Addressing ADHD With Section 504

Updated on November 9, 2018
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor splits his time being a special education teacher and a freelance writer.

Originally posted at
Originally posted at

Some teachers cringe when they discover that students in their classes have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And, in many respects, it’s understandable; generally speaking, students with ADHD are impulsive and lack self-control.

Conversely, students with this condition face discrimination on a daily basis. They face disciplinary actions that take them out of the classroom and away from an adequate education.

Try as they may, teachers can't block these students from obtaining an education. It's the law; one that protects the students’ civil rights. So, what can teachers do? Primarily, they can start by understanding the law that supports students with ADHD. And, find ways to include them in typical classroom functions.

ADHD is a condition in which students' abilities for self-control have been impaired. The students may have problems focusing on a particular task despite their intelligence or academic skills. It's a condition that can be managed. Most importantly, it can be addressed by a vital law known as Section 504.


What Is Section 504?

Section 504 (or the 504 Plan, as known by educators) was part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This particular legislation was a civil rights bill meant to protect those with physical and mental disabilities. Section 504—which addressed access to education in a public school setting—was designed to protect the rights of students with disabilities, including those with ADHD.

As a result, these students (especially those with ADHD) have access to programs and reasonable accommodations to help them acquire the same material as their peers in general education. And, much like the other important special education document, an IEP, it's a contract between the students and educators.



The law appears to do the same as the other special education law, the Individual with Disability Education Act (IDEA). And in some cases, students with ADHD are covered by its byproduct, the individual education plan (IEP). However, Section 504 and IDEA are two different entities. IEPs tend to be for students with special needs and a specific learning disability (SLD). They may have autism, processing disorders, language or math disorders.

By definition, students who fall under the category of SLD are also covered by the 504 plan. However, students with impairments such as ADHD, Tourette's syndrome, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, allergies, and AIDS are not covered by IDEA or meant to have IEPs. In effect, Section 504 covers a much broader group of people with disabilities than does IDEA.

Still, ADHD is often misdiagnosed. Sometimes, a case of ADHD turns out to be a learning disability (auditory or visual processing disorder).

OHI Is Everything

ADHD falls under Section 504 due to how it is classified. When a student is diagnosed with ADHD, the student is also labeled as having "other health impairment (OHI)." An OHI designation indicates that students with this condition have something other than the recognized learning disability. In some cases, it is a chronic disease or a debilitating injury. In other cases, it's a condition that impairs their attention as well as their self-control.

Still, ADHD is often misdiagnosed. Sometimes, a case of ADHD turns out to be a learning disability (auditory or visual processing disorder). In addition, ADHD can be diagnosed with another disability.

Multiple diagnoses are crucial in deciding who gets section 504 or an IEP. ADHD by itself can be treatable through medication. As a result, many students with this condition don't need accommodations or modifications. In addition, many don't need special education services or to be designated as special education students. Instead, they need less intrusive monitoring and/or assurances that their rights to obtain the same education as their peers is not compromised.

The more restrictive laws of IDEA is needed for students with ADHD whose learning abilities have been affected by this particular disorder. In many cases, students with ADHD who happen to have IEPs have processing disorders or autism as their primary learning disorder, ADHD can be listed as a secondary condition under the OHI designation on the Eligibility page of the IEP.

A Teacher’s Role Under Section 504

So what are teachers supposed to do for an ADHD student? The key is accommodation. Often, the terms of accommodation and modification in education are confused as being the same thing. Accommodation is more about access and adjustment of the student's environment to make the lessons accessible to them.

Accommodations are the teachers’ tools. They can help students with learning disabilities—as well as those with ADHD—to acquire the same education as their non-disabled peers.

...if the student doesn't have access to the lesson, their rights can be violated under the 504 plan.

Here are few forms of accommodations:

  • Have students seated next to the teacher's desk.
  • Have the teacher repeat lessons or rephrase lectures by asking them oral questions.
  • Use visual or auditory cues (if students have SLD to accompany their ADHD).
  • Use organizational tools such as folders, notebooks, or other forms of graphic organizers.

In addition, accommodations may refer to time-outs in which the students are to be seated alone or outside the classroom (however, this is a tricky thing, because if the students don't have access to the lesson, their rights can be violated under the 504 plan).

Should Modifications Be Allowed?

Modification should be used only in extreme cases. In many cases, these modifications will be used on students with ADHD who are enrolled in special education courses and have IEPs.

This tool will result in the lesson being changed to fit the students' level of understanding. Often, students will be given less work than their peers or will use an article written at their reading level. The articles may be the same as the general education students use; however, it's been simplified or rewritten at a lower reading level.

Possibly the best advice for teachers dealing with students with ADHD is to have some patience and understanding of the students' conditions. Also, keeping a running log or journal on a particularly troublesome student's behavior or attention may help to find patterns in his/her behavior and to find things that may or may not trigger outbursts. Teachers may use timeouts, verbal or hand cues to signal to a student that the behavior is inappropriate.

Either way, teachers need to understand that the students are impaired and still need access to the curriculum. Not only is this good practice, it's the law—thanks to the 504 plan.

© 2018 Dean Traylor


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