To determine exactly which services your child needs, you will work with a team of specialists to complete a written document known as the Individualized Education Program (IEP). Every child who receives special education services must have an IEP. The IEP is the educational road map for children with disabilities. It spells out your child’s goals and outlines the exact education, services, and supplementary aids that the school district will provide for your child.
Parents who feel their child might benefit from special education services should request an IEP evaluation in writing. Your pediatrician can also help draft a letter of request. Parents should work with personnel from their child’s EI program to help with this transition. You can begin this process when your child turns 2.
An IEP is written after an evaluation. During the evaluation, current performance levels are established and documented. To be eligible for special education services, your child must be identified with a recognized disability (there are 14 different disability categories under IDEA) and the disability must adversely affect her educational performance.
Every IEP should have several key pieces of information. It should include:
- Your child’s current levels of performance
- Measureable goals for the school year
- When reports about your child’s progress will be provided
- How well your child is able to function in school
- How your child will be included with peers with typical development
- How your child will be assessed on statewide and district-wide tests
In addition, should your child qualify for extended school year services, the IEP should lay out the kinds of interventions that your child should receive when school is not in session. The IEP establishes dates and locations of when services will begin, where they will be held, and how long they will last. The IEP should also discuss what will be done when your child’s needs change. In addition, the IEP may outline whether your child gets “related services” such as special transportation, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and counseling.
The IEP is written collaboratively by a group—often called an IEP team—made up of:
- Child’s parents
- Regular education teacher
- Special education teacher
- School administrator
- Possibly other school personnel
A meeting to discuss the IEP must be held within 30 days after a school determines that a child needs special education services. Parents may invite anyone to this meeting, including personnel such as an advocate or the child’s case manager from the EI program. The IEP is evaluated at least every year to determine whether goals are being met and may be adjusted if your child’s needs change.
IEPs for Children with ASDs
Unfortunately, research has found that many IEPs for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are lacking and do not meet recommendations of the National Research Council or requirements of IDEA. Many IEPs omit important information and may not provide services to a child outside of the traditional school year. Many do not adequately describe how goals are to be measured or how certain goals will help the child in school. Many IEPs also fail to say how teachers intend to motivate the child or how they would engage the child in developmentally appropriate tasks or play. Many IEPs do not include parent concerns.
Understanding Your Rights
When formulating your child’s IEP with your school district, it’s important to know exactly what your rights are and what to do if you are not happy with the resulting IEP. Before going to your first IEP meeting, do your research. Become familiar with your state’s education laws, and know the types of interventions available to your child based on her needs.
A good book to start with is Educating Children with Autism, published by the Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism of the National Research Council.