What are I.E.P and 504 Plans: Untangling the Web of Disability Services in the Education System

When you have a child with a developmental disability, the lingo can seem confusing and overwhelming.  Depending on your child’s diagnosis, he or she may qualify to receive either a “504 Plan” or an “Individualized Education Plan” or “IEP” as it is commonly referred to. 

I am often asked by parents what these are and what they mean, below is a guide for parents:

A 504 Plan refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which specifies that no one with a disability can be excluded from participating in federally funded programs or activities, including elementary, secondary or postsecondary schooling.  504 Plans spell out modifications and accommodations that will be needed for students to have an opportunity to perform at the same level as their peers and might include such things as an extra set of textbooks or a tape recorder for taking notes.  An “Individualized Education Plan” or “IEP”  spells out exactly what special education services your child will receive and why.  It will include your child’s classification, placement, services such as a one-on-one aide and therapies, academic and behavioral goals, a behavior plan if needed, percentage of time in regular education, and progress reports from teachers and therapists.  The IEP is tailored specifically to your child’s needs and is planned at an IEP meeting at your child’s school.  The difference between a 504 Plan and an IEP is that a 504 Plan, which falls under civil-rights law, is an attempt to remove barriers and allow students with disabilities to participate freely.  The 504 Plan seeks to level the playing field so that those students can safely pursue the same opportunities as everyone else.  An IEP, which falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is much more concerned with actually providing educational services.  Students eligible for an IEP represent a small subset of all students with disabilities.  They generally require more than a level playing field; (SEMICOLON) they require significant remediation and assistance, and are more likely to work on their own level at their own pace even in an inclusive classroom.  

Only certain classifications of disability are eligible for an IEP.  Students who do not meet those classifications but still require some assistance to be able to participate fully in school would be candidates for a 504 Plan.  The neuropsychologist is there to help guide you through this process.  He or she will help you determine if your child should receive any of these accommodations or services and will attend school meetings with you to advocate for your child’s benefit if necessary.  It is very important to note that only public schools, and not private schools, are required to provide these types of services.  Part of your decision process after receiving a diagnosis may be deciding which type of school your child will attend.  This process can seem overwhelming, but IEPs and 504 Plans serve to best help your child achieve his or her maximum potential.

Recently, The Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center (PEATC) announced the development of an IEP Checklist iPhone application.  For more information see: http://www.peatc.org/peatc.cgim?template=iPhonePressReleaseKit.

If you have attended an IEP or 504, what are some tips you can give to parents who are new to the “IEP/504 World”?


According to a recent USA TODAY survey, one third of Americans are bullies or bullied at some point in school.  In addition bullying these days is most often done in groups and  through the Internet, which makes looking away much harder.

Why would a child bully?  Why would a child get bullied?  Behaviors are learned, which means parents and teachers have to teach intolerance.  We have to have ZERO TOLERANCE for mean behavior toward other children, or anyone for that matter, from a very early age.  I remember when I brought home my baby girl and my 2 year old daughter said, “I don’t like the baby”.   I answered, “yes you do, you love her”, and I made room on the other knee for the two of them to fit.    It’s easy for a child to bully out of jealousy.  As parents and teachers, we have to look out for those cues.  Stop the bullying and understand the reasoning to prevent it again in the future.  ZERO TOLERANCE.  It starts at home and shows up at school starting in the early grades.    Kids will fight, but they have to fight fairly and appropriately.   No demeaning behaviors.   Too many children are committing SUICIDE as a result of this bullying!  Children are now getting taunted on the “virtual playground” to such a harsh extreme that they are choosing to end their life.  We have to step in!

What about teaching protection of those being bullied? Yes, we have to teach that too!   That can start at home.  Teach your child to stand up for the one being bullied.  Explain to your kids that if they see bullying in school, on the playground or even on Facebook, to tell an adult.   As professionals (parents, teachers, principals), we also have to diagnose the bullies or bullied kids, and make sure they are getting the appropriate intervention they need that is causing them to aggressively taunt someone or to get teased themselves.  Maybe that “nerd” has Asperger’s syndrome or depression?  Maybe that “bully” has Oppositional Defiant Disorder or is being abused at home?    Taking care of our youth is not an easy task but someone has to do it!

If your child is being bullied or is possibly a bully him/herself, it may not be your fault, but it is your duty to step in and intervene!

What types of Behavior do you consider Bullying ones?

What actions are you going to take to help our youth?  We look forward to hearing your solutions!

Behavior Vision Therapy? Do your Homework!


Here’s an excerpt from the Abstract:

Learning disabilities are complex problems that require complex solutions. Early recognition and referral to qualified educational professionals for evidence based evaluations and treatments seem necessary to achieve the best possible outcome. Most experts believe that dyslexia is a language based disorder. Vision problems can interfere with the process of learning; however, vision problems are not the cause of primary dyslexia or learning disabilities. Scientific evidence does not support the efficacy of eye exercises, behavioral vision therapy, or special tinted filters or lenses for improving the long-term educational performance in these complex pediatric neurocognitive conditions. Diagnostic and treatment approaches that lack scientific evidence of efficacy, including eye exercises, behavioral vision therapy, or special tinted filters or lenses, are not endorsed and should not be recommended.

Download Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, and Vision here.

