Different kinds of support: IEP vs. 504 plan

Learn about the different levels of support: IEP vs. 504 plan

We will first tell you about special education services, then we'll talk about the transition process and the support you may be able to get.

There are two main levels of support: 

IEP or Individualized Education Program
  • If your child needs specially designed instruction in order to make progress in school, you will work with the school team to decide on a plan of services.
  • These will be described in an IEP: a legal document that the school is required to follow.
504 Plan:
  • If your child just needs some adjustments, or changes in the way they work in the classroom, they will get what we call accommodations. These will be described in a504 plan.

An IEP describes specialized instruction or services. A student may work with a learning specialist inside or outside the regular class. A 504 plan describes accommodations that help a student in the classroom: usually small changes that help them follow the general curriculum.


Click on the boxes below to learn more:

An IEPis an Individualized Education Program.

It's a legal contract between you and the school that describes specialized instruction and support that the school will give your child.

This includes Transition Planning: how to prepare your child for working, learning and living as an adult.

How it works:

You, the parent, your child, and the rest of theIEP Teamwork together to define your child's goals and develop a unique plan to help achieve these goals. (Students should be as involved as they are able to be in this process.)

What kinds of services might be in the IEP?

  • Extra learning help from a special educator

  • Therapies like speech, or occupational therapy (OT) to help your child with specific skills

  • Study skills and job-readiness training

  • Transition services to help them prepare for their goals for adult life

Source: Federation for Children with Special Needs

Some students can succeed in school without the special services from an IEP, but they still need some kind of support service or accommodation.


504 plans describe accommodations to help the student in the classroom. These are usually small changes that help the child follow the normal curriculum.


How is a 504 Plan different from an IEP?

  • A 504 Plan involves adjusting the regular class conditions, but an IEP describes specialized instruction or services. Often the student comes out of class to work with a learning specialist or therapist of some kind. In high school, this can include special classes to learn better study skills or prepare for getting a job.

  • An IEP provides more support for transition planning. This includes a transition coordinator, job training classes, internships and supported employment during high school.

  • The 504 Plan gets its name from Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act law.


Examples of accommodations:


  • Support in non-academic and after school activities

  • Adaptive equipment

  • Assistive technology devices

  • An aide (classroom helper)

  • Help with health needs

  • Extra time for taking tests


Click here for a 504 accommodations checklist and to see examples of what could be included in a 504 plan. (It will open in a new tab or window on your screen.)

Sources: Federation for Children with Special Needs, Casey Family Programs


Sources: Federation for Children with Special Needs, Casey Family Programs