Get the Gears Rolling on Your Child's IEP

If you think your child is eligible for special education, these seven steps will help you get an Individualized Education Program (IEP) set up for your kid.

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1. Discuss Many Approaches During the Pre-Referral Process

Before referral, teachers and relatives work together to help the child succeed in the classroom. Teachers can try different instructional strategies and implement modifications and accommodations to help the student overcome learning challenges. Classroom teachers are provided consultation from specialists, such as the resource teacher or school psychologist. If the student continues to struggle, he or she can be referred for an assessment, which is the next stage in the IEP process.

2. Make or Get a Referral

Students can be referred for an assessment for special education by parents, teachers, day care workers, doctors, and other health care providers. The referral process usually begins earlier for children with severe, low-incidence disabilities (e.g., autism, down syndrome), because their difficulties are more noticeable at a younger age. As children grow older, referral reasons change as the academic demands increase. For example, students who are struggling academically may be noticed and referred by the teacher.

3. Identify if Your Child has a Disability

A multi-disciplinary team conducts a comprehensive assessment. The team is composed of professionals with expertise in each area of concern. The purpose of Identification is to determine whether the child has a disability, whether special education is required, and if so, which services are needed. The school psychologist collects background and developmental information, conducts interviews and observations, and collects classwork samples to evaluate the child's adaptive functioning and current educational performance. Formal assessments are conducted to measure intellectual ability and achievement.

4. Decide If Your Child is Eligible for Special Education

The IEP Team takes the information gathered during the Identification process to determine whether the student is eligible for special education. Students who are eligible for an IEP must qualify under one of the 13 categories in IDEA. In order to be eligible for an IEP, the student's disability must negatively impact his or her ability to learn. The IEP Team meets to discuss the student and determine eligibility.

5. Help Develop an IEP For Your Child

IEPs are developed for students who are found eligible for special education. The individualized education program is called an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) for infants and toddlers, or an IEP for preschoolers and schoolchildren, and a transition component is added to the IEP for students who are 16 years or older. The team members - including parents and the student (if appropriate) - work together to identify resources and determine appropriate learning goals.

6. Make Sure that Services in the IEP are Carried Out

The student's IEP services begin once the plan is developed. The IEP describes which services and accommodations are provided and the extent to which the student participates in general education. Major changes in IEP goals or placements require that the parents be notified in writing. Educators, students, and families work towards meeting the goals identified in the IEP.

7. Review and Evaluate the IEP

IDEA requires accountability for each IEP developed. Some states require that IEPs are reviewed every year, and other states require that IEPs are reviewed every three years. Nonetheless, the parent can request that the IEP team meets at anytime. The purpose of IEP review meetings are to ensure that student is meeting goals and making educational progress.

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