Does my child need an IEP or 504?

By Beth Schwartz

Beth is the mother of a child with NMOSD and has attended the SRNA Quality of Life Family Camp. You can find Beth’s blog at

Your child is out of the hospital, hopefully has a diagnosis and now is ready to go back to school. Now what?

Depending on your child’s needs, you can talk to your child’s school about different levels of support.

My daughter had a seizure, so the first thing the school needed was a seizure action plan. This is a plan the doctor created with directions on what to do if she had another seizure. I needed to provide the school with the seizure action plan (signed by her doctor) and a medical form (also signed by her doctor) for her prescription rescue medication before she could go back to school.

A similar protocol is often used for children diagnosed with diabetes. Schools may require a diabetes action plan that is signed by the doctor and includes information on how to manage the child’s diabetic needs.

If your child is doing well in school and able to do things like he or she did before? That is awesome. Do a little happy dance!

Some children, though, need more. For our daughter, we saw that her school success was being hindered by the visual and memory problems that resulted from her NMO. She didn’t need special instruction or therapies, but she did need some accommodations. We met with the school staff and determined that she was eligible for a 504 plan. 504 plans are based on the individual needs of the child and can allow for things such as extra time and preferential seating.

Some children require specialized instruction or therapies. In these situations, students may need to be evaluated to see if the qualify for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). This requires an evaluation process in which the school district often does both cognitive and academic testing.

What’s the difference between a 504 and an IEP? They are both individualized plans. A 504 provides accommodations to the general education instruction, where as an IEP is providing specialized instruction. IEPs include specific goals for areas of need. These goals can be related to specific areas such as academics, behavior, speech, occupational therapy and physical therapy. 504 plans do not include goals. Information from the doctor, your child’s teacher and school evaluations can help you determine if your child is eligible for one of these plans.

Not sure what to do? Call your child’s school. They can meet with you to talk about your concerns and determine what the next steps should be for your child’s success.