IEP and 504 Accommodations for Distance and Online Learning.

Online and Virtual Learning Accommodations

Some kids really struggle with online distance learning, and need some accommodation ideas. Particularly those with attention, sensory, and other related issues.

And, there are a lot of kids out there who loathe Zoom and online classes. Some love it, others not so much. But, even as kids return to in-person learning, many students will still experience distance learning on snow days. So, it’s a good idea to have ideas that work established for accommodating your child during distance learning.

distance learning accommodation

If your child struggles with some of these issues in a typical classroom, it’s not realistic to think that they would not face similar or related issues during online learning.

If a student cannot focus on the teacher in the classroom, doing the same online will be a challenge.

They might be able to ignore the distracting classmate who sits behind them while at school. In a virtual learning setting, all of their classmates are right there in front of them. Kind of hard to ignore, don’t you think?

And, Zoom fatigue is a thing. It exists.

Accommodations for Online Learning

Determine the issue. Ask them.

That’s your first step. If your child loathes online learning or is refusing to do it, ask them why. Let them be heard and validated.

child doing a class on zoom

From there, brainstorm and decide what needs to be done.

Progress begets progress…and failure begets more failures. If your child is unsuccessful at distance learning for even one snow day (albeit not their fault), that can put them behind.

Most school curricula is cumulative. Miss one snow day of distance learning, and then you’re behind the next day…which deflates confidence. So then they’re behind the next day and the next day and the day after that. This is how learning issues snowball. (no pun intended)

Barriers to Distance Learning

Some of the barriers to learning online for many IEP/504 students, including ADHD–

  • Your child takes longer to learn new things, steeper learning curve.
  • Cannot see/hear sufficiently.
  • Endurance: Classes are too frequent or too long.
  • Same issues as in-person classroom: Distractions, focus, need for pre-teaching or re-teaching, need for pull out or smaller group.
  • Sensory Issues: too bright, too loud, too much conflicting data to process.
  • Processing Issues

Executive Functioning Issues and Distance Learning

If your child struggles to manage a locker, homework assignments and other things at in-person school, why would distance learning be any different?

Different teachers, a new schedule, log ins, passwords…of course they are going to need EF help at home too!

Adding Distance Learning Accommodations to an IEP or 504

As a side note, my professional advice would be to not overthink this and make a mountain out of a molehill. Start small. A short email to the teacher with “My son is experiencing this, and I want classes to be successful, so can we try XYZ and see if that helps?”

I wouldn’t do a full-blown formal request to meet, asking for PWN, etc. You have your email paper trail if you need it.

If you watched the online chat I did with attorneys last week, you heard that one of the key words coming out in all the pandemic guidance is reasonable. If your request is reasonable, you shouldn’t expect resistance. But reasonable is subjective.

Also know that as the pandemic dragged on, school districts and states got better at this. Early on, this was so new to everyone and there was a lot of confusion. My point: There shouldn’t be too many “well, we can’t do that because….”

Because the same IEP rules do apply–if it’s appropriate for what the child needs , it can be done. While I hope you won’t be met with resistance, you might be. So go with your gut and keep pushing.

Distance Learning Accommodations- The Child’s Environment

Do what you can to set your child up for success, and that starts with technology and ergonomics. Your home does not have to be a mini classroom. Use what works, even if that is a bean bag chair.

  1. Keep your school days in a routine with bedtimes, eating, showering etc. (I have become laxer with bedtime, but I am consistent–an hour later every night, that’s it)
  2. Comfortable seating with solid line-of-view for the device being used, plus any books or writing materials. (In other words, I don’t care if my kid curls up on his bed to do this, but he still needs to be able to see the screen and pay attention.)
  3. Use Chat features. Zoom and other sites have features that allow a student to ask a question or raise their hand.
  4. Lighting and noise optimum, no distractions.
  5. Bathroom, drink of water, etc. prior to class beginning.
  6. If your home internet is not fast enough or you don’t have wifi, contact Comcast about their low-income options.
  7. Toys, pets, etc. all put away for the duration of classwork.
  8. “Heavy Work” before and after online classes and have those items handy for sensory breaks.
  9. Ensure that kids are getting enough physical activity–it doesn’t have to be a parent-led activity.
  10. Consider a contract with your kids or some type of incentive to work toward. What motivates them?

Once you have tried options for your child’s environment, or you’ve spoken to him, and that’s not it, it’s time to brainstorm together on what may work. Here are a few options.

First, look at your child’s current IEP or 504, and see what is in there as far as accommodations for class. See what might work for this new setting. As always, self-advocacy is the goal. Consider having your child send the email asking for the accommodations.

Distance Learning Accommodations

Other ideas:

  1. Record the class/lecture: This will allow your child to re-watch or review the material that was taught or discussed.
  2. Ask the teacher for PowerPoint or whatever presentation is being given to the class for your child to preview/review.
  3. For group zoom chats (or similar): Ask the teacher to mute other students during the class, or turn their video off so only the name appears.
  4. Ask if your child can do audio-only, so they only have one sense to process.
  5. Use features that are built into the software that the school is using, like Breakout Rooms and Chat Features.
  6. If endurance is an issue, talk with the teacher about perfect attendance and what is mandatory. If your child reviews the video later, can that count? Some kids will need reduced workload or alternative assignments. Keep this strengths-based, what can your child do in lieu of attending 3 zoom classes a day if that’s too much?
  7. If your child has to share a device with a sibling, your child may need the class(es) to be recorded because your child cannot attend it live.
  8. Tell the teacher that your child may leave mid-session to take a sensory break.
  9. Look online at the settings, see if you can set up something for closed captioning if appropriate.
  10. I don’t want to list other specifics like what they might already be receiving in the classroom, for things like ADHD. Accommodations like “more time to complete assignments” should be happening anyway. Again, you may need to revisit what your child receives in school, and adjust it to distance learning.

Distance Learning is Here to Stay

Virtual distance learning saw a huge surge in popularity recently, for obvious reasons. But, many families are finding that this option really works for them and are going to stick with it.

Even if your child returns to in-person learning as it becomes available, this list of IEP and 504 accommodations is good to have in the event that your child has an extended illness or otherwise needs homebound instruction.

Good luck, you got this!


  • Fine Motor Skills-Games, crafts and coloring activities are a great way to use and practice a child’s fine motor skills.
  • Speech and Language– Many parents seek out a language-rich environment for their child. Any activity can be an opportunity to use and repeat new words and language, mimicking sounds, new vocalizations and articulations.
  • Executive Functioning Skills– Depending on the game or activity, it can be an opportunity to practice executive functions such as working memory, sequencing, following directions, task initiation and more.
  • Handwriting and Fluency- This piggybacks onto the language skills a child needs, but with worksheets, coloring pages and games, they can be a low-risk opportunity to practice handwriting and fluency.
  • Practicing Previously Acquired Skills-Applying already acquired skills across all environments, bring the classroom teaching into the real world.
  • Sensory-Textures, sounds, taste, vestibular, interoception, anything!
  • Social Awareness-Practice traditional social skills in a safe environment, such as: joint attention, taking turns, reciprocating conversation, waiting politely, and more.
  • Gross Motor-If you’re in a new place, practice walking across uneven surfaces, new surfaces, inclines & declines, stairs, or increasing endurance.

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