IEPs & 504 Plans

What Is an IEP? Everything You Need to Know About IDEA, IEPs, and 504 Plans

What is an IEP? How does it differ from a 504 Plan? Which special education program is the best fit for your child and her ADHD? Read on for a breakdown of special education laws and services for students with attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities, and other related conditions.

Children with ADHD at school sitting around teacher.

What Is an IEP?

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is guided by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and provides special education and related services to a student who is identified as having a disability that negatively impacts her ability to receive academic instruction. A student who receives special education services is entitled to modification of curriculum, classroom accommodations, specialized instruction, and related services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and/or counseling.

A student with an IEP is re-evaluated every three years to determine continued eligibility. However, a parent can request a re-evaluation sooner than three years, but not less than one year. An IEP is also reviewed annually.

What Does an IEP Include?

A good IEP will include the following components:

  • Present Levels of Performance (PLP): This is a summary that describes current specific, measurable, objective baseline information for each area affected by the disability.
  • Goals: These are descriptions of what a student can reasonably be expected to accomplish within a 12-month period with the provision of special education services. Goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable Results, Time-limited.
  • Benchmarks and Objectives: Benchmarks are major milestones that specify skill or performance levels a student needs to accomplish to reach his annual goal. Objectives are measurable, intermediate steps between a student’s PLP and the annual goals established for the student.
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): According to IDEA, IEPs should provide the greatest exposure to and interaction with general education students and persons without disabilities.
  • Assistive Technology (AT): Every IEP must consider technology programs, services, or devices that a student must have to be successful.
  • Description of Special Education Services: This indicates the time, frequency, and any related services that the student needs, as well as the amounts of time these services will be provided. The amount of time and areas in which the student will be removed from the general education setting are also identified.

What Is a 504 Plan?

A 504 Accommodation Plan is guided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure that a student with a disability has access to accommodations that improve academic functioning.

In order to qualify for a 504 Plan, a student must have a diagnosis for a physical or emotional disability, or impairment (e.g., ADHD) that restricts one or more major life activities (e.g., attention, class participation).

A 504 Accommodation Plan can also provide extended time or small group administration for statewide testing for your child. It can allow for accommodations like frequent breaks, fidgets, or modified homework assignments.

Note that a student is not able to receive specialized instruction or related services, such as occupational therapy, speech therapy or physical therapy – through a 504 Accommodation Plan.

Who Qualifies for an IEP or a 504 Plan?

IDEA regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Education in 1999 make it clear that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) is included in the list of “other health impairments” that could render a child eligible for special education services in an IEP. However, not all children with ADHD qualify for an IEP. To qualify, the ADHD must adversely affect a child’s educational performance.

Students who do not meet the criteria spelled out by IDEA may still qualify for help under SECTION 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, also known simply as “Section 504” or “a 504 Plan.”

IEP vs. 504 Plan

IEP plans under IDEA cover students who qualify for Special Education. Section 504 covers students who don’t meet the criteria for special education but who still require some accommodations. Both ensure that students with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education.

Section 504 is actually a civil rights law, designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal assistance from the Department of Education. A student is eligible as long he/she currently has or has had a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity. Students who have ADHD may qualify if their ADHD “substantially limits” their ability to learn.

Instead of having an IEP, students who qualify under Section 504 are required to have a plan that specifies any accommodations that will be made in the classroom. Accommodations for the ADHD student may include allowing extra time to complete assigned work or breaking long assignments into smaller parts.

How Can I Get an IEP or 504 Plan for My Child?

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