I know the topic of “school” is not what everyone wants to discuss, as it can be exhausting and occasionally boring. In addition, academics can be extremely challenging for some children, especially for those who struggle with paying attention in class, difficulty sitting still, spelling, completing tests on time, and learning to read.
But, what if it didn’t have to be this difficult? What if there was a way to help your children overcome those academic difficulties?
Actually, THERE IS!
The Federal government has mandated public school systems have a program in place to assist children with academic challenges. This program, known as the Individualized Education Program (IEP), stems from the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Under this Act, you, as a parent, have the right to ask your child’s school for a FREE evaluation to determine if additional educational assistance is needed. Notice that the term, “public school system” is emphasized. This is because private schools do not receive state funding. Therefore, they are not required by law to assess and provide students with additional educational assistance.
An IEP is an Individualized Education Program for students who need additional educational assistance beyond what is provided in the classroom. This legal document determines goals for your child’s academic success, assesses your child’s needs in school, and outlines how often your child should get assistance. A few examples of the types of assistance an IEP can provide include speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, extended time on test taking, an isolated environment for test taking, and adapting the way instructions are provided.
To qualify for an IEP, your child needs to fall into the following two categories: (1) additional academic support to succeed in school is necessary and (2) have at least one of the qualifying diagnoses. Diagnoses that usually warrant an IEP include autism, speech and language impairments, blindness or deafness, emotional disturbances (e.g., anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder), vision impairments, orthopedic impairments, and other health impairments (e.g., ADHD).
Occasionally, schools will complete the evaluation for a child and find that an IEP is not needed. This does not mean that the school is “bad.” Sometimes, it just means that further testing or diagnoses are needed. If this is the case, you, as a parent, have the right to challenge the school’s decision – this is known as “due process.” There are numerous IEP advocates that can help you navigate this process to obtain the academic assistance your child deserves! In the “Additional Resources” section, I list a few examples of some advocates, which vary by state.
Unfortunately, even challenging the evaluation does not always result in an IEP. But don’t fear! Luckily, we live in a country that offers what I like to call, “a back-up plan” when an IEP falls through. This alternative option is known as a 504 Plan, and falls under Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973. A 504 Plan is not as detailed as an IEP, but can provide additional support for children while at school. This support may include additional time on tests, reduced homework, and preferential seating.
To qualify for a 504 Plan, you must fall into the following three categories: (1) your child must have a physical or mental impairment that impacts one or more major life areas, (2) have record of the impairment (e.g., diagnosis or medical note indicating physical/mental impairment), and (3) be regarded as having the impairment.
I know this was a TON of information, and I don’t mean to overwhelm you. There is so much that goes into an IEP and a 504 Plan that I may add in a later post. In the meantime, please search the references and resources below for more information.
-Maddy Scherr, MS, OTR/L
Learn more about IEPS & 504 plans
Advocates by state