If you have a child with autism, one item that you will quickly become familiar with is the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This is a plan put together by the people involved in the child’s education and other needs as well as the parents. The plan is specific to the particular child and is set up to provide the maximum benefit for the child.
IEPs are Legal Documents
To ensure that a child with any disability is provided the services he or she needs during the school year, the IEP should outline:
- The specific plan for educating the child (the goals that the child will work on during the school year)
- What services the child will need to help meet those goals
- A way to measure the child’s progress
The school district must follow the IEP in educating the child.
Who Works on the IEP?
IEPs are the result of a meeting involving education agency officials as well as others who are involved in the child’s education. By law, invitations to attend the meeting must be issued to:
- The child’s parent(s).
- The current or prospective teacher of the child.
- Someone from the local education agency, other than the child’s teacher, who can provide or supervise the special education aspect
- The child, when appropriate
- Other individuals determined by the parents or local education agency
Since 2004, the parents must be included in any group which makes educational decisions regarding the child. IEP meetings must be held at least annually, but at times it is necessary to meet more often. Reviews or revisions may be sought by the parents at any time. Many times, an outline of goals and objectives may be prepared by the school ahead of the meeting; however, the IEP is not complete until the team has discussed the document and all parties agree to the goals and objectives.
Notification of IEP meetings must be provided to the parents with enough notice so the they will be able to attend. The meeting must also be scheduled at a time and place which is reasonable for both school staff and the parents. It is very important that the parents and the school staff try to work together to develop an IEP that is appropriate for the child. If the relationship between the parents and school staff becomes adversarial, the child is the one who is likely to suffer.
Preparing for the IEP Meeting
IEP meetings are scheduled after the child has been evaluated. Not only should you as a parent be invited to attend with reasonable notice, but you are also entitled to participate in the meeting. When notified of the meeting, you should request a copy of the evaluation results so that you can review them ahead of time (trust me, these reports can be quite lengthy).
Some things that you might want to think about prior to the meeting include:
- Your personal vision for your child. Think not only about the next year of school, but also about their future.
- The strengths, needs and interests of your child
- Any concerns about the education your child receives
- Approaches that have and have not worked so far
- Does your knowledge of your child match what the evaluation results show?
The IEP meeting is a chance for you to share information about your child, what you expect from the plan and what strategies have been successful at home. If you do not agree with the proposal made by school staff, discuss your concerns. Always keep one thing in mind — you know your child better than anyone else does!
An IEP should not just address school curriculum or material for the child. Anything that will result in helping the child attain the goals needed should also be included — social skills such as playing with other children, functional skills such as dressing or crossing the street, and related services (occupational, speech or physical therapy) may also be included. These services should be looked at based on the needs of the individual child and not based simply on what has been provided for other students with autism. Some students may also need other services such as a full- or part-time aide or forms of assistive technology.
Goals and Objectives as well as Evaluation
Goals set for the student in an IEP may be broad or specific and are long-term. Once the goal is listed, it should be followed by one or more objectives. The objective states specifically how the student will attain the goal and how the child’s progress will be determined.
To determine whether the child is making progress on the goal, an evaluation process must be listed. This is not a mandate that the child must attain the goal in the allotted time — simply a means of determining whether the goal is being worked towards and at what level. My son’s IEPs have sometimes carried the same goal through more than one school year!
IEP Meetings Can Be Intimidating
Keep in mind that IEP meetings can be intimidating to the parents, especially when you first start attending them. My advice is that you invite someone to attend who understands the process because they might be able to provide some insight that you would not think of. In my case, I always ask that Devin’s behavioral therapist be invited because she works with a number of children with autism in our area and she also knows of services that I may or may not be aware of. If you don’t have a behavioral therapist for your child, you might invite a friend or family member that has some experience with the process.
Please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions for additional information related to this topic!