Each back to school season brings about the looming worry of where to even begin preparing. If your child has autism or any other disability and is attending public school, preparing an Individualized Education Program is a good place to start.
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) guides the delivery of special education support and services that a student need to make progress and succeed in school. Each program is designed to be unique to one student and meet their exact needs through structured therapies and educational programs. Creating routine, structure, and annual goals with an IEP is the starting point to ensure your child is meeting their educational milestones successfully.
How Your Child’s Program Is Created
The process begins with a full evaluation of a student’s strengths and weaknesses. Their score shows specific areas your child struggles with and this information allows the IEP team to provide individualized instruction. From these results, you and the school will create a program tailored to your child’s needs.
One of the first decisions the IEP team makes is what type of learning environment your child will be in. Placements depend on the needs of your child. His or her IEP may be carried out in a regular integrated class (with supplementary aids and services, as needed), in a special needs class (where every student in the class is receiving special education services for some or all of the day), in a special needs school, at home, or in another setting.
What Does an IEP Include?
- The student’s present level of performance in school (PLOP) and functional performance
- Measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals
- Progress tracking of the student
- Individualized instruction and related services, such as occupational therapy
- Supports and supplementary aids, such as assistive technology
- Duration of services for the student
- Participation in mainstream classrooms
- Testing accommodations for the student
- Transitional goals and services needed to help the student move from the school environment into a job, vocational program, or other program
Each IEP provides a target for improvement in the skills your child struggles with. Setting SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, and Time-bound – goals are a key element of the program to measure your child’s level of improvement for the year. Ideally, annual goals will look at your child’s strengths and find ways to use those abilities to improve weaknesses.
Navigating IEP Meetings
IEP meetings can be held anytime throughout the school year, and often can be stressful for parents. Meetings will be between the IEP team members, consisting of parents, classroom teachers, a school system representative, special education teacher(s) or provider, and others with knowledge or special expertise about your child. Parents are vital to the IEP team because there are certain aspects of a child that only a parent can know – you may offer insight to how your child learns, talk on their strengths and needs, as well as ideas for enhancing their education.
Preparation and knowing what to expect is key when navigating your child’s program meeting. Come with the tools you have to help, questions you have to ask, and accommodations you’d like to propose.
YOU are the Glue!
You play a key role throughout the IEP process. It is important to stay on top of your child’s program and make sure that they are progressing. At least once a year, the IEP team must review the child’s program and make adjustments accordingly. The team may address the child’s progress or lack of expected progress towards annual goals, information gathered through reevaluation of your child, information the parents and schools shares, etc. or other matters.
If you have concerns, don’t hesitate to ask questions about the evaluation results or the goals recommended by the IEP team. You know your child best and play a central role in creating their plan!