Parents need to feel they can ask for help for their children when struggling in school. Children with ADHD, anxiety or depression can have challenges with relationships and school performance. Knowing how to request the extra support can be overwhelming. There are terms or abbreviations that need explanation in clear language. Families can follow a 4 step process to getting an individual education plan (IEP) or 504 when needed.

RELATED: The Difference between IEPs and 504 plans (

Yes, pediatricians can help

Parents increasingly talk to their child’s pediatrician about behavior or learning challenges. However, many pediatricians often do not feel comfortable coaching families about educational advocacy.

RELATED: Educating children with disabilities: How pediatricians can help (Contemporary Pediatrics, September 2002)

When Families are Engaged, Everyone Wins

Pediatricians can help families partner with the school. Research shows kids do better when parents are involved. Some known positive outcomes, no matter family background, include:

  1. Higher grades and test scores
  2. High quality work habits and task attendance
  3. Regular school attendance
  4. Better social skills and behavior
  5. Graduate and go on to post-secondary education

However, if parents have not had positive experiences with the school system either as a child or with their child, it makes it less likely that the parent will know where to start. Therefore, the first step is to make sure parents are viewed and feel like an equal partner at the table.

ADHD group visits

Pediatricians can support families to know what steps to take.  In my work with ADHD group visits, also known as the TEACH program (Tailoring Education for ADHD and Children’s Health), a two-hour session is dedicated to this topic.


Because while medications may be the first thing parents think of after the diagnosis of ADHD, it is just one part of treatment.

In our first study of TEACH, we found pediatricians crave tools to help explain the “alphabet soup” of educational advocacy.  You know…IDEA, IEP, IFSP and OHI?*  That one.

*I wasn’t going to leave you hanging. Here’s what those abbreviations stand fo: IDEA- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; IEP-Individual Education Plan, IFSP-Individual Family Service Plan, OHI-Other Health Impaired (typical category that children with social-emotional challenges may qualify for an IEP)

RELATED: Is Your Child Struggling in School? Talk to Your Child’s Pediatrician (NYT, Dr. Perri Klaus, Oct, 7, 2019)

Bringing Design Thinking Research Methods to Bridge the Gap

So we worked closely with our parent advisory board and the Indiana University School of Medicine Patient Engagement team to create something that could be used by pediatric providers and families.

During the process, we learned parents enjoyed hearing stories about school experiences. This was true even if the story did not entirely relate to their own child. Stories help families understand concepts or scenarios in relatable ways.

 ‘First-hand’ experiences are seen as valuable to other parents.

When families see different approaches it helps them think about how they might apply it to their own situation. Because of this, the design team came up with a “choose your own adventure” brochure.  Every aspect was carefully thought out. For instance, “pauses” were used instead of hard stops at each step of the story. This was because parents may need to re-visit where if their child’s school performance does not improve.

The result?

Parents and providers felt the brochure made the conversation easier. It became a “road map” about the 4 step process to request an IEP or 504.

partnering with child school for IEP or 504

We used the brochure in the second study of TEACH.  Now, I am sharing it with you. I would love to know what you think about it!

The first page introduces four different characters: Sofia, Malcolm, Nikki and David. Each character has a different set of symptoms or behaviors.   You’ll see below that each is color coded and that color code carries throughout the brochure. Thus, parents can easily follow the storylines of each characters.

4 story brochure about educational advocacy

The Four Steps of Educational Advocacy

  1. Talk to your child’s doctor
  2. Ask for a case conference with your child’s teacher
  3. Request psychoeducational testing, Individual Education Plan (IEP) if eligible
  4. If not IEP eligible, ask for a 504 plan

The brochure has sample letters for parents to use to start the process. The last page has a ‘cliff notes’ version of the entire process.

Request a copy of the English version here.*

4 step educational advocacy Spanish

Request a copy of the Spanish version here.*

*Special thank you to our patient advisory board and Dr. Sarah Wiehe, Dustin Lynch, Courtney Moore  (IU Patient Engagement Core) & to Helen Sanematsu.

RELATED: Navigating Learning Disabilities and the Cost for Treatment (from The Simple

Make sure you grab another freebie with talking tips so you can partner with your child’s teacher, by clicking here

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Written by

Nerissa Bauer

I am a behavioral pediatrician, consultant, child advocate and blogger. I am a wife, mommy to 2 amazing children and 2 golden retrievers. Love cooking, travel, reading, tap and creating.