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Lisa:  My 8 year-old (on the spectrum with fairly severe sensory and anxiety issues) has had an IEP since kindergarten, and the goals have always been functional. He needs A LOT of support with executive functioning and coping with anxiety, and has speech, OT, special ed, and pysch services. I am terrified that his IEP will be downgraded to a 504 next year because I was told that if by age 9 he still was operating on grade level, he could no longer have an IEP. Can someone verify that fact for me? If it’s true, any suggestions?

  1. What does happen at age 9, if I remember correctly, is that the school can no longer use a vague “developmentally disabled” category for his disability. Since you say he is “on the spectrum,” I presume you have a professional diagnosis of autism. All the school “has” to do is update his disability category to match. Not to say that they will automatically do so, but that’s what they would need to do.

    If you do _not_have a professional diagnosis of autism already, I would consider requesting a reevaluation now so that it will be in place when he turns 9. Specifically request that the ADOS or a similar instrument be used to determine whether he is autistic. You can ask the school to do this, or you can do it privately.

  2. Lisa, you’re wise to check your law book. Don’t think you will find anything in IDEA that says IEPs end at age 9. Might be interesting to see the written copy of the rule/regulation/policy that the school is using.

    The question that needs to be answered is,”Does the child have a disability that adversely affects educational performance?” If the answer to the question is “yes,” then the child is eligible under IDEA. [even at age 9]

    Check determination of eligibility (Section 1414) and the federal regulations regarding determining eligibility, requirements for FAPE, requirements for evaluations and reevalutions, and what must be done before a school can terminate eligibility.

    Will your child’s disability (when he turns 9) affect his educational performance? Will he still need special education and related services?

    Functional Performance & Functional Goals in IEPs

  3. Thank you, Sophie, for your suggestions. I will definitely delve into my Wrightslaw Special Education Law book to try to get some “backup” but I like your idea of meeting with the service providers.

  4. Lisa, many schools focus solely on the academics, but the law also talks about the child’s functioning.

    There is no intrinsic reason services cannot be provided under a 504. However, the folklore in many places is that there is a fundamental incompatibility.

    You should arrange a meeting with each evaluator to go over the reports before the annual review. If you are continuing to get the sense they are preparing to declassify, get at LEAST one provider to attend the meeting and provide strong support (having submitted an evaluation or letter ahead of time).

    “Operating on grade level” is ancient history at this point. (But they may not realize that.)

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