504 or IEP? What’s the deal???

Every parent with a special needs child will run across this topic once their child enters public school. While their goals are similar, they are two very different “plans.” They also come from two federal civil rights laws:

1) IDEA– If a child is determined in need of special education after assessment, the school must do everything it can to meet that child’s needs (IEP).

2) The Rehabilitation Act of 1973– no child would be denied access to an education as the result of a disability.

But what makes them different?

Individual Education Plan (IEP)– this is a plan or program that is established for a child who is struggling to learn in school. After a collaborative process between the school and parents of the child, a plan with services (occupational therapist, school psychologist, speech therapist) is drawn up to help the child improve where it’s needed.

Section 504– A section 504 designation guarantees accomodations for a child in the classroom to ensure they can access their education effectively. (for example, a teacher cannot tell a deaf student they cannot use a hearing aid because it will limit that child’s ability to hear what they’re saying.) It ensures that a child cannot be discriminated against just because they have a disability.

What do you do when your kiddo could definitely benefit from services or accomodations, but they’re so smart that they learn in spite of their disability?

Luke tests off the charts in every intelligence assessment he’s taken. Classwork and homework are usually a breeze for him. However, there’s other things a child learns from going to school. They learn social skills, independence and autonomy from their parents, and a whole battery of other things that don’t involve academics.

How do you get the school to meet you on this? My approach was to bring in as much outside advice in on the special education process as is possible. It’s also valuable to know that schools will only evaluate your child’s ability based on minimum standards.

What does this mean????

Getting services to your child means that the county has to spend the money to provide them. Depending on where you live and how much funding goes into your public school system, it could either be extraordinarily difficult or not so difficult to get an IEP or section 504 designation for your child. I had the ability and resources to consult with great specialists in my area, so I was able to come to these meetings as prepared as possible and was able to put in place helpful accomodations for Luke. Some of them included:

1) Use of sensory tools such as headphones to make noisy environments more manageable.
2) Use of a visual schedule to ensure Luke is aware of what he’ll be doing during the day making transitions smoother.

We’ve also added “Zones of Regulation” cirriculum in the mix. If you haven’t heard of this already, here’s a link to their website where you can look at their cirriculum and buy the book if you need:


Some families go through this work and still don’t get the results their children need. This is when you can hire an advocate to come to meetings with you. They are knowledgable about the laws and are an extra voice speaking on your behalf in IEP and section 504 meetings.

Are you in the middle of an IEP process right now? Do you have a section 504 for your child but think they could use an IEP? Let me know in the comments below!