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  • Emily Herriman, BSW

Individualized Education Plans (IEP): 5 Common Questions Answered

Updated: Jan 8

Is your child struggling in school? Do you wish your child had the opportunity to receive more individual attention or a curriculum better tailored his or her needs? While this situation can be tremendously frustrating for parents, there is a solution. IEP's (Individualized Education Plans) were developed in an effort to help students with specific learning needs reach their full potential and may be a beneficial option for your child. We would like to share 5 key points you need to understand when considering applying for an IEP.

What is an Individualized Education Program?

An Individualized Education Plan, also known as an IEP, creates a specific plan for you child both inside and outside of the classroom. This plan better tailors the curriculum to your child's needs by providing additional teacher or paraprofessional support, out-of-classroom tutoring, extended testing time and other services your child may require. While special education teachers are typically involved in the process, the majority of learning often remains in his or her original classroom. Other support programs, such as speech therapy and occupational therapy may be involved. Documenting an IEP may allow your child's school to be approved for additional state resources. Parents benefits from a happier and more academically successful child, teachers receive more specific direction and help, schools qualify for additional resources and children receive more individualized instruction. Everyone wins.

Why apply for an IEP?

The simple answer is to help your child be more successful in his or her academic career. Still, many parents are hesitant to consider an IEP because of a perceived stigma attached to the program. In truth, ignoring the problem can make things worse as it becomes increasingly obvious to teachers and other students when a child is struggling. Additionally, schools make an effort to discretely implement each portion of the plan to reduce or eliminate any potentially disruptive effects. Because an IEP is individualized to each student, you may choose to be involved in the discussion as to how the plan is implemented. You very likely want what every parent wants, for your child to be happy and successful. Children who are struggling in school may be less apt to pursue advanced degrees or be at higher risk for anxiety or depression. While applying for an IEP may be a big decision, the benefits can be tremendous and an IEP should certainly worth considering.

"When properly implemented, the vast majority of children feel very positive about the additional help they are receiving and very few complain of issues surrounding social stigma. Because IEP's are so discretely implemented, you will probably be shocked to learn how many students currently have one in place."

Who qualifies for an IEP?

There are specific behaviors and diagnoses to consider when applying for an IEP. In a nutshell, your child must be struggling with specific academic challenges that are present in a setting that fails to provide him or her with the proper atmosphere to learn. While diagnoses such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety or pervasive developmental delays are readily accepted, the truth is that any child who is struggling academically should be considered for an IEP. The first step is to arrange a discussion with your child's teacher. You may find that scheduling a conference may be more productive than pulling your child's teacher aside before or after school. Likewise, it is much easier to deny a request over text or email, so a face-to-face discussion would be preferred. Once the decision has been made to more seriously pursue an IEP, your child will need to be assessed for specific learning disorders or medical issues which could be causing him or her to struggle.

How and where can testing for an IEP be completed?

To start, there may be specific assessments that your child’s school may request you pursue. Some of these tests may be conducted by a school psychologist, special education teacher or speech therapist. Unfortunately, not all schools have the resources to conduct testing in a timely manner. Your primary care physician may help by placing a referral to speech therapy or occupational therapy. Hearing and vision assessments may also be completed by your child's physician. You should also discuss medical issues, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism and sleep apnea with your child's doctor. We also feel an assessment for ADHD, anxiety and depression by a licensed psychologist is paramount when considering applying for an IEP.

How is an IEP implemented?

After a qualifying diagnosis is made, the last step of an IEP is to map out which resources and accommodations would beneficial. You will work with your child's teacher and principal to take advantage of additional resources in a way that is minimally disruptive to his her her school experience. The best way to keep up with your child’s progress is to check in with his or her teacher. An IEP can and should be adjusted throughout your child's academic career. We recommend you request and read your child's progress reports - don't be afraid to be involved. Remember, IEP's require regular documentation of specific educational goals, which you have the right to review.

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Written by Emily Herriman, BSW