What is an IEP?

by | Jun 14, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

As a parent or guardian of a student today, you may have heard the term ‘IEP’ mentioned but don’t fully understand what it means. If your child has been identified as needing an IEP, this is especially for you. Whether your student is in public school full time or just receives services from a neighboring public school and is homeschooled or attends private school, we are sharing all that you need to know in order to navigate the world of IEPs.

What is an IEP?

An IEP (individualized educational plan) is an important part of your child’s educational journey as it provides crucial accommodations and supports tailored to their specific needs. It serves as a legal document that outlines an individual plan for the student detailing how their special education needs will be met through instruction, classroom management, and assessment within the regular school day. I hope to help you better understand what IEPs are, who they benefit, and why they are so important in ensuring every student has equitable access to learning opportunities.

IEP Eligibility

Understanding who qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is crucial when navigating your child’s educational needs. An IEP is designed to provide tailored educational support to students who meet specific criteria outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). To qualify, a student must have a recognized disability that impacts their ability to learn and requires special education services to progress in the general education curriculum.

The first criterion is that the student must have a disability that falls under one of the 13 categories specified in IDEA. The second is that the disability must significantly affect the student’s educational performance. This impact necessitates modifications and accommodations to the learning environment and curriculum to ensure the student can succeed academically.

Eligibility is determined through a comprehensive evaluation process involving assessments by qualified professionals. These assessments evaluate the student’s academic, developmental, and functional performance. Importantly, parents or legal guardians are actively involved in this process, from providing consent for assessments to participating in the development of the IEP. Through this collaborative approach, the goal is to create a supportive educational framework tailored to meet the unique needs of each student.

13 Qualifying Areas

Understanding the 13 qualifying areas under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) can help parents determine if their child is eligible for special education services. Here’s a concise and clear explanation of each area to assist you in navigating this important information.

  1. Autism – A developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
  2. Deaf-Blindness – A combination of hearing and visual impairments causing severe communication, developmental, and educational needs that cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or blindness.
  3. Deafness – A severe hearing impairment that impairs a child’s ability to process linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, and adversely affects educational performance.
  4. Developmental Delay – For children aged 3 through 9, a delay in physical, cognitive, communication, social, emotional, or adaptive development. Each state defines the specifics of “developmental delay.”
  5. Emotional Disturbance – A condition exhibiting one or more specific emotional or behavioral characteristics over a long period, which adversely affects educational performance. This includes anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression.
  6. Hearing Impairment – An impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance but is not included under the definition of “deafness.”
  7. Intellectual Disability – Significantly subaverage intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
  8. Multiple Disabilities – Simultaneous impairments (such as intellectual disability-blindness or intellectual disability-orthopedic impairment), the combination of which causes severe educational needs that cannot be accommodated by special education programs solely for one impairment.
  9. Orthopedic Impairment – A severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. This includes impairments caused by congenital anomaly, disease, and other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations).
  10. Other Health Impairment – Having limited strength, vitality, or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems (such as ADHD, diabetes, epilepsy), which adversely affect a child’s educational performance.
  11. Specific Learning Disability – A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, which may manifest in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations (e.g., dyslexia, dyscalculia).
  12. Speech or Language Impairment – A communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, language impairment, or a voice impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
  13. Traumatic Brain Injury – An acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects educational performance.


Sections of an IEP

An IEP is a legal document in the United States. Legal documents can be intimidating and often hard to understand, so let’s break down what the document contains, section by section. The IEP document typically includes several key components that help to identify the student’s educational needs. These elements include:

  • Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) – This section describes the student’s current level of academic achievement and functional performance in detail. It should be tailored to each student and consider their unique strengths and weaknesses.
  • Measurable Annual Goals – This section defines the student’s academic goals for the year. These goals should be specific, measurable, and achievable within a reasonable timeframe.
  • Special Education Services – This section outlines any special education services the student will receive throughout the school year. It may include accommodations, modifications, or other services.
  • Accommodations/Modifications – This section describes any accommodations or modifications that the student will need to access the general education curriculum.
  • Transition Plan – For students who are 14 years and older, this section outlines a plan for transitioning from special education to postsecondary life. It includes long-term goals and services that can help the student prepare for life after high school.
  • Progress Reporting – This section outlines how progress will be reported and monitored throughout the year. It should include a timeline for reporting progress to parents, guardians, or other stakeholders involved in the student’s education.

