IEPs & 504 Plans

What To Do When the IEP Stops Working

You fought hard to secure school accommodations for your child, but now he’s struggling again. Here, ADDitude outlines the most common problems with an IEP or 504 Plan — and provides straightforward solutions.

Mom of child with ADHD is researching school accommodations
Mom of child with ADHD is researching school accommodations
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IEPs, 504s and ADHD, Oh My!

Figuring out the correct accommodations for a child with ADHD isn't always easy. Read on for common problems parents encounter with IEPs and 504 Plans, and ways you can beat the system and get your child the help she needs.

[Free Handout: Easy ADHD Accommodations]

A woman looking at her child's IEP, frustrated with its problems
Frustrated woman looking at piece of paper, wearing white
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The Problem: The Process Is Confusing

“I’m new to IEPs and 504s, and I don’t know anything about what services or accommodations my kid needs.”

Parent talking to an educational advocate about her child's IEP problems
Two women talking in an office
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The Solution: Hire an Expert

Hiring an educational advocate can work wonders, says certified school psychologist Dr. Liz Matheis. Parents often don’t know what they have available to them, and schools unfortunately are often thinking of their budgets first. If hiring an expert isn’t an option for you, check out ADDitude’s resources on accommodations that work.

[How to Talk to Teachers About Your Child's IEP]

A woman next to binders filled with her child's IEP, which has many problems
Stressed Woman Working In Office.
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The Problem: Help! What Does This Mean?

"My child's IEP/504 Plan is 15 pages long, and I don’t understand what any of it means!"

Dad works from home while his daughter with ADHD is on summer vacation
Father looking at paperwork by daughter (2-4) on sofa
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The Solution: Know Where to Look

The most important sections of the IEP/504 Plan are the services and accommodations. On IEPs, services are on a "service delivery page," which lists the services, when and where your child will get them, and the qualifications of the service provider. In addition, it’s also important to understand your child's IEP/504 accommodations. Accommodations allow your child to access the curriculum and may include assistive technology or preferential seating, to name a few.

[Quiz: How Well Do You Know Special Ed Law?]

A woman being ignored during her child's IEP meeting, unable to bring up her problems with it
Bored woman being ignored in a meeting room
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The Problem: No One Listens to Me!

"Whenever I attend my child’s IEP meetings, I'm ignored. How can I get the school to listen to me?"

Group of parents and teachers working together to fix IEP problems
Group of people talking, having a meeting
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The Solution: Own Your Role as Parent

As a parent, you are essential to the IEP/504 team. While the school is not required to implement every request, they are required to consider your input. Become an active team member by asking questions and really listening to the answers. If you’re nervous about speaking up, type up your concerns ahead of time and distribute them at the start of the meeting. If you still feel ignored, send a follow-up letter with any remaining requests, questions, or suggestions.

A stamp that says "Rejected," that often goes on IEPs with too many problems
Rejected stamp
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The Problem: Constantly Shot Down

"No matter what accommodations I ask for, the school says no. Sometimes I'm told what I'm asking for violates school policy. Other times the school says I don't understand my child's needs. How do I respond?"

A group of people researching IEP law to fix common problems
Students engrossed in their studies at library
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The Solution: Learn the Law

Begin by explaining the reason for your request. Use examples and written documentation to show that this is something your child needs, not just something you want. The law requires the school to meet your child's needs, but it does not require them to provide the ideal education. If you’re told that your request violates policy, politely ask for a written copy of that policy. Review it and see if there is a reason why it shouldn’t apply to your child.

A teacher helping a child with math problems in the classroom, in accordance with his IEP
Teacher helping boy in classroom
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The Problem: Vague Goals

"Most of the accommodations and goals in my child's IEP seem vague or unclear, like 'frequent reminders to stay on task' — with no indication of how frequent or what these reminders will entail. Is this normal?"

A teacher working on reading problems with a student, in accordance with his IEP
Teacher Reading With Male Pupil In Class
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The Solution: Measurable Goals

IEPs and 504 plans should contain goals that are measurable and attainable. Hold teachers accountable by addressing your concerns about the vague goals as early as possible, and schedule regular meetings to track your child's progress. In most cases, any goal that's in an IEP should be accomplished within a school year, says Liz Matheis. If it's too vague, ask that the goal be rewritten in more relevant language.

Serious father having discussion with his son about the problems he's having with his IEP
Serious father talking to teenage son at home about his struggles with ADHD at school
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The Problem: Is It Even Happening?

"The school says my child's IEP/504 plan is being implemented, but I really don't think it is. When I ask my son if he always sits in the front of the class, he says, 'No.' When I ask my daughter if she went to occupational therapy this week, she says she hasn't gone in a really long time."

Three people discussing common IEP problems during a meeting
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The Solution: Be a Detective

Before you accuse anyone, do your research. Meet with the teacher or the occupational therapist. If you find the plan is not being implemented, call a team meeting, and make sure that everyone attends. Outline the results of your investigation. Insist that the plan be implemented going forward and request that the school makeup any services it neglected to provide. If the school refuses, contact a special education attorney.

Man sitting on the couch, frustrated with his daughter's IEP problems
ADHD Handsome man sitting on sofa with big headache
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The Problem: I’ve Tried Everything!

"I've tried asking questions, writing follow-up letters, and attending plenty of team meetings, but nothing is working. I'm beyond frustrated and my child's education is suffering. Help!"

Parents discussing their child's IEP problems with an education lawyer
Lawyer meeting with couple
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The Solution: Lawyer Up

At this point, consult with a special education attorney or an educational advocate. They can help you decide whether to request a due process hearing through your state's special education appeals office. An impartial hearing officer determines whether a student's educational rights have been violated. The hearing officer's decision is binding, but it can be appealed to state or federal court. In practice, most due process hearing requests result in confidential settlements.