Developing an individualized education program (IEP) for your child can be an extremely overwhelming task. There are many different methods, models, and recommendations suggesting the best way to go about it.
The goal of this article is not to proffer up yet another new model, but to synthesize some of the best recommendations into a clear and coherent step-by-step plan.
Step 1: Determine Time Constraints
Before diving into creating an IEP for your child, it will be helpful to set a realistic sense of how much time you’ll have to devote to planning. This doesn’t necessarily mean that if you don’t have the time your child is worse off, just that you may want to consider other options, such as hiring an educational consultant to help formulate the plan with you.
Be honest with yourself about what else is going on in your life. Adding something that will only cause you, and ultimately your child, more stress won’t prove useful or beneficial in the long run.
Step 2: Define SMART Goals
Because the IEP is so important for your child, particularly if he or she attends a public school, it can seem daunting to begin formulating a cohesive plan. Thinking about the goals of the plan in a SMART format can help provide some structure and a place to begin.
SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Relevant. Thinking about your child’s educational goals before attending the more formal IEP meeting will allow you to advocate on his or her behalf when the time is right. Try to talk with your child, considering strengths and weaknesses, to determine what’s important to him or her—and what you know he or she may need as part of the plan. Below is an example of some SMART goals:
Specific: I want my child to increase his reading ability and read at an eighth-grade level by the end of the year.
Measurable: Success for this goal will be defined by how well my child is able to comprehend the material he reads, and how productive he is with his studies.
Achievable: Since my child currently reads at a seventh-grade level, but should be reading at an eighth-grade level, I believe this goal is attainable.
Relevant: My child has expressed dissatisfaction and embarrassment at his abilities relative to his classmates’—I know it is important to both of us that he reaches this goal.
By defining the goal, you can help add value and meaning, making it more tangible. If you consider these SMART principles when thinking about your child’s IEP, you’ll likely have a firmer grasp on things when it comes time to meet about his or her plan.
Step 3: Meet with Key Players
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that governs the IEP stipulates certain people must be part of the IEP team. Below are some people you can expect to be present at these meetings (many times one person may play multiple roles):
- Your child (if you and your child decide he or she should be present)
- School administrator
- General and special education teachers
- Evaluation person (someone who knows the results of your child’s educational evaluation)
When meeting with these individuals, it will be important to iron out certain details beforehand: where the meeting will be and when, who will be in attendance, the purpose of the meeting, etc. By law, schools are bound to disclose this information in writing prior to the IEP meeting.
During the meeting, a plan will be developed and/or reviewed. You and the other members of the meeting will generate an IEP that is fitting for your child and the goals you’ve developed. You can expect to talk about several things during the meeting, but the largest points will be your child’s academic performance, special education evaluation results, concerns and weak areas, and last but not least, your child’s strengths.
All of this information will feed into the ultimate plan.
Step 4: Create and Review Plan
After a plan is created, it must be officially turned into an IEP document—these may look different depending on school districts or states. For more information on what must be included in every plan visit http://www.parentcenterhub.org/pa12/.
Many times the IEP document, as large as it is, is created during the meeting and you may be asked to sign at the end of the meeting—this time frame is not required. It is completely okay to think about the plan before signing anything and it will not void what was discussed in the IEP meeting. Be sure that you, your spouse, and your child feel comfortable with the IEP before setting anything in stone.
There are many nuances and intricacies that go into the information required in an IEP plan, and there are many resources online that can help. However, if you are feeling overwhelmed or under water, it might be best to find an education consultant who can help you navigate.