Posts Tagged ‘accommodations’

Kids with special needs head back to school

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

school-bus-and-stationeryThe start of school is an exciting time for most children and their parents. Many children with special needs eagerly anticipate the start of a new school year. But lots of kids are incredibly anxious at the thought of all the unknowns: new classroom, teacher, friends or school.

If you are the parent of a child with special needs, how are you feeling about the start of the new school year?

Are you…

Scared or fearful – Will your child’s particular needs be met?

Afraid – How will your child react to new smells, lights, sounds and routines?

Overwhelmed – Is your child going to a new school? Are you wondering whether he will be able to handle the transition?

Unprepared – Do IEP meetings make you feel like you don’t know what you are doing?

Alone – Do you feel like you are the only parent with your concerns?

Worried – Is your child going to do well in a class with “typically developing” peers?

Insecure – Are you wondering when to swoop in and help your child versus sitting back and watching him and the school handle any hiccups or problems?

Nervous – Will your child make friends? Will he be by himself on the playground?

If you are experiencing any or all of the above emotions, you are not alone. There is no doubt that starting a new school year is hard on students AND parents. But, when you mix in the complications of dealing with a disability and the necessary accommodations or supports that need to be in place in order for your child to succeed, it can be very stressful!

This blog series, and all of the resources listed in each post will help you tackle whatever comes your way. By being prepared, you will calm your nerves. Hopefully, you will become excited, confident and in-control. Your little one will sense your positive outlook and enthusiasm, and it will rub off on him, too.

Check out these tips to smooth the back to school transition for your child. Learn helpful ways to make the transition from summer to school do-able and realistic, including changing bedtime hours, adjusting meds and meeting your child’s teacher.

Please share your feelings about the new school year – good, bad, up, down, and anything in between. Got any tips? Let’s hear them. We all learn from each other.


Have questions?  Text or email them to We are here to help.

Tips for family travel with your child with special needs

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

air travelIt is the end of July already, and many summer programs or camps are beginning to wind down. Some families like to take a few days or more to spend together. But, often traveling with a child who has complicated or special needs can be difficult.

Here is a blog post on how you can vacation with your child with special needs. It includes tips on what to do ahead of time, how to enhance communication while on your trip, and how to implement a positive reward system to help encourage desired behaviors. This post also includes travel ideas, such as the best places for your family to go with your child.

Accommodations help vacationers with special needs reviews special offerings and assistance available in many theme parks, sports stadiums and ball parks as well as hotels, pools and restaurants, thanks to the ADA. Even airlines will let individuals with cognitive or physical disabilities pre-board flights, to make life easier for you and your child.

There is no need to stay home when you and your family can get a change of scene and pace with just a little pre-planning and inquiring. vacation-family-carHopefully, these posts will give you the tools you need to make it work for you and have an enjoyable vacation.

If you have had a good experience at a particular destination, we’d love to hear about it. Please share.


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See other posts in the Delays and Disabilities series, here.

Accommodations help vacationers with special needs

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

mom and daughter in poolGetting a change of scene, even for a day, is GOOD for you and your child with special needs. And now, it is getting easier to do.

I have blogged about the importance of taking time for yourself, and have posted tips on traveling with a child with special needs. But, often parents of kids with special needs don’t go on vacation as a family because they feel that their child’s special needs may not be met at hotels, restaurants or in theme parks. But, the chronic stress associated with your daily life can catch up with you; it is not good physically, emotionally or mentally for you to never re-new your energy. Here is some good news if you are thinking of spending a day at a theme park or going away for the Labor Day weekend.

My two grown kids and I just got back from a vacation where we visited several theme parks. We had a fabulous time going on rides, swimming at the hotel pool, and just spending time together. The breaks from our usual routines were much needed, and we all returned home with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

At the various theme parks we visited, I was heartened to see accommodations for individuals with special needs. “Family Restrooms” are common, where you can take your child into a restroom in privacy, comfort and safety. Ramps or special entrances enable buildings with attractions to be wheelchair-accessible. Amphitheaters are outfitted with numerous seating sections for groups that have a family member in a wheelchair. Sign language interpreters accompany certain shows, and braille can be found on park maps. Many theme parks have staff especially devoted to making sure that guests with disabilities or special needs are accommodated and welcomed. Often sports stadiums or ball parks have days especially dedicated to individuals with disabilities.

At many of the restaurants we went to, gluten free menus were prominently displayed. At our hotel, we observed accommodations for guests with disabilities:  the outdoor hot tub had a chair lift to assist individuals who cannot go down steps, and special room accommodations were available for hearing impaired guests.

Often you can find theaters that offer “sensory friendly” movies or performances, where the lights are dimmed but are not fully off, the sound or music is lowered, and families can bring their own snacks. Children are not discouraged from getting out of their seats to dance or wiggle around on the floor.

Although the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been the driving force behind many of the physical changes in public places, organizations or businesses often go above and beyond the requirements of the ADA to make sure their guests are able to take full advantage of their offerings. The inclusive, welcoming attitude of these organizations is apparent and makes it easier and more enjoyable for you to spend a fun day with your entire family.

Bottom line

If you are heading out of town for the weekend, thinking of going to a theme park or sports stadium for the day, or simply wish to go to a restaurant to eat, check out the website of the venue or call them to see the kind of accommodations they offer.  The information is usually listed under Guest Services, Accessibility Guide, Access Guide, Disability Services, or a similar title. With so many recent positive changes, there are fewer reasons to stay home and not take full advantage of a wonderful family outing.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.

