How to Obtain School Services and Accommodations
To ensure that your child succeeds at school while coping with OCD, the most important information for you to become intimately familiar with are the detailed rights accorded him under the relevant educational disability laws. The differences between the IEP and 504 plans have to do with the classification of your child's disability, and can have an impact on the quality and degree of services made available. In most states the classifications of mental health disorders include the following categories:
Emotionally disturbed (ED) or Social Emotional Disturbance (SED)
Other health impaired (OHI)
While in the past children with anxiety disorders were typically given the label Social Emotional Disturbance (SED), as more schools now recognize anxiety disorders (including OCD and Tourette's syndrome) as having a neurobiological basis, they have been placed in the category of Other Health Impaired (OHI). The category of Emotionally Disturbed (ED) is becoming increasingly outmoded as research points to a neurobiological basis for most mental disorders. (It is provided here as a reference, since some school districts still use ED as a category.)
Be advised that these classifications have different implications in different states, and in many states they've become increasingly politicized as they relate to local school funding decisions. As a parent, it is useful to become educated about these issues in your state so that you can be a better advocate for your child's education.
The least restrictive environment (LRE) wording in the law requires that learning accommodations be made that allow your child to remain in his school and classroom to learn among his peers, for example, by having a dedicated teacher's aide present in the classroom to assist him. If that is not possible, because your child's symptoms are too severe for him to remain in the classroom at this time, the school may provide a certain number of hours of homebound instruction by a teacher on a weekly basis.
Many schools have specialized programs for children with mental/emotional health problems that are separate from regular classrooms but are still within a public school campus. This option is typically utilized prior to using an at-home tutor or sending the child to a specialized school. Alternately, the school will obtain admission for your child at another, more appropriate school, at the school district's expense.
Learning services and educational resources guaranteed by federal legislation can make the difference between your child's success and failure in school. Here are some of the special accommodations and services offered for students suffering from OCD or other anxiety disorders in many school districts across the country:
Longer time periods for homework and test taking
Reduced homework and class participation expectations
Abbreviated school days
Excusing students from high-anxiety-producing events: fire/ safety drills, field trips, assemblies, and other large group activities
A “cool-down pass,” meaning permission to leave class as needed, along with a designated “safe person” to whom to go in such times
Space accommodations in the classroom, such as special seating
Homebound learning, in which a teacher visits the child's home for one-on-one teaching a certain number of hours each day or week
Teachers working with parents to coordinate a child's part-time classroom learning with home schooling
These services and accommodations are among the most common and productive of those offered under IEP and 504 plans for your child's education.