WHAT is an IEP?
An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a working document* written by a team of experts who support a child and their learning needs at school. The IEP team may gather to discuss how to best support your child’s learning differences. An IEP itself is the document that outlines what, where, when and how often your child will be supported.
*A working document is one that can and should always be updated to include new testing information, new and necessary supports, and goals for your child.
WHO makes/modifies an IEP?
An IEP “team” is a group of adults familiar with a child, who convene once per year (or more, as needed) to discuss a child’s diagnosis, progress, and necessary supports. An IEP team most frequently includes the child’s caregivers, their teachers, and any necessary service providers. Many IEP teams have a chairperson who arranges and hosts meetings on behalf of the whole group; this person often works as a moderator, rather than as a team member. Others involved on an IEP team are those who are specifically requested to attend by the caregiver or by the child themselves (a friend, a family support person or even the school principal, in some cases).
It is important to remember that legal guardians have the right to request that special parties become a part of the IEP team. Many families find the support of an “Advocate” helpful in meetings and throughout the IEP development process. Advocates are folks who are familiar with special education federal and state law and who work to ensure that the school is supporting your child’s right to an effective, inclusive education.
WHEN does my child get one and when does it change?
As far as timelines go, a few initial steps are critical to consider. To have an IEP developed, your child must have an outstanding situation or diagnosis which directly impacts their ability to access the traditional school setting, without additional support. Often, children are diagnosed with learning exceptionalities or other developmental disorders after not accessing the standard curriculum (diminished academic performance). That said, some children may qualify for an IEP or a 504-plan (a temporary support before the IEP is generated), based on behavioral concerns like school refusal, in the absence of other diagnoses. A 30-day period, post-diagnosis or 504 plan is the typical standard* time during which an IEP is developed. If your child has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, share this information with the school system!
*This may be delayed or extended due to outstanding circumstances and may vary from state to state.
WHERE and WHEN does this document support my child and HOW do I read it?
Most IEPs follow a standard outline and show a “grid” of services provided. Within the grid, an amount of service is noted to indicate how often (per week or per month), with whom and where your child will access support. Take this example:
Each “cycle” covers a specific amount of time, likely one school week or one school month. In Grid “B”- the type of service provided is described in the first headline. In this example grid, services in “B” will occur in the general education classroom and will include “Special education” support. The column below B’s title notes what the service is (Math help), who will provide it (A general education OR special education teacher), how often (45 minutes per day, for 5 days a week), and when (from August 25th to January 31).
In Grid “C,” more special education services are outlined, but these services are programmed to occur in “other” settings: where, is up to the team to determine. All other points (type of service, personnel, frequency, and start/end dates) remain the same across grids. Services held are always backed by specific goals that each service provider writes. S.M.A.R.T.* goals are ideal in helping the child achieve their level best. As a caregiver/parent, it is your job to ensure you agree with all goals and advocate for your child along the way!
*S.M.A.R.T. goals are those which are written to achieve a certain skill and include specific criteria. S.M.A.R.T. goals should always be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. Talk with an advocate or special education liaison for help understanding if a goal is “S.M.A.R.T.” or not.
Need extra help?
Most caregivers require lots of support throughout the IEP process. If you are new to this, do not be afraid to seek help! Check online for local support groups of parents in the Special Education program in at your child’s school, in your county and even across your state. Remember that the IEP is a “working” document and can and should reflect progress, change, and support where necessary.