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IEP or 504 – that is the question!

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

You may have heard some parents say “my child has a 504 plan” or “my child has an IEP.” The good news is that in the United States, your child is entitled to a free and appropriate public education. For a child with a disability, his education is protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (504). This blog post will help to clarify these two forms of help for your child, so you will learn which one may be most appropriate for your child’s needs. But warning – this is fairly complicated, so be prepared to read this post a couple of times until you fully understand it.

First – a review of the IEP

If your child (age 3 – 21) is diagnosed with a qualifying condition, then he may be eligible for special education services.  If so, your child will receive an IEP. (See my prior post which provides details about the IEP.)  The most important point of an IEP is that it is individualized to meet each child’s unique needs. Also, kids with an IEP are protected by the IDEA, which provides procedures that parents may follow if services are not being provided properly.

The goal of an IEP is to add services and/or therapies in order for your child to be able to learn in school. An IEP can also modify curriculum. For example, if your child is in fifth grade, but is working at a second grade math level due to a disability, then your child may receive math instruction at the second grade level.  In addition to special education, your child may also receive Related Services (occupational, physical, speech therapy, etc.).  For example, by adding occupational therapy, your child may now be able to hold and use a pencil correctly, so that he can write.

So then, what is a 504 plan?

Section 504 refers to a section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a civil rights law. It protects disabled individuals of all ages from discrimination from any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. For a child in school, Section 504 provides access and reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities.

Public schools cannot deny children with disabilities access to any programs that are available to students without a disability (including extracurricular activities, field trips, etc.). A 504 plan aims to remove obstacles which would prevent a child from being equal to his peers. This is usually accomplished by implementing accommodations. The law does not require a written individualized education plan (IEP) but it does require a plan for reasonable accommodation.  But, unlike the IEP, a 504 plan has few procedural safeguards for parents.

Who qualifies for a 504? What is an “impairment?”

To qualify for a 504, a child must have an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (seeing, hearing, walking, speaking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for one’s self).  A child may qualify if there is a record of such impairment; or if he is regarded as having such impairment.

Some examples of qualifying conditions are persons with ADD or ADHD, behavior disorders, asthma and allergies, diabetes, epilepsy, physical handicaps, temporary handicapping conditions, and even communicable diseases. There are many other conditions that may also qualify. See CPIR’s discussion for more info.

What are some examples of 504 accommodations?

504 plan accommodations include (but are not limited to) preferential seating in a classroom, extending time on a test, using an organizer, offering assistive technology, taking tests orally, etc. The accommodations are based on the child’s needs.

A 504 plan is designed to put kids on an equal footing with their peers, so that they compete on a level playing field with non-disabled children. However, unlike an IEP, a 504 plan is not able to individualize curricula (grade level work).  But, a child with a 504 plan may receive Related Services (occupational, physical or speech therapy, assistive technology, psychological or counseling services, hearing services, etc.) if his testing shows he qualifies.

Don’t be alarmed if you read this post two or three times and still have questions. Here is a chart summarizing how the two plans differ.

Major differences

IEP    (Special Education)                                 504 plan

  • Highly regulated by federal laws. Requires a formal process and timeline. Parents have many rights.
  • Eligibility criteria are met through formal evaluation(s). Parents need to give consent for diagnostic testing.


  • Requires parents participate in the process (IEP meetings) or opt out.
  •  Is highly individualized and parents receive regular reports on progress.
  • Is designed to meet a child’s unique needs. A child may receive accommodations, curriculum modifications, the use of a special curriculum, and even a private placement, as long as the IEP team decides it is appropriate.


  • A child in special education may also receive related services if he needs it.


  • An IEP is used for kids ages 3-21 only. Children “age out” of special education when they graduate from high school or reach age 22.
  • Offers due process remedies for school’s non-compliance.



  • Much easier to obtain and implement. Process is not formal and parents have few rights.
  •  A child qualifies if his condition substantially limits a major life activity. Requires notice but not parental consent. A formal diagnosis is not necessarily required.
  • Parents do not have to attend meetings. A written plan is not required.
  • Does not require measurable goals and objectives. Teachers do not have to report on progress.
  • The goal is to put kids on an equal footing with non-disabled peers. A child may receive accommodations but not educational modifications (eg. changing the curriculum).  Education is not individualized.


  • A child with a 504 plan is not in special education, but he may still receive related services if he qualifies.
  • Section 504 safeguards the rights of a person with disabilities throughout his lifespan- in public places, employment, transportation, health, etc. It is not only for school-aged kids.
  • Few procedural safeguards for school’s non-compliance.


Bottom line

A child in special education (with an IEP) is protected under the IDEA, which means he has more rights than a child with only a 504 plan. In addition, a child in special education is also automatically protected under Section 504. But, a child with only a 504 plan (not in special education) is not protected under the IDEA. Keep in mind that more is not always better – it is important to figure out what is best for your child and stay on top of his needs as he grows and changes. I urge you to read more about this topic at The Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) website.

As the late President John F. Kennedy said, “All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talent.” You do not know how far your child can go until you have provided him with the tools and supports to maximize his potential. In the U.S., there is the IDEA and Section 504 to help you help your kids.

Note: This post is part of the new weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started on January 16, 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Feel free to go back to look at prior posts as the series builds on itself.

Updated September 2015.