ADHD, Dyslexia, Autism Spectrum, Auditory Processing Disorders, Speech and Language Disorders, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia… these are just some of the various types of learning differences that students can be diagnosed with that would qualify them for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan in the public education system.
In many ways, IEPs and 504s are similar, but there are some important differences. In the most simple description, both plans allow for students to have specific and individualized accommodations on assignments and assessments (e.g., extended time for tests). The biggest difference is that an IEP can allow for a school to provide individualized instruction and remediation in grades K–12 (e.g., pull-out services for 1:1 reading intervention). Each plan requires a committee of professionals and the child’s parent(s) to come together to discuss the needs of the student and make sure they are receiving the Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is specific to their individual needs.
If you have ever left your child’s IEP or 504 meeting thinking to yourself, “I don’t even know what just happened in there,” you are unfortunately not alone. I hear this from almost every parent I work with.
Education has a LOT of acronyms and technical terms, and to top it all off, a formal IEP/504 meeting requires the presence of various professionals with different areas of specialization who are members of the “committee.” It is not uncommon for parents to stay relatively quiet during these meetings, smiling and nodding without really understanding what they are agreeing to. Additionally, many parents do not know all of the rights they are entitled to as a member of the IEP/504 committee.
Below is a list of possible accommodations that could be appropriate for your child’s IEP/504 plan. Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all plan when it comes to learning differences. Additionally, many students have multiple diagnoses/learning differences, so they may have some accommodations that address one diagnosis, and others specific to another.
General Accommodations for Various Learning Differences:
- Extended time on quizzes and tests (I recommend at least 50% additional time.)
- Extended time on assignments
- Study guides provided in advance of tests and quizzes (I recommend at least three days in advance.)
- Completed, or partially completed, notes (This is helpful so students do not have to write everything—maybe just a few key words.)
- Preferential seating with close proximity to the board or teacher
- Supported use of assignment notebook or planner (Teacher fills in, or student fills in and teacher checks daily for accuracy.)
- Large assignments broken into smaller chunks with specific deadlines
- Instructions given in various ways
Accommodations specific to language-based or reading-related learning differences:
- Everything listed above
- Readers for tests and quizzes (Many schools will put “as needed” here. I do not recommend this because it means your child has to request it, and most don’t.)
- Readers for assignments
- Instructions clarified with verbal checks for understanding
- Access to Text-to-Speech software for computer-related work (I highly recommend Read&Write Chrome Extension.)
- Access to Speech-to-Text software for writing assignments (You can specify the number of sentences or paragraphs that would require this accommodation.)
- Word bank for vocabulary and fill-in portions of tests and assignments
- No penalization for spelling errors
- Editing assistance for extended writing assignments
It is important to remember that these lists are possible accommodations to help a student learn. Accommodations are different from modifications, which change the actual assignments, instruction, or curriculum a child receives. Just remember, accommodations support a student, and modifications change something. Also, a long list of accommodations is not necessarily better—they should be purposeful and individualized.
Finally, if you are feeling overwhelmed and confused about what your child needs or what your role is as part of the IEP/504 committee, you can always hire a Special Education Advocate. Their role is to prepare you for what to expect, help you understand your rights, explain what happens in all of the meetings, and ensure that your child has an individualized plan that will help them reach their full potential.
Having a child with learning differences does not have to be overwhelming and isolating. There is a village out there—especially since it is estimated that one in four children has some type of learning difference—and they are ready and willing to help you and your family!