Sunday, July 3, 2011

What Is an IEP

IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. This is a plan created by the school in an effort to teach a child who has special needs. IEP's can be created for children with learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, behavioral disabilities or any other state recognized condition that requires special educational help. Building an IEP that works for each child can be a bit of trial and error and each school system will have their own process. Parents who are new to special education need to understand what an IEP is, how it is created, how to make changes and what to do when teachers do not follow the procedures in the IEP.

How to Request an IEP

Parents who have children in school know that not every student is equal. Some kids are good at math, while others excel at reading. Some children enjoy science while others like art. Everyone has different skill levels and abilities, but some kids have more difficulty than others. When a child falls significantly behind in school or consistently has trouble it may be time to consider an IEP. The process will vary from one school district to another, but the first step is to contact the teacher and school administration.

Some schools have entire departments dedicated to special education. These teachers have many different tests and evaluation techniques that can be used to determine if a child need extra help. In some cases this might mean a tutor. Ask for the child to get tested in the area where they are having problems. For behavioral problems there should also be some observation by the specialist, not just anecdotal stories from the teacher. After gathering the information the special education staff should meet with the parents to review the information and discuss the next step.

Writing an IEP

Parents should not need to write the IEP itself, but they should have a good idea of the changes they want to see and skills that need to be worked on. Don't ask for huge changes all at once. For many children changes come in small steps toward a larger goal. An example is a kindergartener with a non verbal learning disability. This child may be fine academically, but be having a lot of trouble interacting socially. They will need to be taught about eye contact, tone of voice, body language and all of the aspects of non verbal communication. This child may have an IEP in kindergarten that focuses on learning basic body language and tone of voice.

In first grade they may work on conversation skills and more subtle body language. By second grade they may need to be monitored to ensure they maintain the skills they learned and in third grade not need an IEP an longer. An IEP is a map on a journey, not the destination. Once the test results have been discussed and goals are agreed upon the school is responsible for writing the IEP. Parents should read the document in its entirety and sign off on it if they agree. If there are changes that need to be made, request them before signing the document. This is a legal document that will be used for reference if there is a problem. If the document does not say exactly what the parents want it to say the child may not get what they need and there will be no recourse until the next IEP is written.

Requesting Changes to the IEP

Schools are required to review an IEP annually. This is the easiest time to make changes if they are needed. Many times the school will also provide updates on progress at the same time that grades are provided. These progress reports should be reviewed and if there are concerns contact the special education teacher directly. Each district will have its own process for requesting changes and it is best to try and work within these rules whenever possible. If there is a need for a drastic change contact the special education teacher first and discuss the change. They may be aware of the need already and will work with the parent to create an updated IEP that addresses the issue.

What to Do When A Teacher Doesn't Follow the IEP

This can be a difficult situation. The first step is to find out why the IEP isn't being followed. In districts where there are not special education teachers in every school it may be a case where the classroom teacher simply isn't aware that an IEP is in place. This problem is easily avoided by contacting the classroom teacher directly when an IEP is created to verify they are familiar with the requirements in the document. If the teacher is aware of the IEP they may not have the proper training to be able to fulfill the requirements. If this is the case the parent will need to work with the school system to either get the teacher trained or move the child to a classroom with properly trained staff. A third possibility is the most difficult to deal with, a teacher who knows about the IEP and simply doesn't follow it because they don't believe it is necessary.

In this case it is a good idea to at least start a conversation with the teacher. If the teacher is unresponsive or unwilling to discuss the problem it may be necessary to move the child to another classroom or to involve the administration. Teachers are legally required to abide by an IEP and there isn't any wiggle room on this issue. Having an IEP in place is one step to helping a child who is having problems in school. There are many conditions that will benefit from therapy, tutors and home activities. A good education is the right of every child and it is important for parents to be their advocate when needed.

I am the parent of an autistic child who also suffers with a non-verbal learning disability. I have started a website to help other parents with special needs children connect with each other and with local resources here in Minnesota. Check out to find resources on NVLD and autism in Minnesota.

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