Crash Course: Public School Accommodations for Children with Hypersomnia
By Kate Pece, MEd
In this series of four articles, you will learn how to navigate the public school system for accommodations under a 504 plan. You can read the other parts here: part 1, part 2, and part 4.
Part 3: Developing Stellar Accommodations
As you prepare for your upcoming 504 eligibility meeting, it is important for you to know which accommodations your child needs and to request them specifically. Eligibility for a 504 plan with accommodations is determined by the 504 team, comprising the 504 coordinator, parents, teachers, your child’s counselor, the school nurse (preferably an RN), and your child if he is in the seventh grade or higher.
Some parents hesitate to bring their children to these meetings, but it is to your child’s advantage. Everyone softens a little when young people describe their disorders and how the disorders inhibits their learning. Furthermore, your child will be available immediately to answer specific questions about his experience in the classroom and to respond to suggestions the other team members may have about accommodations.
Whether or not your child attends the meeting, you will need your child’s assistance prior to the meeting to create a list of ways that hypersomnia affects her learning and to suggest supports that may help. Ask your child how and when her symptoms make learning more difficult. Are there certain school tasks that are more difficult than others (e.g., note taking, testing, homework completion)? How does the time of day, lighting in the classroom, or use of a computer make a difference? What other impact does she observe?
After creating this list, wait a couple of days before beginning the next step. Your child will be more aware of the educational impact of the disorder and may recognize additional ways in which learning is affected by hypersomnia. Add these to your list.
The next step is to work with your child to brainstorm supports that will make each area of concern less problematic. Remember that, under the law, the accommodations are not provided to allow superior performance; they level the playing field, giving your child an equal opportunity to learn, but not an advantage over other students. Hypersomnia must have a demonstrable negative impact on learning. This does not mean your child must be failing classes, but, to be eligible for accommodations under federal law, your child must be performing below the level of peers in the same course.
So what kinds of accommodations are available? There’s not a predetermined list to choose from because each 504 plan is specific to each child’s needs. The following list of possible accommodations may be helpful as you consider the needs of your child with hypersomnia:
Accommodations for Attention and Understanding
- Provide seating near the teacher
- Inconspicuous prompting by teacher for attention
- Student uses prearranged nonverbal cue to alert teacher of significant mental fogginess/drowsiness (e.g.,colored card in corner of desk, subtle physical signal, etc.)
- Provide student with frequent checks for understanding
- Provide clarification of instructions during seatwork
- Allow student to stand or move around the classroom to stay alert (a standing desk is another
- Provide student with copies of teacher notes and presentations
Accommodations for Testing
- Provide study guides for all tests
- Teacher checks with student prior to testing to determine if symptoms are too severe for testing
- Opportunity to take tests or quizzes on a different day if student is very drowsy on the scheduled day
- Allow student to stand at a podium in the back of the room for tests/quizzes
- Allow 50% extended time for testing (additional time provided before or after school)
- No tests on the computer (if the screen makes your child sleepy)
- No more than two hours of testing per day
- Divide long tests into shorter segments over multiple testing periods
- Allow use of book or notes on tests
- Allow take-home tests
- Allow student to give verbal answers in lieu of written answers on tests/quizzes
- Allow student to use speech-to-text software for lengthy in-class writing assignments
Accommodations for Assignments
- Reduce length of assignments to demonstrate understanding (e.g., odd problems only, answers written as bullet points instead of paragraphs, etc.)
- Use audio texts in lieu of reading (if reading causes more drowsiness than listening)
- Allow student to drink bottled water or eat snacks during class
- Provide an unlimited bathroom or clinic pass to be used as needed
- Allow student additional time to pass between classes
- Provide opportunities to take breaks during the day (in the clinic or other predetermined place)
- Schedule hardest classes during the hours when student is most alert
- Provide a daily study hall for completing homework or makeup work
- Provide a shorter school day (doctor will need to recommend this)
Don’t be afraid to be creative when developing possible accommodations, as each person with hypersomnia has unique needs. And if your child has other diagnoses that have an impact on learning, such as mental or physical health diagnoses or learning disabilities, additional or special education accommodations may be needed.
Prior to the meeting, provide the 504 coordinator with your list of requested accommodations. This will help the meeting move more quickly and keep it focused on accommodating your child. Furthermore, when you develop your list of requested accommodations, you become a more confident, informed, and assertive advocate for your child, making it more likely that your child will get the needed accommodations.
Remember to focus on accommodations that level the academic playing field for your child. If your child is already performing as well as peers without any accommodations, the school cannot legally provide them. If your child’s need for accommodations varies by the day or week or month, suggest adding the phrase “when symptoms arise” as a condition for the accommodations.
Some 504 meetings go smoothly, whereas others feel like battlefields. During a difficult meeting, you may feel frustrated, helpless or battered, but try not to show it. You will get the best results when you present a calm, assertive, and respectful demeanor. Everyone wants the best for your child, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.
At the end of the meeting, if you think that your child did not receive all necessary accommodations, calmly state your concerns and request the name of the person you may contact to discuss it further (which will likely be someone at the district level). If at any time you need assistance, contact an educational consultant with experience in 504 plans to review the accommodations and help you determine the next step.
Kate Pece is an independent educational consultant and former 504 coordinator in Atlanta, GA. She provides services to families seeking advice about and help pursuing public school accommodations, as well as coaching services and academic support to students with and without disabilities. You may reach her at or learn more about her services at www.KatePeceConsulting.com.