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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can make academic success challenging due to problems with focus, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity. Many people with ADHD excel in school and have successful careers later in life.

Special education services and accommodations are available in the classroom for students with ADHD. Two federal laws govern the support that students with specific needs receive from kindergarten to grade 12:

  • Individuals with Disabilities Act
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Some of the accommodations that students with ADHD can receive include:

  • extra time on tests
  • extra or longer breaks
  • individually tailored assignments

Read on to learn how you can apply for accommodations for your child and what accommodations are available at various grade and college levels.

Your child may be eligible for one of two federally funded plans: an individualized education plan (IEP) or a Section 504 plan.

A 2018 study found that three times more students with ADHD received an IEP than a Section 504 plan.

The two plans are similar but subtly different. Here’s what each plan can offer and how you can apply for each.

Applying for an IEP

An IEP is an individual program to help ensure that a child with a disability or disorder attending elementary or secondary school receives specialized instruction and services.

If you believe your child is having difficulty in the classroom, request an evaluation from their school. There’s no fee to have your child evaluated. You can also have them evaluated by a healthcare provider (such as a pediatrician, psychologist, or psychiatrist).

The first step of the evaluation process involves gathering data about a child’s academic problems. Some ways a school may gather information include:

  • observing your child in the classroom
  • analyzing your child’s school performance
  • meeting you (the parents or guardians)
  • meeting with your child

To be eligible for an IEP, there needs to be evidence that ADHD is affecting your child’s performance or adjustment to the classroom environment. Having a disability isn’t always sufficient to qualify for an IEP.

If your child is eligible, you’ll work together with the school to decide what will be included in your child’s IEP. The IEP team may include a principal, teachers, parents, and a counselor.

Learn more about IEPs from the U.S. Department of Education website.

Applying for a 504 plan

If your child has a disability affecting their learning, a 504 plan helps your child receives accommodations that will maximize their chances of achieving academic success.

First, your child needs to have a medical ADHD diagnosis to qualify for a 504 plan.

Many school districts and private school organizations have staff members who coordinate section 504 plans and can assist you with this process. Look on your school website or ask your school’s principal for this person’s contact information.

To start the process, you must submit a written request outlining why you think your child needs the plan. A 504 plan team will then review your child’s school work, observe your child, and interview you and their teacher to see if they’re eligible.

A 504 plan team often consists of a principal, teachers, parents, and possibly a guidance counselor or psychologist. If there’s a disagreement about whether your child is eligible, make a written appeal to the school district or U.S. Office for Civil Rights.

Find more information about 504 plans from the U.S. Department of Education website.

If your child is eligible for a 504 plan or IEP, you’ll work with their school to develop a list of accommodations.

The type of accommodations they receive may depend on the type of ADHD they have. Learn more about the types of ADHD here. Below are some examples of accommodations children in kindergarten through grade 6 may receive.

Sitting with fewer distractions

Students with inattentive ADHD may get distracted, so they may be seated in an area with fewer distractions, such as away from windows and doorways.

Taking tests in a different room

Your child may be able to take their tests in a room that has fewer distractions. They may also be able to use headphones to block out noises or partitions to limit distractions.

Activity breaks

Children with hyperactive-impulsive symptoms may have trouble sitting still for extended periods of time. Your child may be given frequent movement breaks, such as handing out assignments or stretching.

Allowing movement

Your children may be allowed to do their work while standing or moving between seats.

Breaking assignments and tests into smaller sections

If your child has trouble completing assignments in one sitting because of distractions, they may be allowed to break them into smaller sections.

Here are a few of the potential accommodations students from grades 6 to 12 with ADHD can receive.

Project substitution

Projects like written essays may be able to be substituted for other types of assignments, such as videos, posters, or visual presentations.

Adjustments to test format

Your child may be eligible to take tests in a different format. For example, they may be able to complete an oral test instead of a written test.

Student mentor

Your child may be seated next to a student who’s less likely to distract them and may help encourage your child to stay on task.

Reduced homework

Your child may be given less homework to focus on quality over quantity of assignments. They may also be given tools, such as a special assignment book, to help them stay organized.

To apply for accommodations at the college or university level, you will fill out an application with the school’s disability services center. Many schools allow you to apply online.

Here are some potential accommodations you may receive from a college or university.

Extra time for exams

Extra time may be given for written exams. Usually, time-and-a-half is offered, but more time may be offered in some cases.

Reduced course load

In some cases, full-time status may be allowed even with a smaller course load than is typically required to qualify.

Recorded lectures

The school may allow video or audio recordings of lectures. Some schools may also loan out recording devices.

Notetakers

Students can be assigned a notetaker who can take notes on their behalf.

A number of accommodations may be available for online learning.

Audiobooks

Audiobooks may be allowed instead of requiring the purchase of use of written books or e-books.

Lesson transcripts

Lesson transcripts can often be made available, especially on massive online open courses (MOOCs), instead of having to take notes during classes.

Alternative assignment formats

Alternative assignments or methods of answering questions on assignments may be made available — for example, drawing a picture or making a video instead of giving a written answer.

Virtual assistance

One-on-one assistance may be available from a teacher or an aide outside of normal course hours or during office hours.

To take AP exams, SATs, SAT subject tests, or PSAT/NMSQT tests with accommodations, a student with ADHD must request accommodations through the College Board’s Services for Students with Disabilities.

Using accommodations without a documented disability can lead to cancellation of test scores. Find all application materials necessary for accommodations on the College Board website.

Submit accommodation requests for the ACT through the ACT website. Once your child registers for the test, they’ll receive an email about how to work together with their school to process their accommodations request.

Accommodations for standardized tests may include:

  • extra breaks, extended breaks, or breaks as needed
  • alternative test formats.
  • 50 percent extended time
  • splitting the test between two days
  • writing the test in a small group setting

ADHD can make school a challenge, but accommodations can help ensure your child’s academic success. If your child is in grade school, they may qualify for accommodations through an IEP or 504 plan.

To apply for accommodations at the college or university level, you will need to apply through the school’s disability services center.