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Frequently Asked Questions About Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)

This article will answer many questions about your child's IEP.
To learn more about IEPs, visit the IEP Page.

For more resources, including IEP checklists, please visit

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1. My child is eligible. What next?

 8. What are related services?
2. What is an IEP?  9. What are special factors?
3. What information is in an IEP?
10. What is assistive technology?
4. Who develops my child's IEP? 11. How is placement decided?
5. So I can help develop my child's IEP? 12. What options do I have?
6. What to do before the IEP meeting? 13. What about placement?
7. What happens at an IEP meeting? 14. Can my child's IEP be changed?

1. My child has been found eligible for special education. What happens next?

The next step is to write what is known as an Individualized Education Program—usually called an IEP. After a child is found eligible, a meeting must be held within 30 days to develop to the IEP.
2. What is an Individualized Education Program?
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written statement of the educational program designed to meet a child's individual needs. Every child who receives special education services must have an IEP.

The IEP has two general purposes: 
(1) to set reasonable learning goals for your child; and 
(2) to state the services that the school district will provide for your child.

3. What type of information is included in an IEP?
According to the IDEA, your child's IEP must include specific statements about your child. These are listed below. Take a moment to read over this list. This will be the information included in your child's IEP.

Your child's IEP will contain the following statements:

a. Present levels of academic achievement and functional performance.
This statement describes how your child is currently doing in school. This includes information about how your child's disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the general curriculum. 

b. Annual goals.
The IEP must state annual goals, including academic and functional goals, for your child, meaning what you and the school team think he or she can reasonably accomplish in a year. The goals must relate to meeting the needs that result from your child's disability. They must also help your son or daughter be involved in and progress in the general curriculum. 

c. Measuring progress.
The IEP must state how school personnel will measure your child's progress toward the annual goals.
It must also state how and when you, as parents, will be informed regularly of your child's progress and whether that progress is enough to enable your child to achieve his or her goals by the end of the year.

d. Special education and related services to be provided.
The IEP must list the special education and related services to be provided to your child to make progress in the general curriculum and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities. This includes supplementary aids and services (such as a communication device). It also includes changes to the program or supports for school personnel that will be provided for your child. 

e. Participation with nondisabled children.
How much of the school day will your child be educated separately from nondisabled children or not participate in extracurricular or other nonacademic activities such as lunch or clubs? The IEP must include an explanation that answers this question. 

f. Participation in state and district-wide assessments.
Your state and district probably give tests of student achievement to children in certain grades or age groups. In order to participate in these tests, your child may need individual modifications or changes in how the tests are administered. The IEP team must decide what modifications your child needs and list them in the IEP. If your child will not be taking these tests but will take an alternate assessment, the IEP must include a statement as to why the tests are not appropriate for your child and how your child will be tested instead. 

g. Dates and location.
The IEP must state 
(a) when services and modifications will begin; 
(b) how often they will be provided; 
(c) where they will be provided; and 
(d) how long they will last. 
h. Transition services.
No later than when your child is 16, the IEP must include measurable postsecondary goals related to training, education, employment, and (when appropriate) independent living skills. Also included are the transition services needed to help your child reach those goals, including what your child should study.

Your Child's Participation in the General Curriculum

It is very important that children with disabilities participate in the general curriculum as much as possible. That is, they should learn the same curriculum as nondisabled children, for example, reading, math, science, social studies, and physical education, just as nondisabled children do. In some cases, this curriculum may need to be adapted for your child to learn, but it should not be omitted altogether. Participation in extracurricular activities and other nonacademic activities is also important. Your child's IEP needs to be written with this in mind.

For example, what special education services will help your child participate in the general curriculum—in other words, to study what other students are studying? What special education services or supports will help your child take part in extracurricular activities such as school clubs or sports? When your child's IEP is developed, an important part of the discussion will be how to help your child take part in regular classes and activities in the school.


