IEPS and 504 Plans

The landscape of services and supports available to children with autism can be confusing and complex.  Here we give an overview of Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) and 504 plans which are used by schools to give eligible students formal help to increase their learning.  Importantly, your child’s diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder does not automatically make them eligible for these types of supports and services from the school district.  The school must show that a child with autism also needs special services and/or accommodations to make academic progress.

IEP and 504 Plan Basics:

  • Individualized Education Program is under the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and provides services and special education services to meet the needs of the child from age 3-21.  This is the federal special education law for children with disabilities.

  • 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act established to stop discrimination against people with disabilities. This is a federal civil rights law. 504 Plans provide accommodations and services to meet the needs of the child as adequately as other students.

  • “Disability” is more broadly defined in Section 504 than in IDEA.  So, a child who does not qualify for special education or an IEP may still qualify for accommodations with a 504 plan.

  • An IEP plan sets specific learning goals and describes the services the school will provide.  Services can include speech therapy, occupational therapy, classroom aid, time with a separate resource specialist teacher.  These services are typically provided at school, and at no cost to the family

  • A 504 plan describes specific accommodations, supports, or services for the child and who will provide them.  Some typical accommodations include specific seating arrangements within the classroom, use of headphones, use of fidgets, standing desk, extra breaks and time of tests.  These are also at no cost to the family.

  • States receive federal funds for IEP services but do not receive funds for 504 services.

  • There are strict legal rules governing the IEP process.  An IEP team is created (including at a minimum a parent, a teacher, a special education representative, and another school or district administrator).  The team meets to create the plan with specific education goals and then meets annually to review the child’s progress and update the plan.  The child must be re-evaluated for the IEP services every three years.

  • Parents can get more information and support through local Parent Training and Information Centers.  You can find support for yourself and more information on how to be the best advocate for your child.