What in the World is an IEP?

Ionizing Electric Plug?

Iced Eggnog Parfait?

Impish Elf-like Person?

No. In the world of special needs, you will become quickly familiar with the IEP, which stands for Individualized Education Program.

What is an Individualized Education Program?

In the simplest terms, it is a program or “plan” for your child’s education, put down on paper. The plan is put together in a meeting with you and the primary people involved in your child’s schooling. Your first IEP meeting should take place within 30 days of your child being determined eligible for special education.

Once the program is put in place, it must be frequently checked to see how it’s working. Thus, approximately once a year, throughout your child’s school years (as long as he is eligible for special education), regular IEP meetings should be held to reevaluate how things are going. And as your child meets his goals, new ones will be written to ensure he is continually progressing.

Who attends the IEP meeting?

Parents (YOU), teachers, speech therapists, physical therapists, school psychologists, school district personnel, the principal, and anyone else associated with your child’s education. In my son’s IEPs, I’ve had as many as ten in attendance and as few as five.

Does my child attend the meeting?

She is invited to attend, but it’s up to you. When my son Kyle was in his early school years, I opted to leave him with grandparents at home. He was too young to understand what was going on, and was too needy and disruptive to allow me to concentrate. Now that Kyle is older, he attends the meeting, and although I’m sure he doesn’t understand everything that’s going on, having him there feels appropriate since we’re discussing his education and ultimately the quality of his life.

What happens in the IEP meeting?

It can vary, but here is what SHOULD happen. Each teacher or specialist will have a turn discussing first, the progress your child has made in that particular area. This should be an upbeat celebration. “Hurray, look how far she’s come!”

Next, the specialist will discuss specific goals for your child that they hope he will achieve by the next IEP meeting, either in six months or one year. These should be very concrete and not vague, as in the following adaptive physical education goal: “Kyle will catch a volleyball when thrown to him from a distance of six feet, on 4 out of 5 tries.”

Each member of the team will present the goals he feels should be set for your child until the next meeting. You will be asked to sign next to the goals on each paper (there may be many), certifying that you agree that these goals are appropriate and beneficial to your child. Signing the document does not mean you are certain your child will achieve the goals, but only that you think they are reasonable for her.

If you disagree…

If you do not agree with any of the proposed goals, you need to speak up and explain your thoughts and feelings. It is likely that a goal will be adapted or eliminated if you do not agree with it. The specialist may try to explain why she believes this goal would be appropriate, but you are there as your child’s advocate, and your opinion counts. It may be a good idea for you to listen to the goals proposed and then take the IEP document home to review it before signing. However, you will need to do this swiftly and not hang on to it too long. Your child’s plan cannot be put into place while it is sitting in limbo.

Be cordial and agreeable with the team members at the IEP meeting. But if you have serious disagreements which cannot be resolved, there are options for you. See my blog, “When you disagree with decisions regarding your child’s education.”