504 vs. IEP: Tailored Treatments in Education

Navigating getting support for your child, teen, or young adult struggling in school or college is complicated for most parents. The process is challenging, and the rules seem hidden. You may have asked your friends, your physician, or even your child's teacher and still need to figure out how to get the right help for your child. 

When your child isn't successful in school or life, there is nothing more important than getting them solutions. You need the right path to getting more help at school so your child can learn.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: What is an IEP?

 Chapter 2: What is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?

Chapter 3: Key Features of an IEP

Chapter 4: Who Qualifies for an IEP?

Chapter 5: Common Issues Why Students Need an IEP

Chapter 6: What is the Purpose of an IEP?

Chapter 7: Types of Services and Accommodations Available Through an IEP

Chapter 8: Advantages and Disadvantages of an IEP

Chapter 9: How do I Know if my Child Needs an IEP?

Chapter 10: What is the Process of Obtaining an IEP?

Chapter 11: How Can I Help My Child on an IEP?

Chapter 12:  Understanding 504 Plans

Chapter 13: What is the Purpose of a 504 Plan?

Chapter 14: Eligibility Requirements for a 504 Plan

Chapter 15: Major Life Activities as Defined in Section 504

Chapter 16: Common Issues That Need Accommodations

Chapter 17: Timeline Guidance on a 504 Plan

Chapter 18: Types of Accommodations and Services Available Through a 504 Plan

Chapter 19: Advantages and Disadvantages of a 504 Plan

Chapter 20: What Qualifies a Student for an IEP vs. a 504?

Chapter 21: IEP vs. 504 Basics

Chapter 22: What is The Process of Obtaining a 504 Accommodation Plan?

Chapter 23: What Kind of Evaluation is Required for a 504 Accommodation Plan?

Chapter 24: How do I Know if my Child Needs a 504?

Chapter 25: Comparing 504 Plans and IEPs

Chapter 26: 6 Factors to Consider When Deciding Between a 504 Plan and an IEP

Chapter 27: 504 Plan vs. IEP: Which is More Appropriate for Your Child's Needs?

Chapter 28: 7 Tips for Advocating for Your Child During the 504 Plan or an IEP Process

Chapter 29: Solutions for Students with Special Needs and Mental Health Issues

For children with a disability, they may qualify for IEP special education services or a 504 Accommodation Plan. Parents may be familiar with these terms but not understand their meaning or how their child would benefit from these federal disability programs.

All schools that receive federal monies are obligated under federal law to provide students with disabilities accommodations under a 504 plan or if they qualify for an IEP in a general education setting.

Both an IEP and a 504 Plan are federal programs that allow students with learning difficulties to receive help if they qualify, but they are a quite different. 

Chapter 1:

What is an IEP?

Students with a disability who need direct support in school may be eligible for special education services (SPED) through an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Under federal Individuals with Disabilities Education IDEA law, an IEP is offered free of charge to families of kids in public schools and school districts have an obligation to find students with disabilities (Section 300.01 Child Find Provisions). 

An Individualized Educational Plan is a formal written document that details a student's disability, goals and objectives, and services that relate to receiving specialized instruction that’s developed for each public school student who receives special education. This plan is developed to help a child with a disability to succeed in school.

With laws behind it, the IEP has formal processes. It is created through a team effort and reviewed at least once a year with additional provisions about the assessment of the student to continue receiving services.

An icon depicting the letter i in purple and white.

Before an IEP can be written, your child must be eligible for special education. By federal law, a multidisciplinary team must determine that:
(1) she’s a child with a disability and
(2) she requires special education and related services to benefit from the general education program.

Chapter 2:

What is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is the federal statute that supports special education and related service programming for children with disabilities. It was originally passed as an act in 1975 and additional amendments were passed to ensure equal access for all students to education.

Although the disabilities education act IDEA is a federal law that requires certain information to be included in the IEP, it doesn't specify how the IEP should look in every state or school district. As a result, forms differ from state to state and may vary between school systems within a state, which can confuse parents as they navigate the world of special education.

504 vs IEP

This federal legislation is designed to ensure that children with disabilities be granted free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). It means that students with disabilities have a right to be educated in their school districts and within the regular education classroom as much as possible. 

An IEP includes the child's present academic achievement and functional performance levels, which describes how the child's disability impacts them in the general education curriculum.

