Musing on 504, ADHD & the Pie Chart

February 07, 2020

 Accommodations in school are typically formalized in what is called a 504 Plan.

504 (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) grew out of ADA (Americans with Disability Act) legislation.  Since the 1990’s, 504 found its way into the schools and has been firmly rooted there ever since.

The notion of the 504 is that the child identified by an outside professional as having a handicapping condition necessitates the development of reasonable accommodations so that the “playing field” is leveled.

Therefore, in theory the child with an identified disability can function as free of handicapping barriers as possible in the mainstream setting.

Most children given 504 Plans have been “diagnosed” with ADHD/ADD which is viewed as a medical condition that necessitates being accommodated.

Without the medical diagnosis, there is no 504.

Unlike other types of medicine where x-rays or blood tests determine in objective ways whether a medical condition exists, there is a “wild west” quality to ADHD assessment.  There are no agreed upon tests or “X-rays” and much of the “diagnosis” is based on what parents tell the doctor.

A few buzz words such as, “He doesn’t focus,”  “She can’t pay attention,” or “He can be so fidgety,”  usually gets the diagnosis  (and a prescription).

Never mind that there are almost always competing explanations and variables that are contributing.

“Wait, the parents are fighting a lot and the household has been tense?”

“What do you mean your kid is oppositional and defiant and detests all things about school?”

“You mean all he does is play video games for at least 6 hours a day and nothing else matters to him?”

It can go on and on.

Seemingly forever, I have been on one-person mission to help guide parents away from whole pie-chart thinking.

This means when it comes to kid issues there are always other pieces in the pie chart that need to be understood beyond the definitive, “Yes, we’ve determined that your child is ADHD and needs medication and accommodations,”  as if that explains  99.9 % of the story.

While 504 plans can provide some needed support and accommodation, I would encourage you to look carefully at the pieces in the pie chart.  Ask yourself (or the professional you are consulting with), “What else may be working?”

Next week  we will drill down on the issue of accommodation and finding the right balance between a reasonable accommodation and where you may be making things too nice and easy for the child.

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