The IEP document also includes additional information such as parent/guardian input, timelines for implementation, signatures of the student’s IEP team members, and any other relevant information. It is important that all sections of the IEP are completed accurately and thoroughly in order to ensure that the student receives the best possible education.


Creating the IEP

Creating an effective IEP plan takes time and effort, but it can be an invaluable tool for ensuring that each student receives the individualized education they need and deserve. With a well-crafted IEP, students have access to the services and support they need to reach their educational goals. 

Goals such as high school graduation or college readiness are achievable with an effective IEP plan in place. Creating an IEP is a collaborative process that requires the input of all stakeholders involved in the student’s education. It is important to ensure that all members of the IEP team are working together to create an effective plan that meets the individual needs of the student. This includes regular reviews and updates to make sure that any changes in circumstances or goals are addressed. 

By taking a collaborative approach, parents, guardians, teachers, and administrators can work together to create an effective IEP plan that enables each student to reach their educational goals. This process requires open communication between all stakeholders in order to ensure that each student receives the individualized education they need and deserve.

When creating an IEP plan, it is important to remember that the focus should remain on the needs of the individual student. Every student has unique strengths and weaknesses, and an effective IEP should be tailored to those needs in order to maximize their educational potential. By working together, parents, guardians, teachers, administrators, and other members of the IEP team can create an effective plan that meets the individual needs of every student.


Reviewing the IEP

The IEP document should also be reviewed regularly throughout the school year to ensure it is updated with current information about the student’s needs and progress. This can help to ensure that the student is always receiving the appropriate support and services in order to reach their full educational potential. Regular reviews of this document should involve all stakeholders, including parents/guardians, teachers, administrators, and other members of the IEP team.


How to Advocate for Your Child

Advocating for your child with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) may seem daunting, but it’s essential for ensuring they receive the education and support they need. 

Understanding the Key Challenges

  1. Lack of Personalized Learning Strategies – Many children with IEPs struggle because their learning environment does not cater to their unique needs. Personalized learning strategies are crucial for helping them succeed.
  1. Difficulty Accessing Accommodations and Support Services – Obtaining timely access to necessary accommodations and support services can be a significant hurdle, hindering your child’s ability to learn effectively.
  1. Insufficient Communication and Updates on IEP Progress – Regular updates and clear communication about your child’s IEP progress are vital for making necessary adjustments and ensuring goals are met.
  1. Inconsistent Implementation of the IEP – Ensuring that the IEP is implemented consistently across all academic settings and by all staff members is essential for your child’s success.

Setting Specific Goals

To overcome these challenges, here are some specific goals you should aim to achieve through IEP advocacy:

  • Personalized Strategies: Secure learning strategies tailored to your child’s unique needs and learning style.
  • Timely Access: Ensure your child receives all necessary accommodations and support services promptly.
  • Clear Communication: Establish a clear communication plan with the school, including regular updates on IEP progress and goals.
  • Consistent Implementation: Guarantee that the IEP is consistently implemented across all academic settings and staff.

Effective Advocacy Strategies

  1. Build Collaborative Relationships –Develop strong, collaborative relationships with the IEP team, including teachers, therapists, and administrators. Teamwork is key to success.
  1. Document Challenges – Keep detailed records of your child’s specific challenges and how the current IEP is not meeting those needs. This evidence will support your case for necessary changes.
  1. Research and Present Evidence-Based Strategies – Stay informed about evidence-based strategies and interventions that could benefit your child. Present this research during IEP meetings to advocate for their implementation.
  1. Regular IEP Meetings – Request regular IEP meetings and progress updates to ensure continuous improvement and accountability. This keeps everyone on the same page and focused on your child’s goals.
  1. Seek Professional Support – Consider seeking support from education advocates or professionals specializing in special education law and policy. They can provide valuable guidance and advocacy.
  1. Stay Informed About IDEA – Stay knowledgeable about your child’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Ensure these rights are upheld in all IEP-related decisions.
  1. Encourage Your Child’s Participation – Encourage your child to participate in their own IEP meetings. Their firsthand experiences and goals are invaluable for creating an effective IEP.
  1. Keep Detailed Records – Maintain thorough records of all communications and interactions related to the IEP. This documentation can be crucial if disputes arise or further advocacy is needed.


While attempting to understand your child’s IEP can feel overwhelming, it is an important tool in advocating for your child’s educational needs. By understanding the document, the process, and the challenges, setting clear goals, and employing effective strategies, you can help ensure they receive the personalized support they deserve. Your child’s future is worth every effort you make today!


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