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One of the first phrases to come to mind when talking about special education is the Individualized Education Program, whose abbreviation, IEP, instantly becomes one of those acronyms you will remember for life. Mention IEPs to parents and teachers alike, and their reaction tells the story. The term conjures up unpleasant memories and is frequently met with a groan. For someone new to the special education world, the IEP and its process can seem daunting and, at times, excessive. No matter how so, IEPs are important.

The IEP provides a description and action plan for what you and the school mutually determine that your child requires in terms of services and supports necessary to learn. It is a prerequisite to receiving special education services. At best, when well written, these legal documents assure that your child receives what he or she needs for success. Conversely, if not done well, they can become lengthy documents that involve inordinate amounts of time, are ineffective, and do not serve your child well.

Whether you already have an IEP team at your child’s school or are new to the special education system in the United States, here are five things to remember about IEPs.

1. You are a member of the team.

You are not just any member of the team; you are the team member who knows your child best and are their most important advocate. Be active and assertive in voicing your opinions and concerns without becoming adversarial.

2. You don’t have to make any decisions right away.

Don’t allow yourself to feel pressured into agreeing or disagreeing with any parts of the IEP during the meeting. In fact, you may need time to process the information, discussion, and recommendations. In that case, you might be better off doing that in a less stressful environment. Take the necessary time and don’t hesitate to ask for help. In some cases, just having someone who knows your child well review the IEP may offer the reinforcement or assurances you need. In other instances, you might choose to consult with a professional advocate.

3. Everyone has your child’s best interests in mind.

The process is designed with your child’s interests in mind. Part of that process involves creating a team comprised of people with specific responsibilities and varied professional experience, academic backgrounds, and points of view. It is going to produce differences of opinion. Remember that the teachers and support staff at the IEP meeting are there because they choose to work with children who have disabilities. Even when they don’t agree with you, their disagreement is based on their professional view of what is in your child’s best interest.

4. IEPs can be changed.

IEPs are not stagnant, inflexible documents that remain in place indefinitely. The IEP team meets to review your child’s program annually, which in most cases is enough. If circumstances arise which warrant review during the year, you can request to have the IEP team meet and, if necessary, change or update the IEP through an addendum.

5. IEPs are important.

IEPs can be frustrating to the point where you may question its practical value and simply sign the document just to move past it. But remember, IEPs set the goals for your child and frame the learning environment that will shape their development and education in the years to come. IEPs and the goals you choose help determine your child’s future in school and beyond.

Want to learn more about the IEP process? Download or order a free copy of Life Journey Through Autism: Navigating the Special Education System.


This post was adapted from Life Journey Through Autism: Navigating the Special Education System. Click here to check out this resource.