, oral rehearsal, and repetitive practice, use books on tape, assistance with organization, prioritization, and problem-solving.

Class schedules may also be adjusted by scheduling those classes that require most mental focus at the beginning of school day, adding in regular breaks for the student throughout the day to allow for physical movement and "brain rest," or adjustments to the nonacademic time.

Adjustments to grading, like modifying weight given to exams, breaking test down into segments, and grading segments separately, partial credit for late homework with full credit for make-up work may also be appropriate.

Added Support for Students with ADHD

Preferential seating that's away from distractions—away from the door, window, pencil sharpener or distracting students, near the teacher, or a quiet place to complete schoolwork or tests can be helpful.

Seating the student by a good role model/classroom "buddy" and appointing "row captains" or "homework buddies" who remind students to write down assignments and who collect work to turn in to the teacher should also be considered.

Students should be offered assistance with note-taking, providing the student with a copy of class notes, peer assistance with note-taking, audio taping of lectures.

For distracted students, one-on-one tutoring and organizational assistance (including teacher/school representative meeting with the student at the end of each class or end day to check that homework assignments are written completely in homework notebook and needed books are in the backpack, providing organizational folders and planners, color coding) can make a big difference.

It's important to note that students with ADHD may require extended time for testing, especially those students who tend to retrieve and process information at a slower speed. The use of positive behavior management strategies (including frequent monitoring, feedback, prompts, redirection, and reinforcement) can help students maintain positive motivation.

Teachers should provide clear and simple directions for homework and class assignments by repeating directions, posting homework assignments on the board, and supplementing verbal instructions with visual/written instructions. An extra set of books for the student to keep at home, along with highlighted textbooks and workbooks will help ADHD students stay on task.

Setting up a system of communication (such as a notebook for a weekly progress report, regular emails, or phone calls) between the parents and teacher/school representative helps keep everyone informed about the student's progress or difficulties. Parents should also be notified of homework and project assignments and due dates so they can follow-up with the student at home.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights. Your rights under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

  2. Lipkin PH, Okamoto J. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for Children With Special Educational Needs. Pediatrics. 2015;136(6):e1650-62. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-3409

  3. U.S. Department of Education Individuals with Disabilities Act. Sec. 300.306 Determination of eligibility.

  4. Schuchardt K, Fischbach A, Balke-melcher C, Mähler C. [The comorbidity of learning difficulties and ADHD symptoms in primary-school-age children]. Z Kinder Jugendpsychiatr Psychother. 2015;43(3):185-93. doi:10.1024/1422-4917/a000352

  5. Harrison, JR, Bunford, N, Evans, SW, Owens, JS. Educational accommodations for students with behavioral challenges: A systematic review of the literature. Review Educational Res. 2013; 83(4). doi: 10.3102/0034654313497517 

Additional Reading
  • Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, Teaching Teens With ADD, ADHD, and Executive Function Deficits: A Quick Reference Guide for Teachers and Parents (Second Edition). Woodbine House. 2011.

By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.