This week I’d like to make some suggestions about 504 plans. Several of the teens I’ve served held out for a long time before talking with their school about getting a 504 plan and that makes a lot of sense to me. I’ve been in those meetings and they can be rough! I wish school systems had more resources or made curricula more accessible for a variety of learners, but much like other systems, they fall short in my experience. I honestly cannot imagine what it would have been like to have accommodations for myself and some of my peers come to think of it. While I know some folks got what they needed, there were certainly lots of people who would now be diagnosed for their trauma or ADHD or otherwise who would fit for accommodations.
When we typically think of mental health related diagnoes like PTSD we might think of Other Health Impairment (OHI) and we might think of time and a half for tests and being offered to test privately. These are limited accommodations and not proven to be helpful for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, go for additional time if that’s helpful. However, when I’ve worked with children or adolescents who struggle to get their assignments done we look to see if their educators will accommodate (which if they have a 504 plan and it’s a public school then legally their supposed to), then I ask if they can do every other problem. Being able to do every other math problem or every other question has been helpful for a number of reasons. For one, it can give adolescents the opportunity to feel successful at what they’re trying to do again or for the first time ever. They can have a fighting chance! It can also help them if they struggle with completing more mundane tasks or need more energy for other aspects regarding whatever qualifies them for accommodations under OHI. Talk with your adolescent to see what would make their learning experience more accessible. What would make school more digestable for them? And then if you can get ready for some advocacy!
You can expect to submit a letter requesting a 504 plan meeting if your child attends a public school (some private schools even accept these). I use to send these out, but they’re really just taken from a Google search and can be found for free online. They basically state that you want to schedule a 504 plan meeting. If they’re a public school they’re required to go ahead and schedule that and now might be the perfect time to request that given that the response and scheduling take a while. Once you have your 504 plan meeting you may want to bring documentation or other people like psychologists or family friends who can help explain why your student needs the support. No one size fits all, but unfortunately I’ve seen the need for lots of explaining and advocacy at these meetings. Then you go to one or more of these meetings. They may gather some data, reconvene, and see how things go. It may even be several months before your student gets the accommodations they need. Some find it helpful and others find it less helpful and laborious. I know I’d advise for it when I see teens struggling in their unique ways of learning. I never want someone to feel worse because they’re not feeling “enough” due to a school system so I make those recommendations from a holistic perspective. I make the suggestion for at least an initial 504 plan meeting to let adolescents know their different learning needs are heard and that we’re working on things. This also lets their educators know theirs an open communication channel with the adults in the adolescent’s life. Whether or not their granted the 504 plan they need, I think this open channel has been helpful.
Wishing you the best in your learning journey and remember none of us learn the same. We’ll see you next week for more on Soft Heart Psychology topics.