The Difference Between a 504 and IEP

When you have a child who needs extra support in school, it can feel extremely overwhelming!  You need to understand your child’s needs and you also have to understand how to get them the support they require.  When your child has a disability there are two formal/legal ways you can get extra support in school. A 504 is under the American’s with Disabilities Act and is a general education support process. An IEP (Individualized Education Program) is falls under a law called IDEIA (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004) and is a special education process. First, we will review information relevant to special education.

To receive special education services, first your child has to meet legal requirements. There are two primary criteria that need to be met. First, it needs to be determined that your child requires special education services to access the general education curriculum. Second, your child needs to meet criteria for one of the following:



Developmental Delay

Serious Emotional Disability

Hearing Impairment

Intellectual Disability

Multiple Disabilities

Orthopedic Impairment

Other Health Impairment (including ADHD)

Specific Learning Disability

Speech or Language Impairment

Traumatic Brain Injury

Visual Impairment, Including Blindness

Infant/Toddler with a Disability

If your child has an IEP, there are a variety of services they may utilize depending on their need and what is agreed to at their IEP meeting. The IEP meeting consists of parents and school staff who gather once a year to review your child’s progress toward goals developed the previous year. Once every 3 years your child undergoes an evaluation to determine whether they continue to meet criteria to receive special education services. Each year goals and services are decided upon based on your child’s area of disability and needs.

There are a variety of services your child could receive and since they are individualized for your child, their is no way to have a comprehensive list here. That said, there are some examples that can be given. Your child may be pulled out for services to spent time with special education teachers. They may be in a class with other kids who are also in special education. They may receive all learning in the general education environment, but meet with the school psychologist or social worker for counseling. They may have a Behavior Intervention Plan developed to assist them in learning more positive behaviors. This is just a small list of the variety of support kids who have an IEP could receive.

Goals are specific to your child’s needs are area of disability. For example, if your child has a reading disability, he or she may get extra reading support with a special education teacher (hopefully with an Orton-Gillingham based program). If your child has ADHD, he or she may get movement breaks, quiet and extended time for tests, and extra support for organization.

Under a 504 there is not a list of disabling conditions for which your child would qualify.  Instead, a person with a disability is one who “has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, has record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.” 34 C.F.R. 104.3(j)(1).

With a 504, interventions tend to be less comprehensive or intense. 504 plans are helpful for kids who do not require special education support to access the general education curriculum. For example, they may need extra time on tests, but do not require to be pulled out for specialized reading support. These kids may need extra time on the ACT or SAT, but do not need a modified curriculum to enable them to access their education.

At MVP we conduct a lot of evaluations to determine whether people have a learning disability, ADHD, or Autism. When a child or teen receives a diagnosis, often times one of the recommendations moving forward is to share the report with the child’s school to assist in the development of a 504 or IEP.

Special education law includes, support for those birth through when a teen graduated high school (or a maximum age of 22). Once out of k-12 education, those who received special education services fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act. College campuses around the country have centers on campus where people who have a disability can go to access services. For example, they may have access to audio texts, extended time on tests, or the ability to test in a quiet environment.   Accommodations allow a more level playing field for people with diagnosed disabilities at all levels of education.

I hope this article was helpful in navigating what can be a confusing system!

To learn more about Learning Disability Testing click: Learning Disability Testing & Diagnosis

To learn more about ADHD testing click: ADHD Testing & Diagnosis

To learn more about Autism Spectrum testing click:  Autism Testing & Diagnosis

Please let us know if you have questions or if we can help…720-583-9332.

Written by Dr. Steffanie Stecker


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