This post was written by Kimberly Smith, M.Ed., LMHC, ISSP supervisor, Parkview Behavioral Health Institute – Park Center.
With schools starting back up in the next few weeks, summer is coming to an end for children and teachers. Going back to the classroom is stressful for many young people who have challenges in a traditional educational setting. Schools make efforts to address these needs in many ways. One specific method is through an Individualized Education Plan or Program (IEP).
Helping your child succeed
If your child is having a hard time at school and you want to get them extra assistance, the first step is to communicate with their teacher(s). This conversation should specifically explore academic, emotional, behavioral, physical and social concerns, so that the caregiver and teacher can collaborate on the next step for the student. It’s also helpful for parents to get advice about what types of support their educator feels would help the child thrive at school.
What is an IEP?
As the name suggests, an IEP is an individualized plan to help a unique student succeed at school. Services a student receives in an IEP could be numerous, yet each is tied to a specific need. Some examples include:
- A decision about the least restrictive environment, such as an inclusive class or a self-contained class
- Modified curriculum or work requirements
- Modified time at school
- A specific behavior plan
- Occupational therapy
- Speech therapy
An IEP is covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) special education law. IEPs are part of public school education for children as young as 3 years old through 12th grade.
How can my child get an IEP?
In order for a student to get an IEP, they much qualify for at least one of 13 categories and have the need for additional services to be successful in school. These categories are:
- Specific Learning Disability (SLD)
- Other Health Impairment (OHI)
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Emotional Disturbance (ED)
- Speech or Language Impairment
- Visual Impairment, including blindness
- Hearing Impairment
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Intellectual Disability
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Multiple Disabilities
The most common qualifying category is the Specific Learning Disability. If the student has challenges in any of these areas, and is not succeeding at school, an evaluation is warranted and may lead to an IEP.
The caregiver and school both have tasks to complete in the process of obtaining an IEP:
1.The caregiver initiates a conversation with the teacher discussing the observed challenges.
2.The caregiver writes a letter or email requesting the free evaluation based on the identified concerns. Often this is sent to the principal, but some schools have others designated to receive this communication and the caregiver will need to ask who should receive the request.
3.The caregiver signs the consent for the evaluation. Without a signed consent, the school is unable to proceed.
4.The school will schedule and provide the evaluation. The caregiver will need to actively participate in requests made by the school during the evaluation process.
5.The school will request a case conference to discuss the results of the evaluation. If the student qualifies for an IEP, then an IEP conference is scheduled to develop and write the IEP collaboratively with the caregiver, student, principal, general education teacher and special education teacher.
IEP conferences recur annually but may be requested by either the caregiver or the school at any time when needed to adjust the plan to help the student thrive. Maintaining communication and collaboration between the caregiver and the school is a must for students with IEPs to be successful.
If your student does not qualify for an IEP, the school may suggest an alternative 504 plan. You can learn more about the differences between IEPs and 504 plans at Understood.org, a non-profit organization for caregivers of children who think and learn differently.