How a 504 Plan Can Help a Child with Anxiety in School

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Does your child have anxiety or other mental health issues? Has this led to struggles in the school setting? My kids both have anxiety and this has made it challenging to navigate school at times. Unfortunately, most schools are not equipped with enough mental health support. There are school psychologists in public school districts, but they are often placed at multiple schools and usually have untenable caseloads.

504 plan can help a child with anxiety

As a speech pathologist, I have worked in many school settings, including private, public and charter. I have observed a huge gap in mental health services in all settings, which is unfortunate and often a reflection of the state legislature’s educational priorities. Many of the students I’ve worked with have struggled with mental health issues, and it was often tricky to get them the help they needed due to a lack of resources. The school psychologists I’ve worked with have been great but were so busy with testing and meetings, often working at multiple schools, that it was impossible to provide support for every child who needed it. This is a critical issue as more and more children are being diagnosed with mental health disorders. I recently posted on an amazing organization called Kid in the Corner that is working to connect at risk children in Arizona with mental health resources. 

My daughter was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder a few years ago and her psychologist recommended a 504 plan. I was somewhat familiar with this as an SLP but didn’t realize how much the plan would support her in school. The psychologist gave recommendations to the school psychologist and then we met with the teacher, the principal, and the school nurse. They asked for my input, as well as my daughter’s input, on accommodations that would support her in school. Some of these included (and still include): frequent movement breaks, preferential seating, the ability to stand if she needs to, the use of calming tools (stress balls, sensory items or fidget tools), extended time limits for testing, etc. There are many options for accommodations and every child is unique in the accommodations that would best support them in a school setting. 

What is a 504 plan?

A 504 plan is a short document that lists accommodations/supports for the student and who is responsible for carrying these out. According to the Arizona Department of Education, “Section 504 (part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973)… is a civil rights statute that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities.”

For a child to be eligible for a 504 plan, they must have a diagnosed disability and it must be interfering with the child’s ability to learn in the school setting. As far as the definition of disability under the 504 plan, Understood.org explains it this way: 

… a disability must substantially limit one or more basic life activities. This can include learning, reading, communicating, and thinking…

This was, unfortunately, the case for my daughter and she truly needed the extra support laid out in the plan. She still benefits from this plan and we update it yearly based on her continued needs. I asked her permission to write about this and she wanted me to share that her plan helps her find ways to stay calm when her anxiety is triggered at school. She is very open about her anxiety and I am so proud of her strength and resilience through some pretty tough times. I wish I could have been that way as a child because I have anxiety as well and often felt that I had to hide it. I now believe that the more we share our stories openly about mental health, the more it reduces the stigma attached to this topic and paves the way for others to share their stories. 

If you or your child are suffering from mental health issues and are looking for support, here are some resources:

Here are some other SMB posts on mental health issues:

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