Developing Your Child’s IEP (page 2)
Being a parent is the most wonderful—and hardest—job in the world. If you have a child with special needs, your job is no less wonderful, but it can be more complicated.
Your child’s education is most likely an area of great interest to you. As a child with a disability, he or she may be eligible for special education services in school. If so, then it will be important for you to learn:
more about special education,
what special education can do for your child, and
what part you can play in the special education process.
The good news is that there is a lot of information available for parents. This Parent’s Guide (1) can help you begin to learn what you need to know. This guide explains the basics of the special education process and gives you information on how to be an effective partner with your child’s school.
Thanks to a powerful and important federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, children with disabilities are entitled to a “free appropriate public education” (often called FAPE). (2) This means that schools must provide eligible children who have a disability (3) with specially designed instruction to meet their unique needs at no cost to the child’s parents. This specially designed instruction is known as special education. (4) The IDEA includes lots of information to help states design special education programs for children with disabilities. The IDEA also includes regulations to protect the rights of parents and children. (5)
Getting to know the IDEA will be very useful to you, because it is the basis of your child’s educational rights. NICHCY can help you learn about the IDEA. We have many publications that explain the IDEA’s requirements. Some publications are short, others go into detail. All are available on our Web site—www.nichcy.org. You can also call us toll-free to request a copy of these publications.
It’s also helpful for you to know the policies of your state and local school district. States must meet the minimum federal requirements of the IDEA, but they can also give students and parents more rights and services. Call or write your state department of education (or your local school district) and ask for a copy of your state (or local) special education regulations. There may also be a special education handbook or parent guide available from your state or local district.
One of the most important parts of the special education process is creating a plan for your child’s education. This plan is called the Individualized Education Program, or the IEP. The IEP is the foundation for your child’s education, and you are a very important member of the team that develops it. Your child’s IEP lists the specific special education services your child will receive, based upon his or her individual needs. This is why it is so important that you understand and help develop your child’s IEP.
We’ve packed a lot of information into this guide. If you’ve never helped to create an IEP before, this information may seem strange and overwhelming. It helps to think of the IEP both as a process and as a document to be written. Understand the process one step at a time—it has many parts. Learn the process of writing the document the same way. It, too, has many steps.
You will quickly become familiar with all the steps to writing an IEP. If your child continues to receive special education each year, you will soon become an IEP expert yourself!
§ Special Symbols in This Issue §
As you read this Parent’s Guide, you may notice the easy reading style. While this style makes it easier to understand IDEA’s IEP requirements, it prevents the verbatim use of the Federal regulations for IDEA. Therefore, we’ve included endnotes that refer to specific sections of the Federal regulations. An example is 34 CFR §300.347, which is the section of the IDEA that describes the “Content of IEP.” You can use these references to find the precise sections of the Federal regulations that address the issue being discussed.
So, for example, if you wanted to read exactly what the IDEA says about the content of the IEP, you would look under Section 300.347 of the Code of Federal Regulations for Title 34 (sometimes referred to as 34 CFR). The symbol § stands for “section.”
I. The IEP Process (6)
Appendix A to the IDEA says—
“The IEP meeting serves as a communication vehicle between parents and school personnel, and enables them, as equal participants, to make joint, informed decisions regarding—
the child’s needs and appropriate goals;
the extent to which the child will be involved in the general curriculum and participate in the regular education environment and State and district-wide assessments; and
the services needed to support that involvement and participation, and to achieve agreed-upon goals.
Parents are considered equal partners with school personnel [emphasis added] in making these decisions, and the IEP team must consider the parents’ concerns and the information that they provide regarding their child . . .” (7)
What’s involved in developing my child’s IEP?
The process of developing your child’s IEP involves two main things:
(1) the IEP meeting(s), where you, your child (at times), and school staff members together decide on an educational program for your son or daughter; and
(2) the IEP document, which puts the decisions from that meeting in writing. Among other things, this document lists the services and supports your child will receive.
The whole IEP process is a way for you and the school to talk about your child’s needs and to create a plan to meet those needs. Let’s look at the process, starting with the IEP meeting.
