IEP and 504 Plan

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

     An IEP is a written legal document created by the IEP team for a school child who has been evaluated by the school and determined to qualify for special education and other related services in order for the child to be successful at school.[1] Either the child’s parents or the teacher can request for formal assessment in order to receive an IEP. The plan and related services are part of the public education available to the student from K-12; they are not available in private schools or college.

     To qualify for special education and an IEP, the child must be formally diagnosed with one of the thirteen disability categories covered by IDEA and that the school’s assessment determines the student’s academic performance in general education is “adversely affected” by the condition. Autism spectrum disorder is one of the thirteen categories.[2] Once a student has been assessed to be eligible for special education and any additional support, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is created specifically for that student by the IEP team. The IEP team can include parents, regular education teachers, special education teacher, individuals who can interpret the child's evaluation results, individuals representing the school system, individuals with knowledge or special expertise about the child, representatives from transition service agencies, and the student with ASD if appropriate.[3] The IEP includes information concerning the student’s current performance, annual goals, special education/related services, participation with non-disabled children, participation in state/district-wide tests, dates/places of services, transition service, and age of majority. 

     A critical part of the student’s education plan is the placement, which is decided based on IDEAs least restrictive environment (LRE) requirements. LRE means “to the maximum extent appropriate, students with disabilities will be educated with students who are not disabled.”[4] In plain term, the goal of LRE is to maximize the opportunity for the student to be placed with his/her peers in the general classroom to the extent that is appropriate. Placement in a special education environment should only happen when the child’s disability makes learning not feasible in the general classroom.[5]

     Once an IEP has been created, the teachers and school must provide the services according to what is written in the document. The services may also include related services such as speech therapy, audiology, counseling services, etc. The IEP must be reviewed at least once a year and updated according to the student’s progress and performance.

     A diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder does not automatically guarantee a student for an IEP. When parents request special education services, the school generally has a fix duration of time to perform an assessment and responds to the parent regarding the school’s decision on whether the student qualifies for an IEP. The criteria for qualification of IEP is beyond the scope of this project paper.  However, a parent or teacher can dispute the finding if necessary.

Section 504 Plan

     For some students with ASD who may have limited daily functions but whose education performance is not adversely impacted by his/her disability, a Section 504 plan can provide necessary steps to accommodate the student’s needs at school. The U.S. Department of Education states that “Section 504 is a Federal law that prohibits disability discrimination by recipients of Federal financial assistance. All public schools and school districts, as well as all public charter schools and magnet schools, that receive Federal financial assistance from the Department must comply with Section 504.”[6] When a school suspects a student may need special services due to a disability, the school must perform an evaluation in a timely manner to determine what supports or special services are needed for the student.[7] A Section 504 Plan provides services and adaptations to the learning environment to meet the needs of the student as adequately as others.[8] However, there are fewer regulations for Section 504 plan and the level of support is lower compared to the assistance that IEP offers.[9] Furthermore, there is no standard format or requirements for the plan. Generally, the plan is drafted by a team of knowledgeable individuals whose composition can be the same or similar to the IEP team. 

     A music teacher has access to the student’s Section 504 Plan and must provide the accommodations documented in the plan. For example, a teacher may not require a nonverbal ASD student to sing in a music class, but encourage him/her to participate in alternative ways such as using a device to play the rhythmic pattern of a song that the class is singing. The student can also choose to point to the lyrics of the song while following the class. Another potential example is a student who has Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and needs preferential seating away from distractions; the teacher may need to break down instructions in smaller segments and provide frequent breaks for the student. A final example may be a student who has fine motor skill challenges or trouble with writing using pencil and pen. To accommodate this student, teachers may allow him/her to use computers or similar devices to type up writing assignments.


[1] Individuals with Disability Education Act, U.S.Code 20 (2004) §1401(11).

[2] Understood: for Learning & Attention Issues, “The Difference Between IEPs and 504 Plans,” last accessed February 9, 2019, ieps-and-504-plans.

[3] U. S. Department of Education, “A Guide to the Individualized Education Program,” Parents / My child’s Special Needs, last modified March 23, 2007,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jean Crockett, James M. Kauffman, The Least Restrictive Environment: Its Origins and Interpretations in Special Education, LEA Series on Special Education and Disability, (Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates, 1999).

[6] “Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools,” U.S. Department of Education, last accessed February 24, 2019, 504-resource-guide-201612.pdf.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Understood, “IEPs and 504 Plans.”

[9] Amanda Morin, “FAQs About IEPs, IFSPs, Section 504 and Qualification for Special Education Services,” Parent Spectrum, last accessed February 24, 2019, qualification-for-special-education-services/.