Michelle Botts Olson, M.D.
Birthing Centers, Family Medicine, Prenatal Care
Kyja Stygar, M.D.
Birthing Centers, Family Medicine, Prenatal Care
Speaking of HealthSeasonal affective disorder explainedJanuary 10, 2023
Speaking of HealthInfants have mental health needs, tooApril 20, 2021
Helping your child's education through an IEP or 504 plan
Two U.S. programs are designed to give students with a disability the assurance that they will receive equal access to public education and services. The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is guided by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and a 504 Accommodation Plan is guided by the Americans With Disabilities Act.
These programs can benefit children with disabilities ranging from hearing impairment and cerebral palsy to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia. Either program can meet your child's needs, and one is not better than the other. However, it is important to understand the differences, so you can advocate for your child's health and learning opportunities.
IEP is a program that makes sure that a student with an identified disability receives specialized instruction and services while attending school. The student must be diagnosed with at least one of 13 specific disabilities written in the law, and that disability must negatively affect the student's performance in the classroom.
Services could include occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy or counseling. Disability categories with IEP include autism, blindness, intellectual disability, hearing impairment, specific learning disabilities, traumatic brain injuries and others.
A 504 Accommodation Plan, often referred to as a 504 plan, is designed to make sure that a student with an identified disability receives accommodations to access school and achieve academic success. The definition of disability with a 504 plan is broader than with IEP. The student may not require specialized instruction, but he or she may need modifications or physical changes to the general classroom to succeed. Specialized instruction or services, such as physical or speech therapy, are not included in a 504 plan.
The biggest benefit of these programs is that they provide children, regardless of disability status, the opportunity to succeed in school. They ensure that free, appropriate public education is tailored to meet the needs of your student.
There are other benefits, as well. When a child with a disability can remain in the classroom setting with peers, his or her identity is not solely defined by their diagnosis. The child's condition does not define them, and they can take part of the whole experience of being a kid. The programs also normalize inclusion in the classroom, and encourage conversation about our similarities and differences. This benefits all students ― not just those with a disability.
Primary care provider's role
Throughout your child's life, the goal of the primary care provider is to advocate for your child's health and safety.
If your child has a disability, the health care team will:
- Diagnose the disability or refer to specialists, as necessary.
- Tailor treatment plans to your child's needs.
- Recommend behavioral or lifestyle modifications.
- Connect families to community tools and resources.
- Discuss what to expect in a school setting.
- Provide required documentation or referral for IEP or 504 plans.
Your child's provider can deliver the necessary documentation or referral for IEP or 504 plans. This could occur during an annual well-child visit or at a different appointment, depending on your child's disability.
The process is more straightforward if your child's disability is a physical or genetic disorder known most of his or her life. This is because the family and care team has been working together over the child's life to advocate for his or her health.
The process can be more complicated and time-intensive if there is a new diagnosis, such as ADHD or a learning disorder, and your child was not diagnosed at a younger age. Your health care provider and the school can guide you with what is needed for diagnosis. Additional appointments may be required, and your child's provider may coordinate with other people, such as day care providers or teachers, to get a perspective of what the child is like outside of the clinic or home.
While the education system drives the processes for the IEP and 504 plans, parents or guardians must specifically ask for an evaluation and plan for their children. It can be a lot of work, and parents may need to strongly advocate for an evaluation. However, it's always worth the effort to give your child the best opportunity for education success.
Michelle Botts Olson, M.D., is a resident physician, and Kyja Stygar, M.D., is a physician, both in Family Medicine in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.