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Anyone Have an IDEA?

FOREWARNING: This is a blogpost full of alphabet soup because today we’ll be breaking down the educational model and private model for services. 

Maybe you’ve thought about looking into school-based services for your child? Or maybe you’ve thought about adding outside services to supplement your child’s school-based therapy. If this sounds like something you’ve wondered about, then this blogpost is for you!

To help explore the differences between the educational and private therapy models, let’s meet three different students with different speech and language needs.

A cartoon illustration of the three example children.
  • Hannah, a bright and effervescent preschool child with Down syndrome. She received early intervention services through her state, and is now school-aged. Hannah has developmental delays associated with Down syndrome, including speech, language and motor delays. She is starting to use an AAC device to augment her oral speech.

  • Garrett, an energetic and curious 3rd grader who recently was diagnosed with ADHD. His favorite class is gym, and his teacher often lets him pace in the back of the class rather than stay seated.

  • Jessica, an autistic teen who excels in her classes and preferred extracurriculars; she self-advocates well. 

BUT, before we dive into the differences between the educational model and private model for speech and language therapy services, there is one important point to make: 

A school-based SLP and a private practice SLP have the same training, qualifications, and licensure.

Differences between the two result from differences in the model they practice under and the rules and regulations they must follow. For more about SLP knowledge and training, check out this blog post here.

Educational: services are designated as necessary for a child to access curriculum. To receive special education, children must be found eligible in one of the federal disability categories and show an educational need. Private Practice: services can address medical and educational needs. To receive private practice services, children typically will demonstrate an area of need that can be supported therapeutically and will benefit from intervention.

Educational services are provided under IDEA.

What is IDEA?

IDEA is the Individual with Disabilities Education Act. This act originated in 1975 as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Prior to the act, only about one in five disabled children were able to attend school. Disabled children were largely not allowed to attend school at all and those that did typically did not receive an appropriate education. The law has been updated, revised, and reauthorized several times since the 1970s – including an expansion for early intervention services. IDEA covers children and young adults from birth to 21 in primary or secondary education. 

IDEA provides special education services, like speech and language therapy, under an educational model. To receive school based services, children must meet eligibility criteria for at least one of 14 disability categories as outlined by federal guidelines (e.g., specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, intellectual disability) and need specially designed instruction. These are outlined in a student’s IEP or individual education plan. 

School-based services are targeted for those whose disability impacts their ACCESS to education.

For example….

  • A child with a speech sound disorder whose spelling and reading is affected by their sound errors.

  • A child with cerebral palsy who is not able to navigate the school environment - including the playground - safely without assistance.

  • An autistic child whose associated language needs negatively impact their ability to communicate their understanding of the curriculum. 

Another key acronym to know when discussing the educational model and making decisions about education services is LRE aka the Least Restrictive Environment. This means that children should receive education with their general education peers to the extent possible - so service times and location are written with this in mind. It’s important to remember that time being pulled out of the classroom is also time where children are missing instruction or social experiences with their classmates. If children’s educational needs can be met without leaving the classroom or without specially designed instruction, it is actually a violation of LRE to provide these services because that is OVER identifying. 

So, what happens when a child still needs support at school but does not meet federal eligibility criteria? Educational support and accommodations are not limited to IEPs. Other supports at school include 504’s. 

What are 504’s? 

While they sound like a 404 error, they are actually a part of the Rehabilitation Act. 504 Plans are written documents that help disabled students receive the support they need in school. 504 plans are for students who don't meet eligibility criteria for special education services but still require certain accommodations to help them succeed educationally.  

A 504 might be right for your child if…

  • They need environmental accommodations like wearing headphones for noise

  • They need text-to-speech software access 

  • They need an altered class schedule.

  • They need more time to navigate between classes.

And sometimes nothing…

Not all disabilities require specialized educational support. In addition to IEPs and 504s, there are still a variety for schools to use to support their students. Some of these tools take place in the general education setting, like RTI instruction, or school-wide programs like tutoring centers or social emotional learning curricula.

See It In Action

Not all disabilities qualify as educational disabilities.

Let’s circle back to Hannah, Garrett, and Jessica. Quick quiz…

Who would most likely receive direct services under the educational model? 

Cartoon girl, Hannah

ANSWER: Hannah

Hannah requires specially designed instruction to access her educational environment - school-based services for Hannah would be centered around building skills for her to access the curriculum including building motor skills to navigate the school, communication skills to interact with her peers and teachers, and specialized instruction for core academics for her age. 

Who would most benefit from a 504?

Cartoon boy, Garrett

ANSWER: Garret. He does not need specially designed instruction to access his educational environment, however, he does require accommodations. A 504 plan would be a way to address his needs in the least restrictive environment through allowing for movement breaks or extended time for assignments

What about Jessica?

cartoon girl, Jessica

Jessica can access her education without the supports embedded into an IEP or 504. She doesn't need any specialized services or accommodations at this time.

What about Private Services?

Not all speech and language needs meet the burden of educational impact as outlined in IDEA. This is where private services can be beneficial to support children to grow their skills - either to intervene earlier than federal guidelines allow for (hello speech sounds!) or to help strengthen weak skills.

Want More?

We're also on Instagram! Find tons of posts about all manner of communication development across childhood on our page: @talktimeboston.If you want to reach out to us at Talk Time, please email us at 

We love to help parents navigate their options to support their child.

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