Step 5 Know Your Child's Rights

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Let's start with the big picture

Before you request that your child's school do a formal evaluation for learning accommodations and services, it's important to be aware of what help may actually be available.

There are two federal civil rights laws that protect the educational rights of children with ADHD and other disabilities: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These laws provide guidance for the education of all students with disabilities in public schools that receive federal funds.

Federal Civil Rights Laws

  • Both laws guarantee children with disabilities a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE), meaning it's free to parents, caregivers, and children, generally provided in the public school, and appropriate for the child.
  • Both recommend that children be educated in the "least restrictive environment ," with nondiscriminatory evaluations and assessments and periodic reevaluation.
  • Section 504 defines disability more broadly than IDEA, so it may be less burdensome to qualify for and may get implemented faster.
  • IDEA is best known for its main provision, the IEP, or Individualized Education Program. An IEP can be harder to qualify for and can take longer to get, though it may offer more comprehensive educational benefits.

Which program is right for your child?

Everyone's circumstances may be a little different. Section 504 is for children whose educational needs can be addressed through changes in the general curriculum and classroom. An IEP provides a more comprehensive educational plan than Section 504. Information on this website is focused on Section 504. For more information on IDEA, check out Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) at chadd.org.


Below are the main points on IEPs and Section 504 plans, so you can get the gist of each and decide what's right for you and your child.

IEP Section 504
Full name
  • Individualized Education Program
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
In a nutshell
  • A structured and individualized learning plan designed to meet the needs of children with disabilities
  • A less comprehensive learning plan for reasonable accommodations
To qualify
  • The child's disability must impact educational performance
  • The child has a disability that "substantially limits" a major life function, like learning or concentrating
The details
  • Parent/caregiver and teacher jointly decide child's needs, services, and anticipated outcomes
  • Federal government mandates portfolio of services
  • IEP must be in writing
  • Services are provided either in a separate classroom or in the regular classroom
  • Provides for services like tutoring and speech therapy
  • Must include a transition plan for children ages 16 and older to prepare the child for life after high school
  • Parental/caregiver involvement in making decisions is not required (though parents/caregivers are usually included)
  • School decides what services to offer
  • A 504 plan can be oral or written
  • Services are generally provided in the regular classroom, though occasionally in special education classrooms, as determined by the school
  • Less likely to offer more costly services, such as speech therapy
  • Transition plan is optional
Good to know
  • It takes more than an ADHD diagnosis; there is a rigorous process to qualify
  • Section 504 is not limited to general education services. A child may receive any service or support his or her 504 team deems necessary
Time period covered
  • Through high school
  • May apply through technical school, college, or university
How long to get services?
  • 2 to 3 months for evaluation of eligibility; varies by state
  • Evaluation and implementation process is usually quicker than an IEP
 

It is important to note that private schools may have similar plans in place. Parents and caregivers who would like to speak to their child's school about having a formal plan put in place should ask their principal about the school's "services plans."