The Importance of an Individual Education Plan (IEP)
If you have a special needs child going to a public school*, you need to be aware of the importance of an individual education plan (IEP).
What is an IEP?
The IEP stems from the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 which was part of IDEA - the Individual with Disabilities Education Act. The IEP is a document that ensures your child will have an appropriate education based upon his/her individual needs.
Who Needs to Have an IEP?
Any child from ages 3-21 who requires special education and related services must have an IEP in place. The IEP is updated every year and helps your child's teachers, therapists, parents and others how to best attain goals set for your child in the education system.
An update of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004 ensures that special needs children are able to stay in a regular classroom. However, when needs are best met in a special class, students might be placed in one. There are also instances where the child may need to leave the classroom for special services such as physical, occupational or speech therapy.
Children diagnosed with the following should have an IEP:
- Learning disabilities
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Emotional disorders
- Intellectual disability (formerly known as mental retardation or MR)
- Hearing, speech or visual impairment
- Developmental delay
*services for special needs children cannot be guaranteed in a private school setting
The Referral Process
If you or your child's teacher notices your child not doing well in the classroom, the child can be tested for a learning disability or other impairment. After the appropriate data has been gathered, it will be determined for what type of special services your child qualifies.
To be eligible to receive these services, it must be proven that your child's disability is affecting how they function in school. Once this has been determined, a group of professionals will further individually evaluate your child. They will then come together and form a comprehensive evaluation report (CER). This report details your child's needs and the support he/she may need.
The parent has a chance to review this report and a special meeting is held to develop your child's IEP.
In some cases, when your child has been part of an early intervention program or it is already known that your child will need special services, the referral process takes place before your child begins preschool. Your early interventionist and/or case manager should be able to help you communicate with your child's school and get the ball rolling for the development of an IEP.
Every year before school, your child's IEP needs to be updated. Each child has a deadline for which their IEP needs to be set up. Most deadlines take place right before or at the beginning of the school year. Your child's special education teacher should know your child's IEP deadline. In order for the IEP to be most effective, a meeting is usually held.
For parents of a special needs child, an IEP meeting can be somewhat daunting. In most cases, there are several people who work with your child, and all of their input is valuable. However, you must remember that you know your child best and you're the one who needs to ensure all of your child's needs are being met.
Those present at this meeting usually include:
- The parent(s), guardian or family advocate
- The special education teacher
- The child's general education teacher
- Physical and/or Occupational Therapist/Speech Pathologist
- The school counselor
- The school principal
- Your child's disability case manager.
- Your child may or may not be present
Remember, you can invite anyone you want to participate in this meeting. This may include your child's instructional aide at school, a close family friend who knows your child well, a friend to offer you support, a therapist who works with your child outside of the school setting, or simply anyone who would be able to offer advice in your child's best interest.
Sometimes, these meetings can be overwhelming so it is best for you to be as comfortable but as confident as possible. You don't need to agree with everyone and everything, instead, you need to be an advocate for your child.
The main point of the IEP is to set measurable long and short-term goals for your child. But how are these goals established? Who determines them?
You and the members of your child's IEP team try to determine what you think your child will accomplish during the school year, taking into account his/her special needs.
These goals need to be realistic. For instance, if the child has a severe learning disability, it might be an unrealistic goal for your child to be reading simple sentences by the end of kindergarten. A more acceptable goal might be for your child to be able to recognize all 26 letters of the alphabet.
Keep in mind that just because two students have the same disability, this does not mean they will have the same goals. That is why this is called an Individual plan that is suited to your child, individually.
Goals set are academic and functional.
- Letter identification
- Any class subject including math, geography, history, etc.
- Tying shoes
- Going to the bathroom
- Knowing appropriate behavior
- Self feeding
- Using a computer
- Any area that helps the child function as independently as possible
Usually, IEP's contain too many goals. Some of the goals are also unrealistic. This can cause frustration and confusion for all of those involved, especially your child. Remember your child does not have to conquer everything in one year. Sometimes, it may be more fitting for your child to focus on academic goals and then at other times on functional goals.
You can talk to your child's special education teacher anytime to discuss whether or not your child is attaining his/her goals. Usually, a progress report is given each quarter and is discussed at least twice a year during parent/teacher conferences.
Although the main objective of the IEP is to set goals for your child, it is also used as a tool for those in the school setting to know and understand all of your child's needs. In any given circumstance, it's important to include whether or not your child will need to follow other guidelines than those mandated by the school.
Diet - if your child has a special diet or is fed via g-tube, it is important to include this in your child's IEP.
Weather - some special needs children cannot tolerate hot or very cold weather. If you want your child indoors when it is above or below a certain temperature, you should have that written in your child's IEP.
Illness - Some children with disabilities are more prone to get sick or may take longer to recover. Since most schools have an attendance policy, it is important to include this in the IEP since they may need to miss more school due to being sick and taking longer to recover.
If a special circumstance comes up during the middle of the school year, the IEP can always be amended.
Be An Advocate
As you can see, developing and maintaining an Individual Education Plan for your special needs child is of utmost importance. Remember, your purpose is not to merely agree or to please everyone, your purpose is to be an advocate for your child. If you feel certain goals are not attainable by your child, you need to speak up. If set up well, your child's IEP can ensure that all of your child's needs will be met and he/she will have a great school year!