Chapter 3:

Key Features of an IEP:

Creating an individualized education plan is a complex process from start to finish. Here are some essential features of an IEP.

An IEP requires:

  • Development by a team 
  • Measurable annual goals
  • Progress reporting
  • Annual review of the progress on goals and objectives 
  • Program modifications and accommodation supports
  • Special education, related services, and supplemental aids and services
  • Description of service delivery
  • Participation in state and district‑wide tests
  • Least Restrictive Environment statement
  • Postsecondary transition components
  • Transition services and activities

 

IDEA legislation ensures that:

IEP vs 504
  • All children identified with a disability receive special education and related services to address their individual needs through age 22. 
  • With guidelines and processes, the rights of children with disabilities and their families are protected under the law.
  • Children with disabilities are prepared for employment and independent living.
  • Has provisions to monitor institutions' efforts to provide services to persons with disabilities.
  • Gives aid to states, localities, federal agencies, and educational service agencies in providing for the education of children with disabilities.

Chapter 4:

Who Qualifies for an IEP?


An IEP covers all school-aged children who fall within one or more specific categories of qualifying conditions. There are 13 categories for which students qualify to receive free and appropriate education in special education:

  • Autism
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Deafness
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other Health Impairment (OHI) (ADHD, PANS/PANDAS, etc.)
  • Specific Learning Disability (SLD) (Dyslexia, etc.)
  • Speech or Language Impairment (SLI)
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Visual Impairment (VI)

Chapter 5:

Common Issues Why Students Need an IEP


Many clinical issues result in needing an IEP. With that being said, just because your child or teen has a diagnosis doesn't mean they are guaranteed an IEP (or 504). There must be an area that requires individualized instruction and specific remediation.
Common issues and differences between 504 plans and IEPs that require students to seek an Educational Intervention Program (EIP).
An icon depicting the letter i in purple and white.

It's important to note that the specific clinical issues and disabilities covered by an IEP may vary depending on the individual student's needs and the evaluation and assessment process.

Chapter 6:

What is the Purpose of an IEP?
 

At the most basic level, an IEP provides a student with the necessary services, supports, and accommodations to give them access to and benefit from their education. It helps a child learn in the public school classroom with the resources and support they need.

When an IEP is done well, it is supposed to address the specific areas where there is a gap between student ability and student performance, as data indicates. Special education and related services should be explicitly designed to meet the unique needs of each eligible student. A plan should be created to fit a student's needs and not the student's needs being forced into a program.

A purple circle representing the comparison between 504 and IEP.
Special education law supports a child's educational needs throughout the IEP process: from identification of students, the assessment process and goals, objectives, and direct instruction and services. It requires that a child’s disability adversely affects her educational performance.

Chapter 7:

Types of Services and Accommodations Available Through an IEP
 

The types of services and accommodations available through an IEP will be tailored to the child's specific needs and may change over time as the child's needs change. The IEP team, which includes parents, teachers, and other school personnel, is responsible for developing and implementing the child's IEP.

Some Possible Examples of Services Included in an IEP

Special Education Services

These services are provided to students identified as having a disability that impacts their ability to learn. Examples of special education services include resource room instruction, individual or small group instruction, or special education classes.

Related Services

Related services are additional services necessary for a student with a disability to benefit from their education. Associated services include occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and language therapy, and counseling.

Accommodations and Modifications

Accommodations and modifications are changes to the learning environment or curriculum that help students with disability access and participate in their education. Examples of accommodations and modifications include extended time on tests, use of assistive technology, preferential seating, and simplified language.

Transition Services

Transition services are designed to help students with disabilities prepare for life after high school. Examples of transition services include vocational training, job coaching, and independent living skills instruction.

A boy is looking at a tablet held by a girl while discussing 504 and IEP.

Assistive Technology 

Assistive technology refers to devices or software that help students with disabilities access and participate in their education. Examples of assistive technology include speech-to-text software, magnification devices, and text-to-speech software.

Chapter 8:

Advantages and Disadvantages of an IEP

As a parent, you want the best education for your child, including ensuring their individual needs are met. For children with disabilities, an Individualized Education Program can provide the necessary accommodations and services to help them succeed in school. 

While IEPs can offer many benefits to children with disabilities, it's essential to know that there are also potential drawbacks.

Advantages of an IEP in comparison to a 504.

