This blog post has been adapted from “Chapter Two: Individualized Education Programs” of OAR’s resource “Navigating the Special Education System”.
If you have a child with autism who is currently in school, they might have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP provides a description and action plan for the services and supports necessary for your child to learn. While your child’s IEP is unique to their needs, it must have certain components. This blog post will walk you through these components and what they mean for your child.
In IEP terms, your child’s current performance is called the “Present Level of Performance” or PLOP. The PLOP describes your child’s academic achievement, functional performance, and how their disability affects their involvement and progress in the classroom, including strengths as well as weaknesses. Because IEPs also address non-academic goals, this section should also describe needs related to skills such as self-care and behavior.
The goals developed through the IEP process represent key reference points or milestones along your child’s educational path, and address your child’s unique needs. IEP goals only focus on areas that need specific attention and will not contain goals for subjects and activities in which your child is already performing satisfactorily or well.
The assessment section of the IEP will help determine whether your child will participate in state and county testing in the coming year and identify any necessary modifications. For example, your child may need access to an alternate testing location that is free of distraction, or they may need extended time on tests. Students who do not participate in the general education setting receive alternate assessments, such as a portfolio-related exam.
The services section consists of two parts: needs and accommodations and supplementary services. Needs and accommodations are the supports your child requires in order to be successful in the classroom, and may range from permission to record class to environmental changes to decrease sensory issues. Accommodations do not excuse your child from studying or doing required work; rather, they allow them to most fully participate and learn.
Supplementary services refer to specialized services delivered by professionals whose expertise supports or supplements the program defined by the IEP. Services often provided for individuals with autism include speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and behavior support.
Every individual with an IEP must also have a transition plan in place by age 16 or earlier, depending on the state. This section of the IEP helps ensure positive outcomes following high school. The transition plan considers your child’s needs, strengths, preferences, and interests. If appropriate, it must include your child’s input.
Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) and Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)
The BIP and the FBA are not necessary for every student, but are included if your child exhibits behavior that impedes their own learning or that of other children. If this is the case, your child will undergo a FBA. FBAs examine the behavior in question in multiple settings to identify the behavior, its cause, and its consequence.
Once the function of the behavior is determined, the IEP team develops a BIP, which is a function-based treatment plan. The BIP addresses why the undesired behavior is happening and how it can be changed or replaced with a more acceptable behavior. If your child has a BIP, the IEP should include a goal for reducing target behaviors.
Placement is an important objective of the IEP process, and it is a team decision. Your child should be educated with their peers in a regular education setting to the greatest extent possible. If your child’s school cannot provide the requisite accommodations, they may need to be placed in special classes or schools. Each of the following four types of special education placements has its supporters and critics, but what matters most is identifying the best match for your child.
- General Education: The student is in a mainstream classroom with their grade-level peers, although they may get additional assistance from a special education teacher or aide.
- Special Education: The student spends part of their day in a smaller setting, frequently called the Resource Room, completing grade-level work with a special education teacher in targeted subject areas. A student’s IEP designates what percentage of their school day should be spent in the Resource Room.
- Self-Contained Classroom: The student works in a small, controlled setting with a special education teacher for all academic subjects. Some students in this placement continue to access some general education settings, such as the lunchroom or recess, while others are never included in the general education setting.
- Out-of-District Placement: The student attends a specialized school specifically designed to address their needs. They typically have access to highly specialized educational programming with a heavy emphasis on structure, routine, and consistency. In this placement, access to the general school population can be limited or nonexistent.
The end of the IEP meeting brings a critical decision time. While you may feel pressure to sign the IEP at the meeting, it is best to take the document home and review it again before giving consent. Remember, you do not have to agree with the plan that has been set forth! If you do not agree, you will need to put your complaint in writing. In that case, the previous IEP stays in place until a new and fully agreed upon IEP is developed and signed. Once the IEP is signed, the applicable services for your child will commence.
More information about IEPs and special education can be found in OAR’s guide to Navigating the Special Education System. Order or download a copy for more information.