A Guide to Specially Designed Instruction for Children

SDIs Are Where the Rubber Hits the Road

A teacher working with a student as both study an educational tool on a table.

The U.S. Census Bureau/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) section of the Individual Education Plan (IEP) is one of the most important parts of this important document. The special education teacher, along with the IEP team, determines what accommodations and modifications the student will be receiving. As a legal document, the IEP not only binds the special educator but the whole school population, as every member of the community must deal with this child. Extended test time, frequent bathroom breaks, whatever SDIs are written into the IEP must be provided by the principal, the librarian, the gym teacher, the lunchroom monitor, and the general education teacher, as well as the special education teacher. Failure to provide those accommodations and modifications can create serious legal jeopardy for the members of the school community who ignore them.

What Are SDIs?

SDIs fall into two categories: accommodations and modifications. Some people use the terms interchangeably, but legally they are not the same. Children with 504 plans will have accommodations but not modifications in their plans. Children with IEPs can have both.

Accommodations are changes in the way in which the child is treated in order to best accommodate the child's physical, cognitive, or emotional challenges. They might include:

  • Extended time for tests (the standard is one and a half times as long as allowed, but in most general education classrooms unlimited time is not uncommon)
  • Frequent test breaks
  • The ability to move around the classroom (especially kids with ADHD)
  • Bathroom breaks when needed
  • Special seating (for example, in front of the class or separated from peers)
  • A water bottle at the student's desk (some medications create dry mouth)

Modifications change the academic or curricular demands made of a child to better fit the child's ability. Modifications might include the following:

  • Modified homework
  • 10 words or less on spelling tests
  • Scribing (the teacher or an aide writes the responses, as dictated by a child)
  • Separate, modified tests in content areas
  • Alternate forms of assessment, such as dictating, oral retelling, and portfolios

Individual Education Plan

It's good to have a conversation with other teachers as you are preparing the IEP, especially if you need to prepare that teacher to deal with Accommodations they are not going to like (such as bathroom breaks without requests). Some children have medications that make them need to urinate frequently.

Once an IEP is signed, and the IEP meeting is over, be sure every teacher who sees the child gets a copy of the IEP. It is also important that you go over the Specially Designed Instructions and discuss how they are going to be carried out. This is one place a general educator can cause him or herself some serious grief with parents. This is also a place where that same teacher can earn the trust and support of those parents.