Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), children with disabilities can receive extra support in public schools. This includes children with learning, intellectual or physical disabilities. By law, your child's school must create, with you, a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that outlines different types of support your child will need in school. These are called accommodations and modifications.
What are accommodations in a school setting?
Accommodations determine how your child will learn and do their schoolwork in a way that is best for them. Accommodations let your child continue to learn the same material as their classmates, while receiving extra support. Some accommodations may include:
- Recordings of books or texts
- Help taking notes
- Extra time to complete tests and written schoolwork
- Doing tests or assignments in a different area than other students
- Using a computer for written assignments rather than writing by hand
What are modifications in a school setting?
Modifications are changes to what your child will learn. This means that your child may not learn the same material as their classmates. Modifications may include:
- Shorter reading assignments
- Different testing materials or shorter tests
- Learning in a specialized classroom
- Receiving one-on-one help
Planning for accommodations or modifications
You and your child's teachers will meet several times during the year to create, change and carry out their 504 plan or IEP. Others in the school who work with your child may also attend these meetings. You know your child better than anyone. These meetings give you a chance to advocate for your child's needs and make sure they have the support they need.
During the meeting, you'll look at your child's success and struggles, set goals for the school year and decide what support your child will receive. You can invite your child's health care provider or another advocate to come with you to the meeting. If you have a family or child therapist, this is a great person to invite to the meeting.
"When parents are in those meetings, they need to carefully pay attention to what their child is going to be provided," says Alice Ann Holland, Ph.D., ABPP, a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist, Research Director of the Neuropsychology Service at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern. "If they have concerns, they need to bring them up during those times."
You may feel your child's plan is not personal enough for their needs or has modifications your child doesn't need. Speak up about these issues to make sure your child's plan is meant for them – not just for any child with the same or similar disability. Take home a draft of your child's plan to think it over and even talk to their doctor or therapist. Once you and your children's teachers agree on the plan, everyone will sign it.
Making sure your child's IEP or 504 plan is working
Once everyone has agreed to and signed the plan, the school must follow it. If you are not sure that your child is receiving all the agreed upon support, you can call a meeting to talk with their teachers about it. The school must, by law, meet with you to talk with you about your concerns. Your child's doctor and therapist, if they have one, are great people to talk with about this too.
"Parents need to be familiar with the IEP or 504 plan and keep tabs on what is going on at school," says Dr. Holland. "Ask about the plans at parent-teacher meetings, or via email or phone. If something is not being done, the parents have a lot of recourse to help their children."
Dr. Holland says most schools are willing to work with parents and children. However, if your child's school is not meeting their agreed-upon needs, special education attorneys and other resources can help your child get the resources they need.
Sample guide: How to create a 504 plan for celiac disease
Creating a 504 plan is an important part of keeping a child with celiac disease safe and healthy in the classroom. Download our step-by-step guide to 504 plans and other important celiac resources. Learn more.
If your child has disabilities, talk to a neuropsychologist at Children's Health to learn more about what strategies can help them at school.