You, Me and the IEP
February is a month filled with love so I figured I should talk about a topic we all love, IEPs.
...Okay, no one really loves IEPs, but they are possibly one of the most important documents in your child’s life.
What is an IEP?
For those of you who are new to the world of autism, or the special needs community in general,
an IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. An IEP is given to individuals who benefit from special education services in the public education system. The IEP is a binding legal document and a commitment from the school that they will provide all services outlined in the document.
An IEP includes:
Your child’s present level of performance (PLOP)
Goals and objectives for the year
Supports and services your child needs to reach their goals
Accommodations and modifications to help your child learn
How and when the school will evaluate your child’s goals
How your child will participate in general education and extracurricular activities
When the IEP goes into effect
A transition plan (for children 16 and older)
How do I get an IEP for my child?
I have referenced this in previous posts. In order to obtain an IEP, your child must have a diagnosis of a disability. Sometimes the school will suggest getting your child evaluated based on things they are seeing in the classroom, and begin the IEP process while you are finding the best specialists and diagnosis for your child.
What does the IEP process look like?
Developing your child's Individual Education Program starts with an IEP meeting. This is a team endeavor to provide the best services, education and supports for your child. The parent(s) will sit down with a district representative, general education teachers, special education teachers, school psychologists and other specialists to create a detailed plan for your child. The IEP process tends to get a bad rap because, at the end of the day, it is impossible to please everyone. The meeting can take a long time as you sort through what is best for your child and what the school is able to provide. Once you hash out the details and sign the document, you will meet annually to evaluate your child’s goals and continually make adjustments to the plan.
What you need to know:
You can bring a friend or advocate to the meeting
Your child has the right to be in the meeting – if you think it is appropriate
You are a powerful force – you know your child and can voice their needs
Be respectful – everyone is there to give your child opportunities for success
You can bring legal representation – if you feel it is necessary
Tips from a professional
My best advice is to respect both sides of the table. Everyone is there to give your child the opportunity to succeed in the least restrictive environment possible. You are the parent, you have specific goals and life plans in mind for your child. The school may be seeing something different and have their own set of goals in mind. They will make suggestions based on your child’s behavior in the classroom, as well as the services they have to offer. If these two sets of goals don't align, try your best to find a middle ground without sacrificing your top priorities for your child.
An IEP meeting is just another day in the life of a special needs parent. Go into the meeting confident, knowledgeable and prepared to advocate for your child’s needs. If this is your first IEP meeting, ask other parents about their past experiences, what services are offered in district and any advice they have. I suggest creating a “dream plan” for what you want your child to receive in their IEP. In the meeting you can try to get as many services from that dream plan into reality. Make sure every service discussed in the meeting is written down in the plan before signing the document.
This IEP doesn’t work for me
If you feel like you are not making any progress or don't have all of the information you need, you can ask to stop the meeting and resume at a later date. At the end of the day, if you don’t feel like the school is able to provide all of the services your child needs, you have the right to request an alternate placement. Unfortunately, services come down to money. Every district has a different budget and different services they are able to provide. If your district cannot give your child what they need in their system, a last resort is to move. This sounds extreme, but I have worked with many families who have moved based on a district’s ability to provide services. Generally, districts want to help and will try to give your child every opportunity they need to succeed.
I hope this gives you some new insight into the IEP process. Many parents dread that word, but I want you to feel confident in your next meeting and truly understand any push back you may be receiving from your district. The schools and parents both are looking to achieve success for the child, but sometimes the paths to success do not always align.