If your child is struggling in school, or if your child has received a diagnosis by a medical professional, they may qualify for an Individualized Education Program or IEP. It’s hard to know where to start or what to expect during this process, and the law can be confusing. We’ve written up a brief overview to get you started!
WHAT is an IEP?
It first helps to understand what an IEP is. Simply put, an IEP is a legal document that details your child’s needs to ensure they are successful at school. It will define specific supports, accommodations, and services your child needs as well as individualized annual goals they will work on with your child. IEPs are governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). https://sites.ed.gov/idea/
WHY is an IEP beneficial?
IEPs are individualized, child-specific documents that help educators navigate the best approach for helping your child learn. Collaborating with your child’s school to make sure everyone understands the different ways your child learns best sets them up for success in the long run.
WHERE to start?
The school will have to first conduct an evaluation to see if your child qualifies for special education services. This can be confusing, especially if your child has already received a diagnosis like Autism or ADHD from a doctor or psychologist. The school will review that information during their evaluation, but they will be conducting their own tests and assessments to see if that diagnosis is impacting your child’s ability to be successful in a school environment. See the 13 IDEA disability categories here: https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/special-services/special-education-basics/conditions-covered-under-idea?_ul=1*1g58718*domain_userid*YW1wLXNlUkFONWFjdXFvSGo1VVd1RUpVbWc.
WHO is involved with IEPs?
Once your child is evaluated and the school has determined they qualify for special education, the team (which includes you!) will work together to create the IEP. Your child’s IEP team will consist of a number of people from your child’s school, but must legally include at least one of your child’s general education teachers, at least one special education teacher, a representative from the district, someone who can interpret evaluation results, you the parent, and your child once they reach the age of 16. It is common for the IEP team to also include other professionals like speech or occupational therapists. As the parent, you can also invite people to be team members like other family members or an educational advocate.
WHEN do we meet?
Once the IEP is written, a meeting is held to review the draft and discuss any needed changes to the document. This meeting is a chance for you to provide your input about your child’s needs, additional goals you would like to see, and to discuss their individual strengths. Once the team is in agreement with the draft and all changes, you will sign off that you approve of the document. If you want some more time to review the document, you can also request to not sign right away. The school will grant you a certain number of days to review on your own.
Once the IEP has been reviewed and approved, the school will be responsible for implementing everything that is outlined in it. The IEP will have an effective date that the implementation must begin and that IEP version will be valid for one year. At the one year mark, the team will gather again to review your child’s progress and discuss any changes the team is suggesting for the next year. It is important for you as a parent to know that just because IEP meetings are held on an annual basis, any IEP team member, including you, can call an IEP meeting at any time during the year.
The IEP process can be overwhelming and complicated, and this write-up just scratches the surface of the complexities to preparing and executing an IEP. We recommend reaching out to the special-education department at your child’s school to learn more about the process or reading more through the US Department of Education: https://www2.ed.gov/parents/needs/speced/iepguide/index.html
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