Advantages of an IEP

 

Individualized approach 

IEPs are tailored to the unique needs of each student with a disability, ensuring they receive the accommodations and services needed to succeed in school.

Legal protection 

An IEP is a legally binding document outlining the educational services and accommodations a school district must provide to a student with a disability.

Accountability 

Schools must track and report on the student's progress toward their IEP goals, ensuring they are making meaningful progress and receiving the services and accommodations they need to succeed.

Collaboration

The development and implementation of an IEP involves a team of individuals, including parents, teachers, and other school personnel, who work collaboratively to support the student's educational needs.

Disadvantages of an IEP

Lengthy and complex process

Developing an IEP requires significant time, effort, and collaboration between parents, educators, and other professionals.

Potential for disagreement

Disagreements may arise between parents and school personnel regarding the development or implementation of the IEP, resulting in a communication breakdown and a delay in services.

Stigmatization

Some students may feel stigmatized or singled out because they have an IEP, affecting their self-esteem and sense of belonging in the school community.

Limited focus

While an IEP provides individualized services and accommodations for students with disabilities, it may not address broader systemic issues that affect the educational experiences of all students, such as inadequate funding or teacher training.

Overall, the benefits of an IEP generally outweigh any potential drawbacks as long as parents and educators work collaboratively to develop and implement the plan and remain focused on the student's best interests.

Chapter 9:

How do I Know if my Child Needs an IEP?

If you have concerns about your child's academic or behavioral performance, it may be worth exploring whether an IEP could benefit them. An IEP provides for individualized instruction and remediation of specific issues, and with that remediation, your child could access free and appropriate education (FAPE).

How do I determine if my child requires an IEP or a 504 plan?

Here are some signs that your child may need an IEP:

  • Your child has a diagnosed disability: If your child has a diagnosed disability that affects their ability to learn and access the general education curriculum, they may be eligible for an IEP.
  • Your child is significantly behind their peers academically: If your child is significantly behind their peers academically, despite receiving appropriate instruction and interventions, an IEP may be necessary to provide more individualized support.
  • Your child requires specialized instruction or related services: If your child needs specialized instruction or related services, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, or counseling, an IEP may be necessary to ensure they receive the support they need.
  • Your child has significant behavioral challenges: If your child has substantial behavioral challenges impacting their ability to learn or participate in school, an IEP may be necessary to address the underlying issues and provide support and accommodations.
  • Your child requires significant accommodations or modifications to access the general education curriculum: If your child requires significant accommodations or modifications, such as access to assistive technology or extended time on tests, to access the general education curriculum, an IEP may be necessary to ensure that they receive the support they need.

An IEP may be necessary to provide the direct and individualized instruction and accommodations a child’s need to succeed in school. Discussing your concerns with your child's teacher or school counselor is vital to determine if an IEP is appropriate. If you are still unsure, an educational advocate can help you through this process.

Chapter 10:

What is the Process of Obtaining an IEP?

There are clear rules and regulations for identifying a child with special needs and evaluation procedures. Under child find, school districts are legally obligated to “find” students who need special education support to learn in multiple areas.

Here are the steps a parent should take when asking for special education support:

Step 1: Request an evaluation

If you suspect that your child has a disability that is impacting their education, you can request an evaluation from your child's school. This can be done in writing to your child's teacher, principal, or school counselor. Once the request is received, the school will initiate the evaluation process.

Difference between 504 and IEP in obtaining an hp.

Step 2: Evaluation

The evaluation will be conducted by a team of professionals, including the school psychologist, special education teacher, general education teacher, and other relevant specialists. 

The evaluation will include reviewing your child's academic and developmental history, classroom observations, and assessments to determine if your child has a disability that qualifies for an IEP.

Step 3: Eligibility Determination

After the evaluation, the team will determine if your child is eligible for an IEP. For example, your child is found to have a disability that affects their ability to learn and access the general education curriculum and requires specialized instruction and related services. In that case, the team will develop a plan for your child.

Step 4: Plan Development

The team will develop a written plan that outlines the specialized instruction and related services your child will receive. The IEP will include goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART), accommodations and modifications needed to access the general education curriculum, and any other services deemed necessary by the team.

Step 5: Implementation

Your child's school will implement the IEP. The school will be responsible for providing the specialized instruction and related services outlined in the plan.

Step 6: Review and Revision

The IEP will be reviewed and revised annually to ensure that it meets your child's needs. You will be included in this process and will have the opportunity to provide input.

