You may be able to arrange modifications for your child without using the formal IEP or 504 process. Often, accommodations can be arranged informally with the teacher simply by making a request or suggestion. You can arrange this by meeting with the teacher, or via a telephone conversation, written note, or email; or you can guide and encourage your child to make suggestions on his own.
If your child has not yet been diagnosed with dyslexia, or does not have severe enough problems to qualify for school services, informal modifications are the best way to tailor the school curriculum to your child's needs. If your child attends a school which follows a philosophy of individualized education, you may be able to rely solely on the informal process to arrange needed modifications
Of course, for informal arrangements to work, you need a cooperative and supportive teacher. Many teachers will be happy to work with you and your child, and may come up with many helpful ideas of their own. Even with an IEP in place, you will probably find it more efficient to work out many issues as they arise through informal discussions with the teacher. Some advantages of the informal process are:
Greater flexibility. You cannot anticipate all possible problems in an IEP. Classwork and homework assignments change over time and are likely to present new and unexpected barriers. Informal modifications can be implemented immediately, revised by trial and error, and changed, extended, or abandoned as circumstances warrant.
More choice and control. You and your child will have more control of the process and are more likely to have your suggestions implemented by working with a single teacher, rather than by trying to convince a group of teachers and administrators to agree to something that must be reduced to writing at an IEP meeting.
Improved implementation. No teacher likes having a committee tell her how to do her job, and busy classroom teachers may forget or ignore many specifications of an IEP. By working directly with the teacher, you will be able to arrange modifications that you know the teacher is willing and able to implement.
Increased self-advocacy skills. Your child will learn continually from the informal process. When very young, he will learn that it is acceptable to ask for changes to meet his learning needs, and he will learn problem-solving and communication skills by observing how you work with the teacher. As he grows, he will be able to follow your lead and handle the task of arranging modifications on his own.
Wider range of modifications. You and the teacher will be free to try new things and make revisions as needed. Changes do not need to be tied directly to your child's learning disability but can simply be implemented with the stated goal of helping your child learn or improving classroom behavior.
Ability to enhance the curriculum. The modifications provided by the IEP or 504 process are geared to helping your child overcome areas of weakness; however, with informal arrangements, you can use the process to also substitute or add to the curriculum to enrich your child's education or add challenge in areas of strength. This approach can improve the overall quality of your child's schooling and also increase his sense of accomplishment and selfesteem.
The drawback to relying to informal accommodations is that the teacher may later refuse or fail to implement agreed-on changes. Since you are working with individual teachers, you will have to renegotiate with each new teacher. In some cases, a school principal or other staff member who disagrees with the plan may intervene to prevent implementation of the modifications, perhaps citing concerns of fairness or discipline.
If you arrange informal modifications without an IEP, try to get something in writing to record the arrangement, especially if it may affect your child's grades or likelihood of promotion at the end of the year. Make sure that the teacher or school district will not later penalize your child and that you and your child clearly understand any possible negative consequences related to uncompleted work.
If your child qualifies for an IEP, the best approach usually is a combination of both formal and informal changes. Use the IEP or 504 process to negotiate and enforce the most important and generalized modifications or to obtain some broad standards; use informal negotiation and discussion to deal with less-important matters or issues specific to a particular teacher and aspect of the curriculum.