4. Who develops my child's IEP?

Many people come together to develop your child's IEP. This group is called the IEP team and includes many of the individuals wo were involved in your child's evaluation. Team members will include:
a. you, the parents
b. at least one regular education teacher, if your child is (or may be) participating in the regular education environment; 
c. at least one of your child's special education teachers or special education providers
d. a representative of the public agency (school system) who
(a) is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education,
(b) knows about the general curriculum; and
(c) knows about the resources the school system has available; 
e. an individual who can interpret the evaluation results and talk about what instruction may be necessary for your child; 
f. your child, when appropriate; 
g. representatives from any other agencies that may be responsible for paying for or providing transition services (if your child is 16 years or, if appropriate, younger); and 
h. other individuals (invited by you or the school) who have knowledge or special expertise about your child. For example, you may wish to invite a relative who is close to the child or a child care provider.
Together, these people will work as a team to develop your child's IEP.

5. So I can help develop my child's IEP?

Yes, absolutely. The law is very clear that parents have the right to participate in developing their child's IEP. In fact, your input is invaluable. You know your child so very well, and the school needs to know your insights and concerns.

The school staff will try to schedule the IEP meeting at a time that is convenient for all team members to attend. If the school suggests a time that is impossible for you, explain your schedule and needs. It's important that you attend this meeting and share your ideas about your child's needs and strengths. Often, another time or date can be arranged. However, if you cannot agree on a time or date, the school may hold the IEP meeting without you. In this event, the school must keep you informed, for example, by phone or mail.

6. What should I do before the IEP meeting?
The purpose of the IEP meeting is to develop your child's Individualized Education Program. You can prepare for this meeting by: 
a. making a list of your child's strengths and weaknesses, 
b. talking to teachers and/or therapists and getting their thoughts about your child, 
c. visiting your child's class and perhaps other classes that may be helpful to him or her, and 
d. talking to your child about his or her feelings toward school. 
It is a good idea to write down what you think your child can accomplish during the school year. It also helps to make notes about what you would like to say during the meeting. 
7. What happens during an IEP meeting?
During the IEP meeting, the different members of the IEP team share their thoughts and suggestions. If this is the first IEP meeting after your child's evaluation, the team may go over the evaluation results, so your child's strengths and needs will be clear. These results will help the team decide what special help your child needs in school.

Remember that you are a very important part of the IEP team. You know your child better than anyone. Don't be shy about speaking up, even though there may be a lot of other people at the meeting. Share what you know about your child and what you wish others to know.

After the various team members (including you, the parent) have shared their thoughts and concerns about your child, the group will have a better idea of your child's strengths and needs. This will allow the team to discuss and decide on: 

a. the educational and other goals that are appropriate for your child; and 
b. the type of special education services your child needs.

8. What are related services? 

The IEP team will also talk about the related services your child may need to benefit from his or her special education. The IDEA lists many related services that schools must provide if eligible children need them. The related services listed in IDEA are presented between the dashed lines below. Examples of related services include:
a. occupational therapy which can help a child develop or regain movement that he or she may have lost due to injury or illness; and 
b. speech therapy (called speech-language pathology) which can help children who have trouble speaking.
Related Services as listed in IDEA

a. Transportation 
b. Speech-language pathology 
c. Audiology services 
d. Psychological services
e. interpreting services
f. Physical therapy 
g. Occupational therapy 
h. Recreation (including therapeutic recreation) 
i. Early identification and assessment of disabilities in children 
j. Counseling services (including rehabilitation counseling) 
k. Orientation & mobility services 
l. Medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes 
m. School health services 
n. Social work services in schools 
o. Parent counseling & training

This list does not include every related service a child might need or that a school system may offer

9. What are special factors? 

Depending on the needs of your child, the IEP team may also discuss the special factors listed below:
a. If your child's behavior's interferes with his or her learning or the learning of others: The IEP team will talk about strategies and supports to address your child's behavior. 

b. If your child has limited proficiency in English: The IEP team will talk about your child's language needs as these needs relate to his or her IEP. 

c. If your child is blind or visually impaired: The IEP team must provide for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille, unless it determines after an appropriate evaluation that your child does not need this instruction. 

d. If your child has communication needs: The IEP team must consider those needs. 

e. If your child is deaf or hard of hearing: The IEP team will consider your child's language and communication needs. This includes your child's opportunities to communicate directly with classmates and school staff in his or her usual method of communication (for example, sign language). 