Obtaining an IEP involves a process that includes evaluation, eligibility determination, plan development, implementation, and review and revision. It is crucial to work collaboratively with your child's school to ensure that your child's needs are being met.

Chapter 11:

How Can I Help My Child on an IEP?

The best way to help your child on an IEP is to concentrate on what you can do to support their brain and emotional development. 


Celebrate Neurodiversity

All brains are unique and different, so we should teach children to celebrate their neurodiversity, so they can feel confident and love themselves. 

Natural Attention Support

Children need to be able to pay attention to learn. There are many ways to improve attention naturally

Teach the Teacher

Don’t assume school personnel understands clinical issues such as PANS/PANDAS, ADHD, OCD, Depression, or even learning issues such as dyslexia. It means providing them with resources about these clinical issues and specific tips from trusted experts are often appreciated.

Share Your Calm

Staying positive and using positive language is paramount in helping your child succeed in all life avenues. It starts with taking care of yourself and calming your brain and body.

 

Teach Kids About How Their Brain Works

When we teach children about their strengths and weaknesses, they can use that information to know themselves better and be better learners. Talking to kids about their diagnosis can be empowering.

Chapter 12:

Understanding 504 Plans

What is a 504 Accommodation Plan?

A 504 Accommodation Plan is a written plan that provides equal access to education for people with disabilities to succeed in academic and employment settings. It offers various accommodations that “level the playing field” for students through university.

This plan is designed to provide equal access to education for students with disabilities and can include extra time on tests or assistive technology. It is named after Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in programs that receive federal funding.

Unlike an Individualized Education Program (IEP), specifically designed for students who need special education services, a 504 Accommodation Plan is available to any student with a disability who qualifies for the program. The plan is developed through a process that involves evaluation, discussion, and periodic review.

Chapter 13:

What is the Purpose of a 504 Plan?

The purpose of a 504 Plan is to provide students with disabilities equal access to education and other activities. It is supposed to ensure that students with disabilities are not discriminated against and have the same opportunities to participate in and benefit from educational programs as their non-disabled peers.

It does this by providing necessary accommodations and services that “level the playing field” for students with disabilities, removing barriers that might otherwise prevent them from succeeding in school.

The accommodations and services provided through a 504 Plan can vary depending on the student's individual needs. They may include extra time on tests, preferential seating, assistive technology, or modifications to the curriculum.

504 vs IEP

Chapter 14:

Eligibility Requirements for a 504 Plan

It's important to note that eligibility for a 504 Plan is not based on the student's academic performance, but rather on the presence of a qualifying disability and its impact on their ability to access and participate in educational programs.

Eligibility Requirements for a 504 Plan

  • The student must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as learning, seeing, hearing, or walking.
  • The impairment must significantly impact the student's ability to access and participate in educational programs and activities.
  • The impairment must be evaluated and documented through appropriate assessments and evaluations, including medical records, observations, and input from parents, teachers, and other professionals.
  • The student must be otherwise qualified to participate in the program or activity, meaning that they meet the academic and other requirements for the program or activity.

How a disability impacts a student becomes one of the most contentious parts of securing a 504 for your child. School personnel who don’t fully understand 504 often think a student must be “failing” in school to need accommodations but that isn’t the case. 

There must be an impact on the student in one of these major life activities. But, on the flip side, just because a student has a diagnosis doesn't mean they require an accommodation plan unless there is an impact.

Chapter 15:

Major Life Activities as Defined in Section 504 

 

One of the critical components of Section 504 is the definition of major life activities. Major life activities refer to a range of daily activities central to an individual's life, such as walking, seeing, hearing, and learning.

  • caring for one’s self
  • performing manual tasks
  • walking
  • seeing
  • hearing
  • speaking
  • breathing
  • learning
  • working
  • eating
  • sleeping
  • standing
  • lifting
  • bending
  • reading
  • concentrating
  • thinking
  • communicating

Chapter 16:

Common Issues That Need Accommodations

 

There are many reasons students with disabilities have accommodations, and here are some of the most common causes.

  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Dyslexia and other Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD)
  • Intellectual Disabilities (ID)
  • Visual or Hearing Impairments
  • Physical Disabilities or Health Impairments
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Depression and other Mood Disorders
504 vs. an IEP

Chapter 17:

Timeline Guidance on a 504 Plan

 

The US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has provided guidelines for the Section 504 process, including evaluations. While there is no specific time requirement for school districts to complete an assessment, OCR will consider the IDEA timelinestate requirements, or local district policies to determine whether the time it takes to evaluate a student is reasonable after parental consent has been obtained.

