What Is An IEP, And How Does It Work

parents child meeting at school

It’s a term that a lot of parents haven’t heard of before but one that is gaining a lot of traction in the education field. The IEP, which is better known as the Individualized Education Program, helps children who need special education. Parents across the nation are looking into the program to help assist their children with their specific educational goals.

According to research, many parents often find themselves processing their child’s diagnosis before doing anything else. After all, realizing that your child might need an individualized education plan takes a lot of effort and planning. There is also an emotional factor involved, too. Luckily, there is an entire community of teachers, school administrators and related services personnel that are ready to assist families in need. An IEP outlines a child’s individualized educational goals. Parents can expect a team of educators to meet, review, and asses information that is available about the program’s participant. They then design an educational program that best fits their child’s needs based on his or her disabilities.

This might sound very overwhelming for a first-time parent, but those already in the program assure that it’s not as difficult as it sounds. In fact, when working with the right professionals, the IEP experience can be a rewarding one, especially if it’s well-organized and streamlined from the beginning.

Kristi Gold, a mother who has experience with the IEP program says that the first meeting with IEP officials is usually the hardest. She’s a mother to one child on the autism spectrum and another with a 504. She also helps clients look into specified IEP programs for their children with her nonprofit organization, Green Valley Works. She also blogs about her family life at Autism In Our House.

Mrs. Gold reveals that putting a label on her child and accepting that he was “different” was the first step in understanding that she needed to do something for his future, even if that meant putting him in a program that would help assist his needs.

She tells Moms.com in an interview, “In the beginning, hearing the ways your child isn’t measuring up, be it academically, socially, or emotionally, can be very difficult. I began asking teachers to lead with something positive in every interaction we were having. ;A spoon full of sugar’ and all that. I take bottled water, plates, napkins and treats to every meeting. I begin every meeting with a letter I’ve written thanking the teachers, therapists, and principals for choosing public education and why I believe in public education. I let them know that we are truly a TEAM and that even if we have disagreements, my child will see us as a united team. When there are problems that arise, I try to take a step back and cool off before immediately jumping in. I make a phone call to my father, who is a retired superintendent, my mother who is a retired teacher, or a trusted educator friend.”

According to many programs nationwide, parents shouldn’t feel as if they are alone. The process of picking out the right IEP for your child might be daunting at first, but there are many benefits, especially when it’s done right.

Emotions, though, often run high. “I try not to act out of anger. I try to remember that even when teachers do the wrong thing, they usually are not doing so out of malice. I don’t always succeed, but I try,” Gold says. “I believe it’s important to be organized and document because things can get lost even in the best situation. I also try to send a follow up email stating my take on the meeting and thanking the team.”

Gold stresses that it is imperative to get children the help they need. If a school is offering help, she says to take it, adding that there are a number of families that fight for the services. She says that it is easier to reduce the services later than try and convince your child’s school that he or she needs the program. Gold says that her child is excelling and making the kinds of educational leaps and bounds just like many peers his age. She admits that she had to take a step back and realize that just because her child is in special education with an IEP, that didn’t translate to a life hidden in the basement of his school.

She further explains, “My son is in Special Education AND honors classes; my child is in Special Education and just joined track. My child is in Special Education and is college bound. Special Education, much like my son’s autism diagnosis, isn’t a one size fits all program. My son’s IEP wouldn’t be appropriate for our friends children’s IEPs. Find a parent support group, either on line or through your school district, to help you navigate the school system as well as your own emotions. If you are ever worried your child isn’t receiving the services they are entitled to, research Special Education advocates. Finally, Wrightslaw is one of the easiest to read online resources available to parents navigating the special education system. I have a ton of books in my arsenal but find myself turning to Wrightslaw constantly.”

With that being said, if you believe that an IEP is the right answer for your child and your family, there are several steps that you can take. First and foremost, don’t panic. By staying confident about the matter, there’s a very good chance that your child will also feel at ease throughout the entire process, too.

Keep in mind that before your first IEP meeting, there are a few things you can do. Prepare a list of questions that you might have about your child’s progress, how it will be documented or monitored. Prepare to ask questions about the staff’s training and what steps will be taken in your child’s intervention. Parents should also feel comfortable about asking what they can do to help further their child’s educational plans and what steps can be taken at home to help with future or potential advancement.

And finally, parents are encouraged to take the time to review all of the documents they receive in regards to their child’s IEP placement. The law requires that your child’s IEP progress is reviewed and, in some cases, revised at least once a year. During your meetings with your child’s educators, make sure that everything is being done to follow the guidelines set with the IEP.

If you have any concerns with your child’s education, definitely do not hesitate to voice your concerns or ask questions. Your child’s progress towards a brighter future starts at home.

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