Guest Expert

Meeting the Legal Transition to Post Secondary Education

Rob Tudisco

Parents of students with ADHD and other co-occurring conditions are often concerned about the difficulties their children will face after high school. Transition to an unstructured environment is daunting. Knowing about a number of changes in the law, and addressing them proactively, can make a huge difference in your child’s and your own transition.

IEPs & 504 Plans

Students with a diagnosis of ADHD often have:

    • An Individualized Education Program (IEP) that provides services and benchmarks, or
    • A 504 plan that provides reasonable accommodations to level the playing field for children with special needs.

Both the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504, as it relates to younger children, contain a component known as “Child Find.” This means that, prior to graduation from high school, school districts are required to seek out children with disabilities, identify their special needs and provide services and support to address them.

Unfortunately, the child find component of both IEPs and 504 plans does not go off to college with your child. IDEA does not extend to post-secondary study, and the child find component of Section 504 disappears after high school graduation. This means that, after high school graduation, to gain accommodations, the burden shifts to students to self-report their disabilities, provide documentation, articulate their needs and ask for services and support.

It is important that you prepare your children to advocate for themselves. Make sure they have a working understanding of their diagnosis. More importantly, make sure they understand how it impacts their learning so that they will be able to request accommodations to protect themselves.

You must be proactive to prepare for this change. IDEA provides that the school must develop a transition plan with the parents and student between the ages of 14 to 16. This transition plan should be utilized as a way to establish what types of accommodations the student should seek in college or vocational school, or ultimately on the job.

A 504 plan is not required to be implemented by the college, but it is a fruitful source of information about what types of accommodations were necessary and successful in high school, and why. It is important for parents and students to address these issues with disability offices when looking at colleges.

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FERPA: Friend and Stranger

Another piece of legislation that parents need to understand is the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA provides that parents have an unrestricted and exclusive right to access their child’s full education file. However, a parent’s exclusive unrestricted right expires when their children graduate from high school and become adults.

Once adults, your kids have the exclusive unrestricted access to their education file. Parents are no longer able to get any information from the school.

Parents need to know this is the case, even if they are paying the bill for their child’s education. A parent will only have access when the student signs a waiver to permit his/her parent to be in the loop.

Regardless of whether or not your child wishes to include you in this process, it is important to discuss this with your child ahead of time. You do not want to be surprised when you lose access to your child’s information. Have a waiver prepared for when your child starts college, or prepare yourself to be outside of the loop.

While you are having this conversation with your child, discuss interventions like coaching to bridge the gap, both for your child and for yourself as parents. You might also address similar issues around medical information, and arrange for the appropriate HIPAA forms to be signed if your child chooses.


There is no magic formula to smooth out the road to transition for parents or students. Knowing what is ahead, and planning for it, is more than half the battle. In the end, it could be the difference between navigating a mind field with a map in your hands, and being chased through one blindfolded.

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