An icon depicting the letter i in purple and white.

It is important to note that school districts can be in violation of  Section 504 if they deny or delay an
evaluation for a student with a suspected disability that requires special education or related services. 

Therefore, educators and school staff must be aware of the signs and symptoms of potential disabilities and act accordingly to ensure timely evaluations and necessary accommodations for students in need.

Chapter 18:

Types of Accommodations and Services Available Through a 504 Plan

 

A 504 plan is designed to provide students with disabilities equal access to education and other activities by providing necessary accommodations and services. The types of accommodations and services available through a 504 plan can vary depending on the student's individual needs. Here are some examples:

Modifications to the Curriculum 

It could include changes to how the material is presented or how assignments are completed to ensure the student can access and participate in the educational program. My FREE School Accommodations Guide has information for teachers on modifying the curriculum.

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Assistive Technology

 

It could include using software or devices that help the student access and participate in educational programs, such as text-to-speech software or a tablet.

Changes to the Physical Environment

 

It could include changes to the physical space to improve access, such as the installation of ramps, elevators, or wheelchair-accessible tables.

Specialized Instruction or Support 

 

It could include additional instruction or support from a special education teacher or other professional to address the student's unique needs.

Accommodations for Testing and Assessments

 

It could include extended time, taking breaks, or using assistive technology to complete assessments.

Behavioral Support 

 

It could include a behavior plan or other strategies to address challenging behaviors that may interfere with the student's ability to access and participate in educational programs. There are many things teachers can do at school for students with ADHD and other clinical issues. 

The specific accommodations and services provided through a 504 plan will depend on the student's individual needs and are determined through the evaluation and planning process.

Chapter 19:

Advantages and Disadvantages of a 504 Plan

 

Here are some potential advantages and disadvantages of a 504 plan for students with disabilities:

Comparing the pros and cons of 504 vs IEP in terms of their benefits and drawbacks for students.

Advantages of a 504 Plan

 

  • Equal access to education: EA 504 plan can ensure that students with disabilities have the same opportunities to access and participate in educational programs as their peers without disabilities.
  • Tailored accommodations and services: The plan is designed to provide individualized accommodations and services that meet the student's unique needs.
  • Flexibility: The plan can be updated and revised as the student's needs change.
  • Minimal paperwork: Compared to an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a 504 plan involves less paperwork and is often easier to implement.

Disadvantages of a 504 Plan

 

  • Limited services: Unlike an IEP, a 504 plan does not provide specialized instruction or related services. It is focused solely on providing accommodations and services to ensure equal access to education.
  • Lack of legal protection: While a 504 plan is designed to prevent discrimination against students with disabilities, it does not offer the same legal protections as an IEP.
  • Limited accountability: There needs to be more oversight and accountability for a 504 plan than for an IEP, making it more challenging to ensure that the student receives the necessary accommodations and services.
  • Stigma: Some students may feel stigmatized by having a 504 plan, as it can highlight their differences from their peers without disabilities.

It's important to note that the advantages and disadvantages of a 504 plan will vary depending on the individual student's needs and circumstances.

Chapter 20:

What Qualifies a Student for an IEP vs. a 504?

 

There are essential differences between an IEP and 504 in how students are supported and in the implementation process.

Eligibility for an IEP is determined under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A student must have a disability that affects their ability to learn and access the general education curriculum. The disability must also require specialized instruction and related services, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, or counseling. 

Getting an IEP involves a formal evaluation, development of the IEP plan, and periodic reviews and updates. IEP’s are typically for students needing more comprehensive support and services and direct and individualized instruction.

On the other hand, eligibility for a 504 plan is determined under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. A student must have a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as learning, reading, writing, or concentrating. 

The disability must also require accommodations or modifications to access the general education curriculum and participate in school activities. The process for getting a 504 plan involves a formal evaluation (not necessarily standardized testing), development of the 504 plan, and periodic reviews and updates. 

There are no formal goals and objectives that are measurable. 504 plans are typically for students who need accommodations and modifications to access the same educational opportunities as their peers.

One of the main differences between an IEP and a 504 plan is the level of support and services provided. An IEP provides specialized and individu