Is your child struggling with learning at school? Have you found yourself trying to get your child’s school to change the way that they teach your child? Have you asked your child’s school to provide accommodations to help your child learn? If the answer is yes, it’s highly likely that your child will benefit from an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
Who is Eligible?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees all children with disabilities the right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment possible. Part of that commitment includes providing eligible students with an IEP. But what exactly is an IEP, who is eligible for one, and what kind of accommodations can it provide?
What Accommodations are Available?
The IDEA requires schools to provide eligible children who have a disability with specially designed instruction special education to meet their unique needs at no cost to the children’s parents. Students must have an identified disability that significantly impacts their learning and requires special education services in order for them to make progress in their education. Some examples of eligible disabilities include autism, developmental delays, learning disabilities, physical or visual impairments, and emotional disturbances.
If your child has been diagnosed with a disability, your child may benefit from special education services. If your child hasn’t been diagnosed with a disability, you can ask your school to evaluate your child. If the school thinks that your child may have a disability, they must evaluate your child at no cost to you. The school must ask your permission and you must consent before they evaluate your child. After you consent, the evaluation must be conducted within 60 days or within the timeframe that is required by your state.
It is important to note that having a disability does not automatically qualify a student for an IEP. Your child's disability must interfere with their ability to access the curriculum and benefit from their education. It’s also vital to educate yourself and know what your child’s rights are before requesting accommodations to give your child the best tools to thrive.
If the school finds that your child doesn’t have a disability, you must be given information about what you can do if you disagree with their decision. If your child is diagnosed with a disability and the school finds that your child is eligible for special education, the next step is writing and implementing an IEP.
What’s an IEP?
An IEP is a written document that outlines special education services for students with disabilities. The IEP outlines the student's individual goals and accommodations to help them access their education in the least restrictive environment possible. It is also a document that outlines the specific educational services that your child will receive. It is reviewed at least once a year and can be revised as needed to support the student's continued growth and development.
To be eligible for an IEP, students must have a qualifying disability as recognized by the IDEA. An IEP will describe in detail the accommodations and steps that must be followed to meet your child’s needs. An IEP will set learning goals for your child and it will also fully explain all accommodations, supports, and services that the school will provide to your child.
What’s in an IEP?
An IEP will explain the present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. It will state annual goals for your child. It will list special education and any services that will provided to your child. It will explain how much time your child will spend with children without disabilities. It will explain when special education will begin and how often it will be provided. It will list out any accommodations that will be provided to your child for state and district-wide assessments. It will also explain how the school will measure your child’s progress towards the annual goals that are set.
How is the IEP Developed?
To get an IEP for your child, you will first need to request a meeting with their school's special education team. At the meeting, you can discuss any concerns or issues your child may be having in the regular classroom, and determine if they qualify for an IEP. This may include providing any documentation or evaluations from doctors or therapists related to your child's learning disabilities or difficulties.
The IEP team will determine if your child has a disability that requires special education services. If it is determined that your child meets the eligibility criteria, the IEP team will develop an IEP tailored specifically to your child's needs. It is important to remember that an IEP is a fluid document and can be revised as necessary to best support your child's academic development.
You are entitled to participate in the IEP process. It’s important to know what your child’s rights are before these meetings to be your child’s best advocate. The IEP team will consist of you, at least one regular education teacher, at least one special education teacher, a member of the school system who is qualified to supervise the special education program, an individual who can interpret and explain the evaluation results, your child if appropriate, and possibly other individuals who have experience with your child.
You are a key player in developing your child’s IEP. You know your child best. It’s important for you to also voice your concerns throughout the process.
How can I Help Develop the IEP?
Before meeting for the IEP meeting, talk to your child’s doctors, counselors, therapists, and any other specialist that your child works with on a regular basis. Get input from them on what strengths and weaknesses they see in your child. Get input on ways they suggest that can best help your child learn. You can also talk to your child’s teachers before the meeting to get their input on their observations. Better yet, sit in on a few classes to observe your child yourself to see how they interact with their peers in the classroom environment. Finally, talk to your child about their feelings. Ask them what would help them learn and what areas they struggle in the most. You may be surprised at their answers.
Children with special needs are entitled to a free appropriate public education. They can thrive with an IEP in the classroom with accommodations specific to their learning needs. Don’t be afraid to be your child’s advocate. You know your child better than anyone in the room. Don’t be intimidated by the process. Your input is vital to making sure that your child’s IEP is tailored to their needs. Take good notes during meetings and follow up with questions if you have them after the meetings. The IEP process is a marathon, not a sprint.