I Think My Child Needs an IEP
As your child begins school, whether for the first time or not, it’s important to know his educational options, especially if she has a disability such as autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or epilepsy. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) can help your child receive the special attention and opportunities he needs. So if you think your child needs an IEP, you should request one.
To find out if he’s eligible, school officials have to do two things. First, they must find out if your child has a disability that is covered by the program. Second, they have to determine if his disability is severe enough for him to need special education services.
Is Your Child Eligible for an IEP?
IEPs were made possible in public schools by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the law says all children are “guaranteed access to a free, appropriate, public education … in the least restrictive environment to every child with a disability.”
To qualify for an IEP, a child must exhibit at least one of the five special factors: behavior that hinders learning, limited English proficiency, blindness or visual impairment, communication issues, and a need for assistive technology.
A public school must identify children with disabilities. If your child’s school does not approach you about getting an IEP, talk with his teacher and listen to any concerns about your child’s academic progress. If the teacher believes his overall learning is being affected, your child will then go through evaluations to see whether he qualifies for services and in which of the five areas he needs help.
Although the timeline can fluctuate, when a child needs an IEP, they are usually identified in elementary school. Their IEP can then be revised and continued through high school. In some cases, children can get to a point during their education where the IEP no longer meets their needs, and you can request a meeting to review it and end services.
What Happens During the IEP Evaluation
A team of professionals does the evaluation. This team typically includes the school psychologist and other educators. They will give your child certain tests and review her school records. They also observe her in the classroom.
When the evaluation is done, a report will be written. It will include scores, a summary of the results and recommendations for how to help your child. You’ll meet with the team to go over the outcomes. The evaluation gives you and the school insight into your child’s challenges, strengths and needs.
A key finding will be whether your child has one or more of the disabilities listed among the thirteen disability categories outlined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If the evaluation shows your child has a disability that could make her eligible for special education, you’ll move on to the next step.
Prepare for the IEP Meeting
Many things need to be thought out when your child needs an IEP, and so it is crucial that you as a parent, as well as teachers and school administrators, are deeply involved in developing it for your child.
Once your IEP team is in place, a meeting is scheduled within 30 days of your child’s special education needs being identified. Here are some ways you can prepare:
- Get organized. Bring in as much information as you can, including the obvious items – your child’s progress reports, testing, attendance and any notes you’ve kept, but also any doctor’s reports and communication from an after-school program or other extra-curricular activity.
- Look through all your child’s academic records, so that you know specifically where there have been problems. Highlight and point out documentation in the school records of your child’s needs such as concentration, problems with math, etc., and ask that these be addressed in the IEP. Become an expert on your child.
- Request that a particular person who knows your child and your child’s needs be invited to the IEP meeting. Maybe there is a teacher, a teacher’s aide or a yard attendant who knows your child well.
- Know your rights and let the rest of the IEP team be aware of this. Get an advocate or attorney to attend the meeting with you.
- Make sure that you are heard. It’s easy to feel intimidated, but if you don’t understand something, ask questions. The world of education is full of jargon and acronyms that not even all lawyers or teachers understand.
- If you are feeling overwhelmed, ask to take a short break. Or you can request that the meeting be rescheduled, something that must happen within 30 days, if you feel you need to go home and read up some more.
- Federal law requires that parents give “informed consent,” so you have to understand what you are signing. And don’t let your district say that the IEP team thinks one thing, but the parent doesn’t agree. Parents are an integral part of the IEP team.
If this process sounds overwhelming and you feel you need help, you can always reach out to us.
American Disability Association is dedicated to the wellbeing and protection of children with disabilities and actively provides support to enhance their quality of life. Whether you are dealing with federal or state benefits or struggling with a school district to get proper education for your child, we have the resources to help you. Many individuals and families managing a disability are not aware of the wide array of services available to them, or they do not know how to apply for these benefits in a way that is likely to succeed.
Contact us for help. Dial (877) 283-4807 or email us at [email protected]