November 14, 2022

In this blog post, we will discuss what an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is, and how you can get one for your child.  

What is an IEP? 

An Individualized Education Plan, also referred to as an IEP, is a cornerstone of America’s special education system. It is covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that ensures free special education and related services to all children with disabilities. IDEA works to guarantee all children in the public school system receive an appropriate education. 

Specifically, an IEP maps out the specialized instruction, support, and services that a child will need to thrive in school. The individual-specific plan is created annually and addresses the goals and objectives set forth by the student’s collaborative IEP team. Typically, a student’s IEP team will include an assortment of the below parties: 

  • Parent(s) or legal guardian(s) 
  • General education teachers 
  • Special education teachers 
  • Person that can specifically interpret the child’s evaluation results (e.g., school psychologist)  
  • School system representative
  • Your child’s school therapeutic team (Occupational Therapist/Physical Therapist/Speech Therapist/ABA Therapist); your child’s outside therapeutic team can attend as well and provide recommendations
  • Translator, if needed
  • Others with additional knowledge or special expertise about the child 

The child’s IEP team meets at least once a year to create the initial plan; however, the team can meet more frequently if changes or addendums to the plan are needed. You as the parent/legal guardian can also request an IEP meeting as needed.

Who is eligible for an IEP? 

All children in the public school system, including charter schools, age 3-18 years are eligible to receive this specialized plan. To be eligible, a child’s school performance must be “adversely affected” by a disability in one of the 13 categories from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act listed below:  

  1. Specific Learning Disability (SLD) – this category involves learning challenges that affect a child’s ability to read, write, listen, speak, reason, or do math. Common examples include:
    • Dyslexia: a learning disability in reading; people with dyslexia struggle reading at a decent pace without mistakes
    • Dyscalculia: a learning disability in math
    • Dysgraphia: a learning disability in writing; people with dysgraphia will often times have trouble putting their ideas into writing
  2. Other health impairment – this category encompasses conditions that limit a child’s strength, energy, or alertness. A common example is:
    1. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): trouble paying attention or focusing 
  3. Autism Spectrum Disorder – this is a developmental disability that primarily affects a person’s social and communication skills.  
  4. Emotional disturbance – mental health issues typically fall under this category. Examples include: 
    • Anxiety disorder
    • Schizophrenia
    • Bipolar disorder
    • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
    • Depression 
  5. Speech or language impairment – this category includes issues that make it difficult for children to understand words or express themselves. A common example of this category is stuttering.  
  6. Visual impairment – this category encompasses children that have issues with eyesight not corrected by eyewear. This could include either partial, sight, or complete blindness.  
  7. Deafness – this includes children that cannot hear most or all sounds, even with a hearing aid. 
  8. Hearing impairment – this category includes children with hearing loss not covered by the definition of deafness.  
  9. Deaf-blindness – children with both severe hearing and vision loss fall under this category.  
  10. Orthopedic impairment – kids that lack function or ability in their bodies are considered to have an orthopedic impairment. A common example of an orthopedic impairment is cerebral palsy.  
  11. Intellectual Disability – children with an intellectual disability have specific limitations in cognitive functions and skills including poor communication, self-care, and social skills. Their IQ is typically below 70-75. Conditions that cause intellectual disability include, but are not limited to: 
    • Down Syndrome 
    • Fragile X Syndrome 
    • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome  
  12. Traumatic brain injury – an injury that is caused by an accident or other physical force.  
  13. Multiple disabilities – this category encompasses situations where the child has more than 1 of the above disabilities and therefore needs a more comprehensive program, not one designed for 1 specific disability.  

It is important to note that IEPs are not available in colleges or private schools. However, private schools may offer special education to their students, but it is not required.

What does an IEP contain? 

An IEP contains the special education instruction, support, and services that a child needs to progress and flourish in school. Typically, this information includes the child’s:  

  • Current performance – here the plan will state how the child is currently performing in school. It is known as the child’s present levels of educational performance.  
  • Annual goals – this section details the goals that the child can reasonably accomplish in a year. The goals must be measurable so that the team can determine if the goal was achieved or not.  
  • Special education & related services – the IEP must explicitly list the special education and related services that will be provided to the child or on behalf of the child.  
  • Participation with typically developing children – the IEP is required to additionally explain the extent to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and other school activities.  
  • Participation in state and district-wide tests – here the plan states the modifications in administration of any state or district-wide tests. For example, the state of Virginia requires SOL (Standards of Learning) tests to be administered to children throughout their years in the school system. If the child receives any modifications to this testing, it would be stated in this section of the IEP.  
  • Date & places – this section includes the details of the services that will be provided to the child. The IEP must disclose when services will begin, how frequently they will be provided, where they will be provided, and the duration of the services provided.  
  • Transition service needs – this section is designed to outline how the child will be prepared to achieve their post-secondary education goals. 
    • If the child is 14 (or younger depending on the school system), the IEP must address the action the child needs to take to reach their post-school goals.  
    • If the child is 16 (or younger depending on the school system), the IEP must address the transition services the child needs to prepare for leaving school.  
  • Age of majority – at least one year prior to the child reaching the age of majority, which in most states is 18, the child must be told of any rights that will be transferred to them after turning 18. The IEP must include a statement that the student has been told.  
  • Measuring progress – as included above when discussing annual goals, the IEP must include how the student’s progress will be measured and how the parents or legal guardians will be informed of that progress.  

Although each IEP will be different, the above information gives you a brief overview of the contents that must be discussed and included in a child’s Individualized Education Plan. 

How do I get an IEP for my child? 

The general process is fairly straightforward.

  1. The child must be identified as possibly needing special education or services. This identification can be from a school professional or parent. Once requested or identified, the evaluation must be conducted within 60 days. 
  2. The child undergoes an evaluation that identifies their strengths, challenges, disabilities, and needs. The evaluation typically entails:
    • Having the child tested by a psychologist to examine their thought process and problem-solving skills Having the child tested by at least one other professional like a speech therapist Observing the child in a classroom or other school setting 
  3. Based on the 13 eligibility categories listed above, the school determines the child’s eligibility for an IEP.   
  4. If the child is eligible, an IEP team will be assembled to discuss the results of the evaluation.  
  5. The IEP team will meet to create and detail a tailored program of services to meet the child’s needs.  

We encourage parents to document all requests throughout the IEP process. If you speak with someone and verbally request an IEP, it’s useful to always follow up with an email that includes a written request. We also recommend inviting someone you trust to attend the meeting to record notes.

Is an IEP the same thing as a 504?  

The short answer is no, but they are fairly similar. A 504 is requested when a person has a medical condition that has a substantial negative impact on their life’s activities. Thus, certain accommodations are needed for this person to access their environment or education. For example, a wheelchair user needs a ramp to access a building. Similarly, a student with ADHD may need frequent prompts to pay attention and access their education.