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What is an IEP and is your child too young or old to get one?

What is an IEP?

IEP stands for Individualized Education Program, and it’s mandated by the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) that every child who receives special education has one designed specifically to tailor to their individual needs. Every school that has children with special needs has to develop an IEP.

The IEP is done to help the teachers, parents, school administrators and other service providers on the team, learn what is the child’s current level of functioning, their level of disability, and how it affects the learning process. It describes how the student learns and what the teachers, and all other service providers will do to help the student learn more effectively.

Developing an IEP requires the child be evaluated in all areas that’s related to the known disability. Once evaluation is complete, what’s included in an IEP is first, information about the child and the educational program designed to meet her or his individual specific needs. The topics must include current performance, annual goals, and objective to each specific need of the student, and choosing a placement in the least restrictive environment possible for the student.

As long as the student has a diagnosis for special education, the IEP is mandated and updated up to the point of high school graduation or prior to the 22nd birthday. However, IEP’s only occur in early intervention, mainstream classes, special education and general education, if and when the student attends university upon graduation, the university procedures takes over.

IEP’s are done for children not only to receive the best possible placement in special education classrooms or special schools, it is also meant to give the student the opportunity to participate in “normal” school culture as much as possible for that individual student. The student can have a specialized assistance only when such assistance is absolutely necessary, and can otherwise maintain the freedom to interact and participate in the activities of his or hers peers.

Who Attends the IEP Meetings?

  • The parents, who are expected to participate as equal participants as the school in developing the IEP.

  • Regular education teachers, at least one should attend.

  • Special education teachers, at least one should attend.

  • An educational evaluator and a psychologist.

  • Parents are welcomed to bring any other person involved with the child’s that can be important, such as tutor, therapist, psychologist, etc.

  • Parents as well are welcomed to bring an educational advocate, social worker, and/or a lawyer with knowledge in IEP proceedings.

  • Childs Guidance Counselor may be needed to attend to discuss courses that may be required for the child’s education career.

The Role of the parent

The parent is considered an equal member of the IEP team because of their unique knowledge of the child’s strengths and needs. They have the right to ask questions, dispute points, and request modifications to the plan, just as the other IEP team members.

The school is mandated to make an effort that both or at least one of the parents are present at each IEP team meeting. If parents are unable to attend the school has to show that due diligence was made to enable the parents to attend, including notifying the parents early enough to attend, scheduling the meeting at a mutually agreed time and place, and offering alternatives means of participation, such as a phone conference.

What’s discussed during the IEP team meeting?

  • Results of recent evaluations.

  • The Childs strengths.

  • The parents concerns to enhance their child’s education.

  • State and district exams

  • All of the child’s special needs are factors that need too be considered, such as a child’s behavior that is preventing them from learning, the team requires developing a positive behavior plan. If the child is blind, deaf or hard of hearing, the team is required to consider the child’s language and communication needs, and how they are going to communicate with peers and schools staff.

Developing the education plan

A model is designed that contains the students present level of performance, how the students disability is influencing progress and participation in the general curriculum, measurable short-term goals and objectives, specific educational goals to be provided, projected initiation date and expected duration of services.

Appropriate Placement

After the IEP is developed, the IEP team determines the placement, which is the environment in which the child’s IEP can be most readily implemented.

Placement setting includes the general education classroom, resource class, separate class, and other setting, which include separate schools and residential facilities.

The general education classroom is seen as the least restrictive environment. This is where most school aged IEP students spend at least 80 percent of their school time. There is a regular classroom teacher and a Special Education teacher, which will adjust the curriculum to the student’s individual needs. Research suggests student’s with special needs benefit from being included in general education and participating in the general education curriculum.

The resource class is where the Special Education teacher works with small groups of students using techniques that works more efficiently with the students (resource, referring to the amount of time spent outside general education). This setting is available for students who spend 40-79 percent of the time in general education classroom.

