Slow Processing Speed and 504 Plans

Does slow processing speed qualify a student for a 504 plan?  This is a question that I am frequently asked in my work as a child clinical psychologist. The simple but complex answer is: it depends. Because each child is different in their array of symptoms and that schools qualify students with 504 plans for a variety of reasons, it is often hard to predict.

Some schools use 504 plans as a tool to make modifications and accommodations for all struggling students, whereas other schools insist upon a clear psychiatric diagnosis–sometimes in the absence of academic struggles–to qualify a student for a 504 plan. If you have a child with slow processing speed and believe that a 504 plan might help her, I would encourage you to speak to other parents, the classroom teacher, and to a local psychologist who has work with the school system to strategize about the best way to get  a 504 plan into place.

First, I’d strongly suggest that you develop an expertise and understanding of 504 plans,. In brief, a classroom 504 plan is an outline of the strategies and accommodations that addresses learning difficulties. 504 plans are typically used for children who do not qualify for an IEP or special education services. 504 plans are generally much easier to obtain than an IEP for a struggling student. 504 plans derive from section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination of children with disabilities in schools. 504 plans are frequently used to assist kids with slow processing speed by making accommodations that fit their specific needs.

However, many schools require some type of diagnosis such as ADHD before granting a 504 plan. While a fair number of kids with slow processing speed also have an ADHD or other psychiatric/ Learning Disability diagnosis, there are many who do not. Fortunately, there are some workarounds that you can discuss with a local child psychologist or pediatrician to help obtain a 504 plan for you child with slow processing speed. Once your child with slow processing speed qualifies for an IEP you will want to consider an array of strategies to help her both at school and at home.

Here is a lengthy list to choose from:

Instructional Strategies

  1. Use simple, concise instructions with concrete steps.  Speak slowly when giving directions.
  2. Stick to daily class routines.
  3. Break down large assignments into smaller components with individual deadlines.
  4. When students begin a new assignment, provide them with a checklist or rubric that explains how the assignment will be graded.
  5. Communicate clear starting points for tasks, instead of just giving students a due date.
  6. Encourage the student to review class notes every night with a parent. This will help the student understand what information is missing or unclear. The next day, she can ask you in class to clarify information that is missing or unclear.
  7. Utilize methods other than worksheets to reinforce concepts covered in class.
  8. Use books with audio or text-to-speech software with students who may benefit from seeing and hearing words at the same time.

Time Management and Pace of Work Strategies

  1. Allow extra time to complete all work and tests
  2. Limit the amount of homework and allow parents to sign off on unfinished portions.
  3. Award partial credit for late homework.
  4. Encourage student to keep pencils sharpened, notebooks organized, and materials close so she is ready to go as soon as lesson begins.
  5. Shorten assignments by letting the student complete only even or odd number problems.
  6.  Provide the student with an extra set of textbooks to keep at him if she often forgets to bring materials to school.
  7. Allow student extra time to answer questions in class.
  8. Encourage parents to practice a specific skill, such as brushing teeth or remembering multiplication tables with their child. Practicing a task makes it more automatic and quicker to process.
  9. Encourage student to explore careers that do not require fast processing speeds.

Testing and Grading Strategies

  1. Allow students the opportunity to complete lengthy tests over the course of multiple administrations.
  2. Evaluate a student’s work based on mastery of the information, rather than on the amount of work completed.
  3. Allow student to complete tests in a separate, quiet setting in which she can talk herself through questions without disrupting other students.
  4. Allow student the opportunity to improve her grade by correcting test answers.
  5. Administer shorter, frequent quizzes rather than long exams.

Strategies for slow written work

  1. Allow student to work on the computer to reduce the need for handwriting.
  2. Use fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice questions to reduce the need for handwriting.
  3. Develop projects and assignments that allow the student to demonstrate what she knows without having to complete a written report.
  4. Consider allowing student to type notes and assignments. This may be faster and easier for students who struggle with handwriting.
  5. Teach students to use abbreviations when taking notes in class.
  6. Allow peers to take notes for the student.



Featured image: Flickr user marco antonio torres

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