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What’s the Difference Between and IEP and 504 Plan?

August 30, 2023

As the parent of a child with autism, you likely want to do everything you can to help your child succeed at school.

Individualized education programs (IEPs) and 504 plans are two of the most common tools used to guide children with autism and other learning challenges through grades K-12. But the parents who visit your office likely have a lot of questions about IEPs and 504 plans. What plan does their child qualify for? What do IEPs and 504 plans entail? And which one is the better choice? Can I participate in the development of my child’s plan? What are my rights as a parent? 

Butterfly Effects, one of the nation’s leading providers of applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, is here to explain the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan so you can make the best decision for your child and family.

IEP – A legal requirement for students with disabilities

An IEP is legally required accommodation plan for any child who attends public school (including charter schools) and qualifies as a student with a disability according to the laws of your state – and who, as a result of the disability, requires “specially designed instruction” to make progress in an education setting or requires one or more services to access the general curriculum. 

Here’s a simpler explanation, minus the legal jargon:

  • The student has one or more qualifying disabilities listed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education (IDEA) Act (the 13 qualifying disabilities include autism, speech or language impairment, deafness or hearing impairment, intellectual disability, and more)
  • The disability affects how the student learns and progresses academically, requiring specialized instruction or services

A child with an IEP may work with a learning specialist within a general education classroom, outside the classroom, or a combination of both. The IEP may also include modifications to the general curriculum – for instance, the child reads the same story as everyone else, but at a different reading level.

Who creates an IEP?

An IEP team at the school would make the child’s IEP. The team must include:

  • The child’s parent(s)
  • At least one of the child’s general education teachers
  • At least one special education teacher
  • A school psychologist who can review evaluation results
  • Someone from the school district with special education leadership

What does an IEP entail?

The primary goal of an IEP is to set learning goals for the child and detail the services and/or setting changes the school will provide them. Most IEPs also include how the school plans to track the child’s progress – the IEP team must review the IEP at least once each year.

504 Plan – School assistance for any type of disability

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is another federal law designed to stop discrimination against people with disabilities. To get a 504 plan, there are two main requirements:

  • The child has any disability (Section 504 uses a broader definition of disability than the IDEA Act, only requiring the disability to limit one or more basic life activities, such as learning, reading, thinking, or communicating)
  • The disability must interfere with the child’s ability to learn in a general education classroom

Because of this extra flexibility, a child who doesn’t qualify for an IEP might still be able to get a 504 plan. 

A 504 plan describes accommodations that will help the child succeed within a general education classroom and follow the general curriculum – but without changing the curriculum itself. For example, the child might be allowed to take extra breaks or receive additional time on tests. 

Who creates a 504 plan?

While IEPs have strict guidelines, every state and school district handles 504 plans differently. The rules about who must be on a 504 team are also less specific. Typically, a 504 plan is created by a team of people who are familiar with the child and their needs, such as:

  • The child’s parent(s)
  • A general education teacher
  • A special education teacher
  • The school principal

What does a 504 plan entail?

There’s no such thing as a standard 504 plan. Unlike an IEP, a 504 plan does not even have to be a written document. A 504 plan generally includes:

  • Specific accommodations or services for the child
  • Names of the people who will provide them
  • Name of the person responsible for ensuring the 504 plan is implemented

Butterfly Effects can add to your child’s school success

Whether your child has an IEP or 504 plan, or you’re in the process of seeking one, Butterfly Effects can enhance your child’s academic skills even further.

Butterfly Effects serves thousands of children with autism through our step-by-step approach to ABA therapy. We view ABA therapy as a collaborative effort between our treatment team and your family, partnering with you to create an environment that promotes meaningful learning opportunities for your child.

At Butterfly Effects, teachers are included as part of that family. The encouragement of full-skill acquisition through shadowing a child in the classroom – and supporting both the child and teacher in areas of need – is a key part of our treatment plan. ABA therapy can improve skills like communication, attention, waiting, tolerance, and many others that contribute to successful learning.

To learn more about Butterfly Effects and ABA therapy, visit today.

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