If you have a child with a disability, he or she may qualify for an IEP (individualized education program) that begins at birth and follows that child through the age of 21. You may get a referral from your child’s pediatrician who notices some developmental delays that may require special help or you may notice that your child needs more individualized attention to be successful in school. Your child is legally covered by IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to get that help.
Once it’s established that your child qualifies, the next thing that you will want to do is an IEP. To do this, an IEP team is formed. This will include you (the child’s parents), your child’s teacher, a special education teacher, a school psychologist (or equivalent), and an administrator such as a principal or vice principal. Together you will decide what the needs are of the child.
The first thing that will be discussed is where the child is presently. The next things to discuss are goals for that school year. The goals created on the IEP need to be measurable goals that will be monitored throughout the school year. There are often deadlines attached that may include monthly goals or semester goals. The team will discuss what services are needed including special education services and supplementary aides (sometimes called shadows). It will also be decided in what environment the child will learn best; is better for him or her to spend time in the regular classroom? If so, how much time? You’ll also want to discuss how the child will spend his or her time when he or she cannot participate in the same activities as classmates (such as PE if the child is physically disabled).
As a parent, it’s important to know that your opinion matters. Some schools will be reluctant to work with you extensively on IEPs. They will tell you an IEP isn’t needed or that your child requires less services than you believe are needed. You are your child’s advocate, so it’s important to stand up for his or her needs.