Academic Accommodations and ADHD

Written by: Rebecca L. Marshall, Ph.D.
Academic Accommodations and ADHD

Is your child eligible for academic accommodations?  Parents and students often wonder about qualifying for academic accommodations, including extra time on standardized testing, in the context of a diagnosis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Academic accommodations typically granted for students who struggle with clinically significant attention problems include the following:

  • Extended time on testing, including on standardized testing (50% extended time).
  • A distraction-reduced setting for taking tests to optimize focus and concentration.
  • Preferential seating in classrooms to improve focus during academic instruction.
  • Behavioral redirection if the student turns in incomplete assignments or is observed to be off-task. Immediate positive feedback should be provided for on-task behavior.
  • Structured breaks for longer assignments and projects so that the student does not become overwhelmed by the attentional demands required.

Psycho-educational or neuropsychological testing is typically required to receive academic accommodations.  The purpose of these accommodations is to help a student with ADHD demonstrate what he or she has learned, to the best of his or her ability.  Once recommended by a psychologist or a physician, the academic accommodations are provided through different mechanisms in public and private schools.  Public schools typically require a 504 Plan or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to be approved prior to a student becoming eligible for accommodations.  School counselors and administrators in private schools typically approve academic accommodations after reviewing the student’s psycho-educational or neuropsychological testing report.

What is a 504 Plan? 

A 504 plan is provided for students under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  It is part of the federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against students with disabilities, including those with learning and attention issues who meet certain criteria.  504 plans are for K–12 public school students with disabilities.  The definition of a person with a disability is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (including paying attention for necessary lengths of time in school).  The student must have a record of the impairment, and the impairment must be regarded as a significant difficulty that is not temporary.  This definition covers a wide range of problems, including ADHD and learning disabilities.  A 504 plan can help students with learning and attention issues to learn and participate in a general education curriculum.  A 504 plan delineates how a student’s particular needs are met with accommodations and other services.   These measures, such as extended time for tests and a distraction-reduced setting or separate classroom for taking tests, remove potential barriers to learning.

What is an IEP?

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is different than a 504 plan in that it outlines special education and related services for a student, and it is based on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The child must have one of 13 specific disabilities listed in the IDEA to qualify for an IEP.  The disability must affect how the child learns in the context of a general education curriculum.  ADHD, intellectual impairment, and specific learning disorders are included as possible disabilities in the IDEA.  If a child has ADHD and is performing well in school, however, he or she may not be eligible for support under the IDEA.  He or she may still be eligible for support, such as extended time on tests, under a 504 plan.

Accommodations for College Admissions Testing

A petition for extended time and other special testing accommodations on standardized tests for college admissions (ACT and College Board tests) is typically completed with the help of a high school counselor.  Requests for extended time are usually submitted online and require: 1) documentation of the dates a student was tested for a given disability or diagnosis, 2) the date that the student was first diagnosed, 3) and an explanation of the reasons that extended time and/or other special testing conditions should be granted.  Test scores from psychological assessments are typically required.  The College Board and ACT usually do not grant such requests if the diagnosis at the time of the petition is less than 4 months old.  Testing typically must be completed within the last 3-4 years to qualify for extended time and other special services.

For more information about psycho-educational and neuropsychological testing for academic accommodations and ADHD, please contact Rebecca L. Marshall, Ph.D. at The Summit Counseling Center: 678-893-5300.