The IEP meeting is somewhat formal. By law, certain people must attend. People sign in to show who is there. Lots of papers are looked at and passed around. People will talk about your child, his or her needs and strengths, and what type of educational program would be appropriate. And, little by little, blank spaces on the IEP form get filled in.
Sometimes it can be a real challenge for a parent to keep up with the discussion. It may be even harder to slow it down. But you should feel free to ask questions and offer suggestions. You will also want to feel comfortable that the team has spent enough time talking and planning before filling out the forms. Many parents say their first experience in an IEP meeting was a lot like Emily’s mom’s below.
Emily was three when we had our first IEP meeting. I didn’t really know what an IEP meeting was. Someone told me what the initials meant and what we were supposed to do, but the whole idea seemed so strange to me. Making an educational plan for a three-year-old? I was worried about potty training and getting Emily to sleep through the night and to stop crying all the time!
Anyway, when we had the meeting I met a lot of people whose names I couldn’t keep in my head. A lot of pieces of paper got passed around. The teachers and therapists talked about what Emily needed to work on at school. Some of it sounded okay. Some of it, I just couldn’t picture in my head. I spent most of the meeting nodding—like I understood—and agreeing with everything.
Later, I realized that if I had visited a class, asked questions, and had someone explain what they were doing, I might have talked more and asked more questions at the meeting. And I don’t think I would have felt so anxious sending Emily to school for the first time.
I’ve gotten better with each IEP, though. I don’t just nod anymore! I know the school wants to do what’s right, but they can’t do it alone. I have to be there to speak up, share what I know about Emily, ask questions, and offer suggestions. Emily’s IEPs are a lot better now, because we all really work together.
Where and when do IEP meetings take place? (8)
You and the school agree on where and when to have the IEP meeting. Usually, meetings are held at school during regular staff time. This means the meeting can happen before, during, or after the regular school day. By law, the school must tell you in writing:
what the purpose of the meeting is,
the time and place for the meeting,
who will be there, and
that you may invite other people who have knowledge or special expertise about your child to the meeting.
The IEP must be done no more than 30 calendar days from the date your child is found eligible for special education services.
You must agree to the program, in writing, before the school can carry out your child’s first IEP.
The IEP must be reviewed at least once every 12 months.
It may take more than one meeting to write a complete IEP. If you find more time is needed, ask the team to schedule another meeting.
You may ask for an IEP meeting at any time, if you feel that changes need to be made to your child’s educational program. Some teams like to meet near the end of a grading period to talk about the student’s progress and to make changes to the IEP, as needed.
Who attends the IEP meeting?
Under the IDEA, certain people (listed below) must be part of the IEP team. (9) It is important to note that there doesn’t have to be a different person for every role. Often, one person can carry more than one responsibility on the team.
You, as Parent(s)
School Administrator—a member of the school district who knows about the general curriculum (the same curriculum taught to nondisabled children) and the resources available to the school. This person must also be qualified to provide special education services or supervise services.
General Education Teacher—at least one general education teacher, if your child is (or may be) participating in the general education class.
Special Education Teacher—at least one of your child’s special education teachers or, if appropriate, at least one special education provider who works with your child.
Evaluation Personnel—someone who knows—
- about your child’s evaluation,
- what the evaluation results were, and
- what the results mean in terms of instruction.
This could be a school psychologist, an administrator, or one of your child’s teachers.
Your Child—If the IEP team will be talking about how to prepare your child for life after high school (called planning for transition services (10) or, simply, transition planning), your child must be invited to the meeting. Otherwise, deciding when and how your child will participate in the IEP meeting is a decision you and your child can make. Students are encouraged to take part in developing their own IEPs. Some students in elementary school come to the meeting just to learn a little about the process or to share information about themselves. As students get older, they take a more active role.
Other members of the team (11)
Besides the people listed above, you and the school can invite other people to the IEP meeting. This can include:
Therapists or other professionals who work with your child.
Translators or interpreters—If English is not your first language, or if you communicate by using sign language, the law says the school must provide an interpreter, if you ask for one.
