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Special Education/Depression/Anxiety Accomodations in 504 plan

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Question
My 7th grade daughter suffers from severe depression and anxiety.  She was recently hospitalized for a week for suicidal ideation and cutting.  She attends a public school IB program. She has hydrocephalus and has a 504 plan in place to address issues related to her health condition; she is allowed to circle answers on tests and can request preferential seating.  Because of her depression, school has become overwhelming to her.  She has difficulty staying focused and completing assigned tasks.  What 504 plan accommodations are available to students suffering from depression and anxiety?

Answer
Hi Jamie,
It sounds like you have a very bright and talented daughter.  The short answer is that the 504 plan can contain any necessary accommodations your daughter requires to receive a free appropriate public education.  See this link for an explanation.  

http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/edlite-FAPE504.html

In part, it says "An appropriate education may include regular or special education and related aids and services to accommodate the unique needs of individuals with disabilities."

The possibilities are so broad, I would hesitate to try to list accommodations she may need because I don't want to give you the impression that there is a limit to what could be in the 504 plan.  

My experience is that executive dysfunction, poor attention, poor regulation skills and difficulty understanding and completing the demands of school can be the result of these complicated conditions.  

The most important thing you can do is be sure that she is properly evaluated, AND that the evaluation reports specify the accommodations or services that she needs at this time.  You can have the testing done privately, or ask the school to do it, or both.  

You may find my Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book
http://www.amazon.com/Special-Needs-Advocacy-Resource-Book/dp/1593633092
useful.  In it, I have sample letters you can write to request evaluation, a comprehensive list of related services, and much more to inform you of your and your daughter's rights, how to navigate team meetings, etc.  

Also, you may want to consider whether she needs a behavior intervention plan.  This is informed by the functional behavior assessment, a team problem solving process, where data is collected and interventions are recommended.  Why is she cutting herself and why is she having difficulty focusing?  What can be done and by who?  These are answered by the FBA and the BIP can identify additional accommodations she needs to succeed.  

In my book, School Success for Kids with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
http://www.amazon.com/School-Success-Emotional-Behavioral-Disorders/dp/159363431

there are school wide, classroom, and individual interventions that can be put into a 504 plan or an IEP, Individualized Education Program.  

Under a 504 plan, she can receive extra time, scheduling adjustments, counseling, specialized instruction, support for organization, re-teaching, adjusted workload, adjustment to tasks, products and how she shows her knowledge, oral testing, and much more.  

It can be tricky when a child is highly gifted and has special needs.  Sometimes, the schools want to reduce the level of classes, remove a child from gifted tracks, or tell parents that the accommodations are not needed because a child is gifted.  These myths must be dispelled through proper evaluation and assurance that the team contains members who understand students who are twice exceptional, if this is the case with your daughter.  

You also may want to consider if your daughter may be eligible for special education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, in which case she would receive the supports under an IEP.  I don't know without understanding more whether this is appropriate or what benefit that would give your daughter, but sometimes, students need a more specialized placement and setting that is small and therapeutic.

Mark Bade is a specialist in twice exceptional kids.  I found this article which may help you, on his site.  http://www.2enewsletter.com/article_anxiety_2008_07.html

As you can see, conditions like anxiety and depression need someone on the team who truly understand the interventions that are researched to be effective with kids like your daughter.  Whatever she needs, get the evaluation reports that specify the recommended interventions, and advocate for that.  If needed, pull me or someone like me into the process and get help when the school team says 'no' to your requests.  Again, though, your requests should be backed up by evaluation reports by professionals.   

If you are interested in a consult, please email me abc4success@msn.com.  In the meantime, I wish your daughter success and you all the best as you advocate for her!  

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Michelle R. Davis, M. Ed.

Expertise

I can answer questions about disability definitions and criteria for services, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004, No Child Left Behind, 504 plans, how to craft an IEP that drives the appropriate services, school placement, dispute options, and least restrictive environment. I worked in the public school system as a special educator and am now in private consulting practice where we assist parents as they navigate the special education process. I have expertise in all educational disabilities except blind/visual impairments and deaf/hard of hearing. This includes ADHD and other health impairments, medical conditions, dyslexia and learning disabilities, Autism, emotional disabilities, language processing problems, and interfering behaviors.

Experience

10 years as special educator and administrator in public school system; Director of ABCs for Life Success since 1998; Expert services such as analysis and testimony; Author: Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book: What you can do now to advocate for your exceptional child's education; Special Needs Advocacy Training Institute; internet radio show Teach Your Children Well: Hot Topics in Education; author School Success for Kids with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders released March 2010 (Prufrock Press).

Education/Credentials
Masters in Special Education with Emphasis on Inclusive Education (Johns Hopkins University); B.S.in Special Education (James Madison University); Conduct training for Universities, public and private schools, parent groups. Adjunct professor current George Washington University and prior George Mason University.

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