Sending your child off to school is always a day filled with emotions. As a parent, you’re excited to see your child eager for a new adventure. You may also feel saddened that your child will no longer be home with you all day or at daycare. These feelings can be even more intense if your child shows possible signs of having difficulty with learning. As a parent, you want the best for your child, and knowing how to get them the help they may need is vital.
What Is a 504 Plan?
A 504 Plan is an educational plan or blueprint for any child with a diagnosed disability that interferes with a life function. A life function is defined as a person’s ability to read, think, learn, and communicate. This plan outlines what support the school will provide to remove learning barriers for the child. These supports are generally accommodations or changes within the learning environment. Some examples might include tests read aloud to the student, a small group setting for tests, a note-taker, or the use of a scribe.
A 504 Plan is a legally binding document under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. A 504 Plan is devised by a team that may include the child, regular and special education teachers, principal, school counselor, school psychologist, and the parents or guardians. A 504 Plan is not as detail-oriented as an IEP. It will give a brief synopsis of the student and the areas in which that student struggles and outline how the school will accommodate the student’s needs and who will provide those services. It will also state who is responsible for making sure the plan is carried out.
What Is an IEP?
An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is also a plan or blueprint that outlines the instructions, modifications and accommodations, and services provided by the school for a child who meets the criteria for one or more of the 13 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) disabilities. Some of these qualifying disabilities are autism, significant learning disability, ADHD, hearing impairment, and speech and language impairment.
The process to qualify for an IEP can involve academic testing, observations, rating scales, and documented interventions. After all the necessary steps are taken to determine that the child qualifies for special education services, a team will develop the child’s IEP. The team, which must consist of general and special education teachers, parents or guardians, local education authority (LEA), and the child, depending on their age, will create annual goals and benchmarks they would like the child to achieve over the year in the areas in which the child struggles.
An IEP will contain the child’s present level of performance: a narrative that explains where the child is currently in both academic and functional performances. It will define the specialized instruction the child will receive in order to reach their academic and functional goals. It will also address any accommodations and modifications that can be provided to assist the child in obtaining the goals and to make the educational playing field more even.
If the child needs more services outside of what the special education classroom can provide, the school can add related services. These include services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech and language services. The IEP identifies the areas of deficit, and the plan is designed to meet those needs so that the child can learn and progress like their peers.
How To Determine Which Plan Is Best for My Child?
Navigating through the route of an educational plan for your child can be overwhelming. As a parent, you want to do what is best for your child, and as their parent, you know your child best. However, you may not know which educational plan would be best suited for your child, so understanding your options will be very helpful.
If your child can function in the general education classroom but requires some accommodations, a 504 Plan might be the better option. The 504 Plan is not as restrictive as an IEP, and it also does not provide specialized instruction. A 504 Plan generally works well for students that need testing accommodations, such as having the test read to them, taking the test in an alternate setting, or receiving extended time to complete the test. Additional accommodations include classroom adjustments, like receiving preferential seating, having a note-taker, or using fidgets.
An IEP is suited more for students when their disability adversely affects their ability to function in the general education classroom. This inability to work in the general education classroom could be because they’re significantly behind their peers academically or experiencing behavioral issues.
The IEP will outline the specialized instruction needed to close the gap between the child with a disability and their same-aged peers. The child may require modifications to assignments and tests, a different curriculum to provide the needed instruction or additional adult support in the classrooms. An IEP is a more in-depth plan and can give the child a variety of supports and services.
Having a child that is struggling in school can be heartbreaking. Knowing your child would benefit from having extra support and services can be a hard pill to swallow. However, educating yourself about the different plans is the most beneficial thing you can do to help make the best decision for your child. Being an active member of your child’s education is key. Distinguishing between a 504 Plan and IEP will vary from child to child and their unique needs. Working with the educational agency to develop the right plan for your child is a must.
If you suspect your child may have a disability that would benefit from a 504 Plan or an IEP, reach out to the knowledgeable team at NeuroHealth Arlington Heights. With over twenty years of experience, our staff is here to assess, diagnose, and treat many of the challenges your child might be facing. For more information, contact us online or call us at 847-754-9343.