Transition personnel—If the IEP meeting will include planning for your child’s life after high school, staff from outside agencies may be invited to attend. This is especially true if an outside agency may be responsible for providing or paying for transition services.
Others with knowledge or special expertise about your child — Many parents find it helpful to have a support person at the IEP meeting. This may be another parent, a friend, an advocate, or a consultant. Others could include student friends, private specialists, tutors, educational consultants, or other school staff. Both you and the school have the right to invite such individuals to join the team.
What do different team members bring to the IEP process?
As you can see, there can be many people on an IEP team. While everyone shares in the discussion, you will find that each brings his or her own point of view and experience. Let’s look at what each person might add to your child’s IEP.
The Special Education Teacher
Your child’s special education teacher is a specialist about disabilities. He or she understands how and when to use different teaching styles and instructional methods to meet your child’s needs. Usually, the special education teacher—
- has been involved in your child’s evaluation,
- understands the results, and
- can explain and interpret the results.
The special educator can talk about how lessons may need to be adapted or modified to help your child learn. He or she may also talk about the supports and supplementary aids your child may need to fully participate in learning and other school activities, such as assistive technology, an instructional assistant, or peer buddy. The special educator may take the lead in developing your child’s goals and objectives, focusing on those areas where your child has special instructional needs. In many schools, the special educator also makes sure that all the people who help your child learn follow the plan written in the IEP.
The General Education Teacher
The general education teacher knows the curriculum for your child’s grade level and what students in general education classes are typically expected to do. If your child is going to be educated in the general education classroom for any part of the school day, then the general education teacher will talk about what your child will be taught and expected to learn. He or she may also talk about any supports, changes, and services your child needs to be successful. These supports and services might include adapting the curriculum, providing lower reading level materials, using graphics in addition to written materials, or providing your child with a student assistant. The general education teacher may also tell the rest of the team what he or she needs to help your child understand the general curriculum and achieve the goals listed in the IEP.
As a parent, you bring very important information to the IEP meeting. You know your child better than anyone. You know his or her strengths and weaknesses and all the little differences that make your child unique. Your knowledge can steer the team toward creating an IEP that will work best for your child. You can tell the team what goals are most important to you and to your child. You should also share your concerns. You can give insights about your child’s interests, likes and dislikes, and learning styles. By being an active IEP team member you can ensure that your child’s IEP is developed with thought given to long-term needs for a successful adult life.
Your job at the IEP meeting is to:
- learn and understand the process,
- share information,
- ask questions,
- offer suggestions,
- keep the team’s focus on “the big picture” and your child’s long-term needs, and
- speak up on your child’s behalf.
Being actively involved in your child’s IEP is your choice. To help you participate, the school must make reasonable efforts to:
- schedule the IEP meeting so that you can come;
- provide an interpreter for you, if needed;
- inform you about the meeting; and
- inform you of your rights.
However, if you decide not to participate in writing your child’s IEP, the school can hold the IEP meeting without you.
When your child participates in the IEP meeting, it can have a powerful effect. Just having your child at the meeting can make the IEP process come more alive. Requests and suggestions that come directly from your child can carry more weight than when you voice them. Many parents are sometimes surprised when they hear their children speak about their disability, their educational desires, and their goals for the future. And sometimes teachers learn things about their students that they didn’t know before.
Your child’s role as an IEP team member, depending on age and ability, can be as broad as your own or limited to what you and he or she feel most comfortable with. When your child is part of the IEP process, the program can be much more worthwhile to him or her, instead of something to put up with. Taking part in IEP meetings also helps your child learn to speak up for him or herself and develop valuable self-advocacy skills.
The administrator at the IEP must know what resources the school has available. This person must also have the power to commit the resources needed so that services can be provided as outlined in your child’s IEP.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Dissemination Center.
- Coats and Car Seats: A Lethal Combination?
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- Child Development Theories
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- First Grade Sight Words List
- Social Cognitive Theory
- The Homework Debate
- GED Math Practice Test 1