This speaks to the importance and necessity of providing parents with information about what treatments and interventions are supported by research.  There is quite a bit of misinformation out there and it may seem overwhelming for parents to try to tease apart what is good for their kids.  As clinicians , It is our job to help parents by stressing the importance of only using treatments that have been found to be effective through research.  Many of these so-called treatments that have been found to not be effective are very costly, it is a disservice to allow parents to spend valuable resources (time, money, energy) on such treatments.

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND: Tremendous in theory BUT implemented all wrong!

This article Definitely hits the key issues:

 Children with special needs need to be included in mainstream classrooms and held to the same standards as their “typical” peers.  If this standard isn’t kept, won’t it be difficult to accurately determine children’s progress and hold educators accountable? 

What if we kept programs like these in place because they allow for measurable outcomes, which are necessary in order to promote accountability and best help each child?  There is definitely room for improvement with NCLB, but changing IEPs or 504s will not improve the functioning of children with special needs.

This appears to be more about decreasing budget deficits than actually helping these kids.

Easter Holiday, The Last Supper, and Pediatric Obesity. Let’s Help our kids grow up and live longer and healthier lives!

Researchers reported today that the food in famous paintings of the Last Supper meal has grown by biblical proportions over the last millennium.  The researchers conclude, If art imitates life, we’re in trouble.  The size of the main dish grew 69 percent; the size of the plate, 66 percent, and the bread, 23 percent, between the years 1000 and 2000.

Supersizing is considered a modern phenomenon, but “what we see recently may be just a more noticeable part of a very long trend,” said Brian Wansink, a food behavior scientist at Cornell University.

Michelle Obama has her head in the right place when she wants to focus on obesity.   We are Supersize-it obsessed!  

Pediatric licensed dietitians such as Sarah Allen at North Shore Pediatric Therapy understand that it takes family education and repetition to make real changes!  Are we willing to do that?  Let me know how far you think you are willing to go and your chances of succeeding?




How will health care reform affect pediatric therapy?

Is this health care bill revamp a positive or negative move for families of children with autism and other predominant and growing special needs?  What will this do for children needing occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, applied behavior analysts, psychology?  Is insurance up for grabs now?  I hear everyone is going to have access to the best health care, the “same ones that the congressmen in Illinois have” is what someone just told me.  Like I said, I have no idea if this new insurance deal is yay or nay but I have some research to start doing very quickly!  Any cheat sheets you have to send me on this new bill and how it impacts therapy is much appreciated!  Please share whatever you know.  I want to hear what you have to say!  Here is where I am starting my research….Let me know what you find!




When the “WHY” is big enough the “HOW” will come

When the WHY is big enough the HOW will come when we work for it. When you believe in a cause and work hard for it, you WILL make a difference. This is true for a world cause, or for a more personal cause in your community, at your workplace, and within your own family.

When I was doing my first few internships in occupational therapy school, I met a  little five year old boy. His mom had adopted him and his brother.  She was riding her bike and had the boys in her bike carriage behind her.   A car hit them. The boy was left with brain damage that impaired him both physically and cognitively. In the face of this extreme hardship, Mom was a go-getter and had really felt that a therapy dog would be amazing for him. We needed to raise $10,000. This was the WHY. Now the HOW. I got to work. I gathered my supervisor and another therapist and together we formed a fundraiser.    We had everything donated: the room, the food, the auction prizes, the invitations, the drinks and even a DJ!   We raised over $10,000 that night!   When the WHY is BIG enough, the HOW will come!

As parents and teachers, therapists and physicians, when we get energized by the WHY, the HOW just happens. Our brains get to work– the conscious mind during the day and the subconscious mind at night, on getting it done for the children and families.. We are motivated by a clear and strong understanding of an important cause that demands a solution. As individuals and as a community, we come up with wonderful ways to make a difference.

Little David called and asked if he could come with my family to ski. Little David had no other friends he could rely on to say “yes”, and he needed help to save his self esteem and self worth. The WHY was staring us in the face and the HOW just happened.  Of course we had room in our car for him- we just switched to a bigger car and brought him along for the great trip, and it happened.

When families come to their physicians they bring a very important “WHY” for the physicians to tackle. The parents have logged on paper and in their minds the behaviors that just don’t seem normal in their child. WHY  would they be sharing this? WHY would they be concerned?  WHY do they need help?  Why?  Because they KNOW that their child needs some kind of push, advocacy, and assistance to thrive.  Like a ball being tossed at her or him, the physician takes the WHY and with care and intelligence gently tosses the ball back by providing the HOW in the form of advice, therapy, diagnostics, books, support, etc.

MR. Z keeps the WHY at the forefront of his mind and gets the HOW done for his beloved son. He comes every week to therapy with his autistic child for OT, speech and ABA. Mr. Z, a taxi driver, saves $144/week plus to pay for therapy and he deals with difficulties with his insurance company. The challenges of attaining the HOW do not matter- he gets them done. He does what he needs to do for his son because the WHY is clearly understood. Taking his dedication as a starting point, his therapy team works together with him to attain the HOW for his son- a holistic and therapeutic plan for his son to attain his full potential and to thrive.

What WHY is currently knocking at your door? What do you need to do for the HOW? If you are honest and clear about the WHY, when you put forth the effort and reach out for the support you need, the HOW will come. If we can help you to attain that goal we are here for you.