Do You Have A Child With Autism? Learn All About IEP

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Even if you’re just starting out in the world of autism (or your child is somewhere on the spectrum), you may have heard these three initials… IEP. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is an educational program designed specifically for your child by your school district. 

What does IEP really mean? How do I prepare for my child’s first IEP?

The IEP is the educational program that public schools use to coordinate an educational program for all special needs children. When a child turns three, the school district becomes responsible for a child’s special education. The school district will then assess a child and once it is deemed that the child is eligible for special education, the IEP is the meeting between the school district and the parents or guardians to determine the most appropriate educational plan for that child’s school program.

School officials and parents or guardians are supposed to work together, as a “team,” to determine what is most appropriate for that individual child. The child may be placed in an inclusion program (a class that is mostly typical students and five or six “inclusion” students) or a special day class. Services like occupational therapy and speech may be provided by and funded by the school district.

The IEP team should consist of the parent(s) or guardian(s) of the child, any therapists who have worked with the child and can assist the parent(s) or guardian(s) at the meeting, and various school district representatives. The school district representatives should include a General Ed teacher, a Special Ed teacher, a Speech Therapist, an Occupational Therapist, a Physical Ed teacher, a Special Education representative, and the child’s teacher.

What happens the very first time we attend an IEP?

Here’s how my IEP experience went: I was educated about the process about six months BEFORE my child’s first IEP. I was instructed on exactly how parents should approach this very important meeting. I was advised not to take it lightly. What many parents or guardians may not realize is the IEP is really a two part process. It should be two separate meetings. The first meeting is the assessment of the child (the school district team puts the child through very specific tests) and the second is the actual IEP meeting.

My first piece of advice is be very prepared for part one, the assessment. Part one, in my opinion, is more important than part two because when the team meets for part two, the school district has pretty much already decided on your child’s plan. You may object to their decisions, but that will only slow the process of placing your child.

I invited my child’s DDT supervisor, DTT therapist, OT therapist, speech therapist, his regional center case worker, and his Floor-time therapist to the assessment meeting. We were told to bring our own team of supporters to help us through this process. Many people bring an advocate to their IEP, and I highly recommend them as well.

On as side note, the IEP meeting can be adversarial. The ideas you have for your child’s program may be very different from those of the school district. You are more emotionally involved and you know your child better. However, the school district has their own reasons for possibly limiting what they’re willing to offer. You have your agenda, if you will, and they have theirs.

Even though the spirit of the process itself is for everyone to work together for the good of the child, my advice is to bring your own team of supporters. These are the people who also know your child and they can speak to school officials in similar terms that may be unfamiliar to you. The people attending the IEP via your invitation may have attended many other IEPs. They know the “routine.” They should speak to the team on your behalf and in support of your ideas.

What if they can’t come?

Ask them to prepare a report that is as up-to-date as possible. Bring all your current reports to the assessment meeting and bring copies of the reports for all members of the team.

Will they assess our child and tell us what he/she needs?

Yes… and no. If your child has already been evaluated and is already receiving services, bring that information into the assessment meeting. If you are pleased with your child’s current program(s), ask for a continuation of ALL OF THE CURRENT PROGRAMS.

Do not assume that school officials in an IEP are going to volunteer services. Often, you must be the one to bring a request to the table – don’t wait for them to do it!

Have a list of the exact services your child is currently receiving. The number of hours, the number of days per week, the facility, and the type of service. Bring up each service at the assessment meeting and then ask the therapist (if she or he is there) to explain why they believe that service should remain intact. These services can continue to be contracted out to the current facility or (more likely) the school district many have their own, in-house, options.

Sometimes, you may want to ask for services to continue in their current form. For example, soon after we requested to have our behavioral aide continue to work with our child at the school, we learned the difference between a school-provided aide and a behavioral aide. Many school districts do not provide behavioral aides, they simply provide an aide, a person who typically has no education in autism-related behaviors. They are employees assigned to “watch over” a special needs kid. They have little or no training in autism and do not know how to properly our kids let alone how to help in a classroom environment. We fought to have our child’s DTT therapist at school with our child. The school district balked at first but eventually agreed to split the cost with the regional center. Our child had his DTT therapist for three hours a day as his behavioral aide.

At the assessment, your child will be tested for speech, OT, any physical issues, general intelligence, and tests geared to help determine his or her possible inclusion status. The school district wants to know if your child can handle a classroom atmosphere. We requested an inclusion class right away for our child because we were advised that because our child was high functioning and only “mildly” on the spectrum, he was a perfect candidate for an inclusion program. His behaviors were mild and intellectually he could keep up with the class. The other option is a special day class, but again we were advised that special day classes typically have kids with more behaviors and are “higher” on the spectrum than our child.  

I was very organized for our child’s first IEP meeting. I had notes, lists of services, reports, and an exact plan of what we wanted for our child. I had his current schedule as well as two or three options for his future schedule. I also had a fresh notepad so I could take my own notes.

My husband and I were supported by our child’s DTT supervisor, his DTT therapist, and his OT therapist. I had copies of the latest speech evaluations since the speech therapist could not attend. I made sure the regional center case worker also provided a list of current services being provided by the regional center and got permission from her to request at the IEP that the DTT funding be split between the regional center and the school district.

I’m hoping this information about IEPs is helpful. I don’t want anyone to ever go through a bad IEP! My theory is to always share my knowledge and experience, just like the knowledge and experience that had been shared with me before our child’s first IEP.

How did it go for us? The only thing we didn’t get was a continuation of speech at the regional center-provided facility. The school district wanted to provide speech in house. We agreed. Everything else went very smoothly. Best of all, my husband and I immediately established with the school district that we were well-informed and well-educated parents. We earned the respect of the school district representatives right away because we were prepared, we had learned the “lingo,” and we brought reinforcements!

For my next post, I’ll discuss how to make sure that what’s in your child’s IEP is actually happening.

Note: The information in this post is based on my experience with IEP in California – the programs can vary from state to state.

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