10. What is assistive technology?

The IEP team will also talk about whether your child needs any assistive technology devices or services.

Assistive technology devices
can help many children do certain activities or tasks. Examples of these devices are:

a. devices that make the words bigger on the computer screen or that "read" the typed words aloud—which can help children who do not see well; 
b. electronic talking boards—which can help students who have trouble speaking; and 
c. computers and special programs for the computer—which can help students with all kinds of disabilities learn more easily.

Assistive technology services include evaluating your child to see if he or she could benefit from using an assistive device. These services also include providing the devices and training your child (or your family or the professionals who work with your child) to use the device. 

As you can see, there are a lot of important matters to talk about in an IEP meeting. You may feel very emotional during the meeting, as everyone talks about your child's needs. Try to keep in mind that the other team members are all there to help your child. If you hear something about your child which surprises you, or which is different from the way you see your child, bring this to the attention of the other members of the team. In order to design a good program for your child, it is important to work closely with the other team members and share your feelings about your child's educational needs. 

Feel free to ask questions and offer opinions and suggestions

11. How is my child’s placement decided? 
Based on the above discussions, the IEP team will then write your child's IEP. This includes the services and supports the school will provide for your child. It will also include the location where particular services will be provided. 

Your child's placement (where the IEP will be carried out) will be determined every year, must be based on your child's IEP, and must be as close as possible to your child's home

The placement decision is made by a group of persons, including you the parent, and others knowledgeable about your child, the meaning of the evaluation data, and the placement options. In some states, the IEP team makes the placement decision. In other states, the placement decision is made by another group of people. 

In all cases, you as parents have the right to be members of the group that makes decisions on the educational placement of your child


12. What placement options do I have?

Depending on the needs of your child and the services to be provided, your child's IEP could be carried out:
a. in regular classes
b. in special classes (where all the students are receiving special education services), 
c. in special schools
d. at home
e. in hospitals and institutions, and 
f. in other settings.
13. Which of these placements is best suited for your child? 
Can he or she be educated in the regular classroom, with supplementary aids and services? (The IDEA prefers this placement.) If not, then the placement group will look at other placements for your child. 

Before the school system can provide your child with special education for the first time, you, as parents, must give your written consent.

14. Can my child's IEP be changed?
Yes. At least once a year a meeting must be scheduled with you to review your child's progress and develop your child's next IEP. The meeting will be similar to the IEP meeting described above. The team will talk about:
a. your child's progress toward the goals in the current IEP, 
b. what new goals should be added, and 
c. whether any changes need to be made to the special education and related services your child receives.
This annual IEP meeting allows you and the school to review your child's educational program and change it as necessary. 

But you don't have to wait for this annual review. You (or any other team member) may ask to have your child's IEP reviewed or revised at any time

For example, you may feel that your child is not making good progress toward his or her annual goals. Or you may want to write new goals, because your son or daughter has made such great progress! 

Call the principal of the school, or the special education director or your child's teacher, and express your concerns. If necessary, they will call the IEP team together to talk about changing your child's IEP.


IEP Page


These questions and answers are from "Briefing Paper: Questions Often Asked About Special Education Services" published by the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY)

NICHCY publishes many articles about special education. We suggest that you visit the NICHCY site for more information about special education, disabilities, IEPs, letter writing, and other important topics. 

National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities
P.O. Box 1492
Washington, DC 20013
1-800-695-0285 (Voice/TTY)
Staff members are available to answer questions and provide help.


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