Once a child is school age, their education proceeds according to the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). While generally it is recommended that the IEP be ready and in place far before a child begins school (there is no benefit to waiting for an IEP), the process can begin at any time while a child is in school. This document covers the child’s educational processes from roughly ages 3 to 21 (when educational support ends, or when they graduate high school). As the child grows, the IEP also evolves to include a transition plan for when the child becomes an adult.
The document outlines several key items:
- The child’s current abilities
- Offer of Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) (a description of the services the child will receive, as well as how often they will receive them)
- Goals for the child’s development
- Accommodations and modifications
- A transition plan into adulthood (when the child turns 14)
- Signature pages and meeting notes
This plan is drawn up by a combination of individuals, which can include:
- The child’s parents
- The child’s special education teacher
- A district representative
- A test data interpreter
- One of the child’s non-special education teachers
- The student (required from age 16 onwards)
- A school psychologist
- An adaptive PE teacher
- Special service providers (such as occupational therapists)
The IEP is designed to maximize the student’s abilities and help them to succeed in an academic setting. The team making the IEP can help decide what this success will look like. Depending on the child’s disabilities, they may be placed in a regular classroom with support, they may be placed in a special education classroom, or a combination of the two. Current discourse surrounding special education programs are geared towards helping the student be in the least restrictive environment (ie, an integrated classroom) as much as possible.
The IEP is not a static document – as the child grows, and their skills and abilities begin to change, the IEP changes along with the child. The IEP must be reviewed yearly and assessed for effectiveness. While this may not be a full-scale overhaul of the IEP, annual reviews help families track how effective the IEP is for their child. Legally, full re-evaluations must happen at a minimum once every three years (the triennial evaluation) after the child is designated as requiring special education services. If the parent or a teacher requests a re-evaluation, they can occur more frequently. During a re-evaluation, the team assesses whether or not the IEP is working – whether or not the student is achieving the goals outlined in the IEP, whether or not the child needs additional supports (and, if so, which supports are needed), and whether services are being provided in the way that the IEP lays out.
It is important to note that re-evaluations are critical for ensuring the child receives continued appropriate services. Furthermore, the last re-evaluation meeting before the child leaves high school is especially important. If the child will be receiving services in post-secondary education, they will need up-to-date and current information about their educational needs. Getting a re-evaluation done thoroughly is one way to ensure the child’s needs will be met even as they transition into adulthood.
Other Facets of Special Needs Services: Health Planning
While the IEP is the most well-known of the plans for children with disabilities, children with complex health needs will also need an Individualized Health Plan (IHP) to maximize their health. These plans may be drawn up before the child starts school (several months before kindergarten), and allow the child to manage any health conditions that may impact their learning experience in school.
Other Resources for IEP Planning:
- Components of the IEP: A Brief Overview
- Components of the IEP: An In-Depth Guide
- Special Education Guide: A Quick Reference to the IEP Development Process
- Understood.org: Understanding Individualized Education Programs
- U.S. Department of Education: A Guide to the Individualized Education Program
- Commonly Asked IEP Questions: Wrightslaw
- [Image] The IEP Development Process
- [Image] The IEP Referral Process
- Strategies for IEP Disputes and Resolution
- Options for IEP Disputes
- A Family Guide to IEP Resolution and Mediation
- Alternative Dispute Resolution
- Wrightslaw: Resolving IEP Disagreements
- Due Process and Mediation