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Emotional support at school

Can an IEP or 504 Plan Include Something About Getting Emotional Support at School?

By Donna Volpitta

If my child gets an IEP or a 504 plan, can it include something about getting emotional support at school?

Donna Volpitta

Founder, Center for Resilient Leadership

Yes, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) can certainly include emotional supports as well as emotional goals and objectives. It’s common for a 504 plan to include this type of support, too. In fact, emotional support at school is often considered essential for kids in special education.

IEPs typically outline emotional support and goals in a “social/emotional” section. This section also explains how the school will help your child with social skills.

Schools offer a number of services to help students meet their social and emotional goals. Accommodations can be a big help in the classroom. But many students with learning and attention issues benefit from being explicitly taught certain skills. Educators refer to this as “direct instruction.”

For example, if your child qualifies for an IEP, she might start to meet regularly with a psychologist or social worker. This professional will work with her on specific skills to meet the social and emotional goals set out in her IEP.

Or your child might meet with a speech and language therapist who can help her understand humor, sarcasm and other nuances of social communication. All social and emotional skills should be reinforced within the classroom.

Just like academic goals and objectives, social and emotional goals should be specific and measurable. For example, here’s an objective for a child who has difficulty expressing her emotions:

By (date), when asked by a teacher how she is feeling, the student will identify the emotion 90% of the time.

If your child doesn’t qualify for an IEP, she might be eligible for a 504 plan. A 504 plan can include accommodations to support social and emotional needs, too. It’s important to note that most schools will try to address these goals with accommodations within the classroom rather than by providing direct instruction outside of the classroom.

If your child is anxious, she might have an accommodation in her 504 plan that looks like this:

The student will transition to class in the morning before her classmates in order to minimize her anxiety of walking in the hallways with a large crowd.

Many schools have social skills groups that can help students get better at identifying their emotions and interacting with their peers. The groups often meet at lunchtime. During these “lunch bunch” programs, a qualified teacher, psychologist or social worker eats with a group of students and uses this time to guide them in social skills. Lunch bunch is often available to students who don’t have an IEP or a 504 plan.

There are many websites that provide examples of social and emotional goals. If you see goals that sound good for your child, don’t be shy about bringing them up with the IEP or 504 team. And check out Parenting Coach for ways to build your child’s social and emotional skills at home.

About the Author

Portrait of Donna Volpitta

Donna Volpitta

Donna Volpitta, Ed.D., is coauthor of The Resilience Formula: A Guide to Proactive, Not Reactive, Parenting.

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