504 Plan vs. The IEP

Douglas Cowan Psy.D. MFT's picture
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By Erin N. King, Ed.S, Nationally Certified School Psychologist

Choosing a 504 Plan vs. an IEP

When a child is diagnosed with ADHD, parents often wonder what they need to do to ensure their child gets the most support from the school. Terms such as 504 Plan, IEP, and OHI are suddenly thrown into the mix. It can be confusing for a parent to know which route to pursue. Before anything, it would be important for parents to understand what a 504 Plan and an IEP are. In a broad sense, they are both detailed plans, created by the school and parents to outline how a student with a disability will learn. A 504 Plan and an IEP are both intended to protect a student with a disability to ensure that they are learning in the least restrictive environment.

The Differences Between a 504 Plan and an IEP

A 504 Plan and an IEP also have unique differences. The way in which a student qualifies for services under each plan is a major difference. It is more difficult to qualify for special education services and receive an IEP. A student must meet criteria under one of the categories of special education. A student can have a disability, yet not qualify for special education services. To qualify for a 504 Plan, a student must have a disability that is affecting a major life function. Unlike an IEP, a "major life function" does not have to be educational impact. A student can be doing well academically, but need behavioral accommodations or organizational skills due to symptoms of ADHD. With either plan, a direct connection must be made from the disability to the impairment in school. For example, a student who struggles in writing and has an ADHD, would not automatically qualify for a 504 Plan. One would have to prove that the writing problems are a direct result of the ADHD.

When is a 504 Plan is a better option?:

A 504 Plan is a better option when the student is able to function well in a regular education environment with accommodations. The 504 is generally less restrictive than the IEP, and it is also less stigmatizing.

Cons of the 504 Plan:

  • Schools sometimes do not take the accommodations as seriously and reminders are
    often necessary (even though this should not be the case.)
  • There are less services available through a 504 Plan.
  • The 504 Plan may not be as detailed as the IEP.

When is an IEP is the better option?:

An IEP is a better option for students with a disability that is adversely impacting education. Students who need more than just accommodations to regular education would need an IEP. Eligibility in Special Education opens the door to a variety of services.

Cons to the IEP:

  • Unfortunately, it is more stigmatizing than the 504 Plan.
  • The process to determine eligibility for an IEP can be very long.

If you are a parent wondering, which is better, a 504 Plan or an IEP you will have to carefully consider your child’s unique needs and work closely with the school. Parents should look carefully at both options before pursuing one over the other. You may want to look at Erin N. King’s resources at www.schoolpsychologistfiles.com and www.schoolpsychologistfiles.blogspot.com

ED: Erin King is a contributing writer to the ADHD Information Library. We are grateful that she is willing to share her insights, education, and experiences with our readers. Thanks Erin.

Here are some other resources to help your child to be more successful at school:

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