The Individualized Education Program (IEP) processPhoto by Caleb Woods

Sometimes children require special education services while attending school. For your child to receive these necessary services, they will need what’s called an IEP.

This may be your first time hearing about an IEP and if it is, you probably have several questions like what one is, what qualifies a child for an IEP, what is the IEP process, and what the difference is between an IEP and a 504 plan. Having these questions answered can help you decide if you want to pursue an IEP for your child. It can also help you confidently advocate for the success of your child.

An IEP stands for an Individualized Education Program. An IEP is a legal document that is developed for every child in the U.S. who requires special education.

What is in an IEP? 

You may be wondering what exactly is in an IEP. While this information varies from one child to the next, here’s a list of basic information you will find:

  • Your child’s present level of performance in the classroom
  • Individualized instructions and suggested services such as language or occupational therapy
  • Other suggested support such as learning accommodations or assistive technology
  • A list of annual goals

What is the IEP Process? 

An IEP is typically created by a team of people including the child’s parents or legal guardians, teachers, the school principal, and other personnel who are knowledgeable about the child’s individual needs such as a psychologist, therapist, or doctor.

The first step in an IEP is having the child evaluated for special education. You can request your child be evaluated for special education services from your child’s school. Once the child is evaluated, the school administration, teachers, and sometimes language therapist or occupational therapist will determine whether your child qualifies for services. If it’s determined your child qualifies, they typically set up an eligibility meeting with the parents.

Once your child has been evaluated and deemed eligible for special education services, the IEP is started. Parents are usually closely involved in this process and asked to help create the IEP based on the child’s individual needs. There is usually at least one professional at the school who will act as your child’s case manager. The scores from the evaluation help show the specific areas your child may be struggling with. Having this information helps the IEP team to create individualized support to help your child succeed.

Most children with an IEP remain in a general classroom with their peers called an inclusion classroom.

The Difference Between an IEP and a 504 Plan

Both an IEP and a 504 Plan are designed to help students in K-12 to succeed and offer them extra support where they may be struggling. Both are detailed plans designed to help students, but there are some differences between them. An IEP is implemented as a plan for a child’s special education services while a 504 Plan is a plan of how the school will provide support or remove barriers for a student with a disability.

An IEP provides individualized special education services while a 504 Plan offers changes to the learning environment, enabling the student to stay in the classroom amongst their peers.

To get an IEP a child must have one of the 13 disabilities listed in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the disability must affect the child’s educational performance. To get a 504 Plan, a child can have any disability that interferes with their ability to learn in a general education classroom. A child who doesn’t qualify for an IEP may qualify for a 504 Plan.

Students who qualify for either an IEP or a 504 Plan receive these services at no charge.


Article written by:

Elevation Autism and Learning Center
18 Cumming St
Alpharetta, GA 30009
(404) 474-0040