One of the biggest challenges we face as parents of complex kids is to advocate effectively for our kids – especially in the school systems. The bureaucracy can be overwhelming, and the snail's pace maddening. It takes a huge dose of persistence, commitment, education and support to secure appropriate accommodations for our kids.
So when my wonderful client, Carolyn, came to a coaching call with this celebration, I asked if she'd share it with other parents. Her Persistence really paid off! Turns out, she's a beautiful writer, a terrific story-teller, and her tale is filled with inspiration – and information – to help all of us!
Two Attempts at Clearing the 504 Hurdle
By Carolyn McGown
The school year was picking up speed and each month torn off the calendar felt like evidence of my failure as a mother to step up to the plate.
My eleven-year-old daughter, diagnosed with ADHD in first grade, was two months from her fifth grade graduation. She still didn't have a 504 in place.
I knew that big challenges were on the horizon in Middle School. Memories of my own downhill slide in 6th grade were haunting me like ghosts of school days past. I tried reminding myself that my daughter's experience would be different because she has a parent fiercely advocating for her.
Or does she?
The testing, the books, the therapists, switching schools – if she still didn't have an official plan in place, I began to question whether I had been effective as her advocate.
Then I realized another ghost was haunting me, this one from my daughter's first grade year. Just after she was diagnosed, I requested a few simple accommodations to help with distractibility, impulsivity and a bad case of the wiggles. Without a meeting or scrap of paperwork, I was told that 504s were given at the discretion of the teacher. The teacher didn't feel it was necessary.
New to advocacy, and not yet understanding the legalities of Section 504, I didn't push back.
The next year we switched to a private school, where worries about a 504 were vanquished with small class size and an amenable teacher. All was well until an unexpected relocation took our daughter back to public school for fifth grade. As the year progressed, her struggles were clear.
It was time to get a 504 in place.
With the help of Elaine, my Parenting Coach at ImpactADHD, I was led to three particularly helpful resources that are available at www.CHADD.org. CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) is the nation's leading advocacy and support organization for ADHD. Initial registration is free and highly recommended – you'll get access to these articles:
- A 504 Primer – I needed to believe that my struggling, ADHD-diagnosed child was legally guaranteed accommodations so she could fully and equally participate in her education. Blatant denial of accommodations in first grade left me suspicious of the law. Reading it again was surprisingly empowering. The Primer's list of common interventions helped me create a list of accommodations to request. I also had my daughter mark accommodations she felt strongly about having or not having.
- Strategies to help with school success: A toolkit for parents of children with ADHD: that Parents might take to a 504 Meeting helped me to envision what my daughter's 504 Plan could look like. This simple worksheet took the mystery away and made me think, “I can do this!”
- Executive Functions: Six Aspects of a Complex Syndrome is a chart based on the Brown Model of ADHD that Elaine suggested I use. I printed copies of the chart and asked my daughter to mark what she thought her strengths and weaknesses were. I did the same, and sent a copy to the guidance counselor at school to complete. (I also suggested it might be a useful tool for the teachers and staff.)
Meeting with the School
My request of the guidance counselor to start a 504 petition was met with, “Sure, no problem. I'll schedule a meeting.” Three weeks later, the meeting happened, two weeks before the end of school.
Trying hard to stay positive and to trust the law, I arrived at the meeting and presented my and my daughter's view of my daughter's strengths, differences, classroom experiences and possible accommodations. The guidance counselor happened to have my daughter as a student and was able to add her own valuable perspective. The nurse, psychologist and principal offered more objective perspectives and counterpoints. When a boilerplate accommodation didn't fit, we tweaked it until it worked.
The tone of the meeting was collaborative and inspirational. It felt like everyone in the room was looking through a lens labeled, “Just how much can we do to support this wonderful but struggling student?” In an hour and a half, we crafted a 504 plan that comprised about a dozen behavioral and instructional accommodations, effective immediately.
The accommodations that my daughter most wanted?
- Teacher-supported use of an assignment organizer with checklists
- Receiving important information/directions in writing
- Extra time on tests
The ones she wanted to avoid?
- Anything that would draw attention to her in class, like supervision during transitions or teacher supplied rewards for positive behavior
So what accounted for the difference between my two experiences?
I don't know. But I do know that if the recent meeting hadn't gone well, I would have confidently appealed the decision.
My own fruitful experience with obtaining a 504 Plan for my child will some day be the norm. For now, I hope that you can take something from this to help you in your efforts.
Right now, I'm celebrating feeling like a mom who successfully advocates for her child. It turns out, with the right support (my coach) and information (CHADD's resources), I didn't need to be so fierce after all. Just prepared!