Separate classroom refers to the setting option for students whom spent less than 40 percent of their day in the general education class. The students are allowed to work in small highly structured settings with a special education teacher. Students that are in the separate class may be working at different academic levels.

Separate schools and residential facilities are other options, where the students receive highly specialized training to address both special learning and behavioral needs. The students here receive both academic and life skills instruction.


The IEP should be done within 30 days of determining eligibility, and all the services specified in the IEP are required to begin as soon as possible once the IEP has been developed. An IEP must be signed or appealed within 10 days or the school can implement the most recent version.

Any member of the team can call a meeting at any time to edit the IEP.

There should be an annual review to ensure that the students are making progress and the goals are being met. If after three to six months the goals are not met an immediate revision is to occur. The school is required to give the parent a copy of the IEP at no additional cost.

Different available services

Specially designed instruction, related services, program modifications, classroom accommodations, supplementary aids and services, resource room.

Specially designed instruction

Refers to the instructional content, method of instruction delivery, and the performance methods and criteria that are necessary to assist the student make meaningful educational progress. This instruction is designed by an appropriately credential led special education teacher or related service provider. Some students may have better success with small-group instruction as presented in resource room.

The IEP team determines whether a specific type of instruction is included in a student’s IEP. Generally, if the methodology is an essential part of what’s required to meet the individualize needs of the student, the methodology, for example, is a student has a learning disability and has not learned to read using traditional methods, then another method is used. So the IEP team describes the components of the appropriate type of methodology, as opposed to naming a specific program.

Related Services

Are additional services the child may need in order to access or benefit from special education, and the schools are required to provide these related services, including but not limited to speech, occupational, or physical therapy, interpreters, medical services (such as a nurse to help the child during the day, for help such as a catheterization), orientation and mobility services, parent counseling, and training to help parents support the implementation of their child’s IEP, psychological or counseling services, recreation services, rehabilitation, social work, and transportation.

Classroom accommodations

Refers to allowing the student to receive information or to demonstrate what they have learned in ways that work around their impairment, thereby minimizing the likelihood of a significant disability. They may include for example, preferential seating, providing photocopies of teachers notes, giving oral rather than written quizzes, alternative or modified assignments, extended time for test and assignments, use of word processor or laptop, and taking test in quiet room.

Supplementary aids and services

  • Assistive technology

  • Teacher’s aid in classroom that provide additional support for one or more specific students.

At what age can you get an IEP?

If your child is under the age of 3 they can receive services through early intervention. You can request a free evaluation from you state early intervention service program due to the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA), a federal law, that requires that every state provide early intervention and you don’t need a referral.

Once evaluated, if your child is found to have disability or developmental delay, free services such as speech, occupational, physical, special instruction or applied behavior analysis are provided at your home. Before services begin you will first work with a team of educators to develop an IEP customized for child’s specific needs.

What If your child is between the age of 3-5

IDEA guarantees that eligible preschoolers, ages 3 to 5, can get an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and special education services through public school system.

How to get IEP for children between the ages of 3 to5

  • Look, listen and list your concerns, Observer your child and keep a list of behaviors that make you wonder if there is a learning or attention delay. This list will help you present your concerns to people who will help you.

  • Talk to the pediatrician or the preschool teacher; share your concerns with your child doctor and teachers (if they attend a preschool). However, always trust your instincts and if you feel strongly about your concerns ask for an evaluation to be done.

  • Get a referral for an evaluation, ask you doctor for a referral to your state child find program. Child find provides free screenings and evaluations for children who show signs of learning and developmental delays. You can also send a letter to the school district’s special education director, requesting a free evaluation.

What if your child is already in kindergarten or grade school?

You can contact your local school district and request an evaluation if you’re having concerns about your child’s developmental and learning progress.

If any parent is having any type of concerns please request as soon as possible to have your child evaluated, it is never too early to help your child from falling behind.

Jury Rosario, LMSW

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