What can I expect from the IEP process?
Real Mom Problem
“Does your kid have an IEP? How did it work for your child? What can I expect?”
- 1. An IEP is an Individualized Education Program that provides assistance to children with special learning needs
- 2. The IEP process can be lengthy and involves tests, evaluations, and paperwork
- 3. Depending on your child's needs, services might be provided in the regular classroom, or in special resource rooms
- 4. IEPs can be an effective way to get your child special accommodations that will lead to better success in school
- 5. If you do not agree with any portion of an IEP, you do not have to sign it
- 6. An IEP can be assessed and altered as your child's needs change
Real Mom Solutions
It can feel overwhelming trying to get your child the help he or she needs in school. Let the experienced moms of CafeMom guide you through the process.
These Moms Share How it Works
When my son had his initial evaluation done, the psychologist evaluated him, but not for a specific disorder. He was diagnosed with PDD, ODD, and learning disabilities. The psychologist also recommended what services he would need. The evaluation took about one-and-a-half hours. I had to fill out a questionnaire and the classroom teacher had to fill one out as well. I also had to write a detailed history of his behavior, and his medical history. They also looked at his school history (grades, behavior, etc.). It took about 2-3 weeks after the evaluation for us to have a meeting to get the results. From there we scheduled the IEP to start implementing all of the things the psychologist recommended.
The school will do their own evaluations. They then will call a meeting of principals, teachers, counselors, therapists, and the parents to agree on what cource of action take. Wrightlaw.com is a good resource tool to help you understand your child's rights and the school's responsibility. If you don't understand or agree with anything, don't sign the IEP. You can also ask for an advocate for you and your child if nothing can be agreed on.
The process may take awhile, and they will probably have you fill out papers and ask you lots of questions. They will do the same with his teachers, etc. They will probably test him in many areas too, like IQ, self-help skills, language skills, etc. They can look for many different types of disabilities. Once they have all this testing done, which can take a few months, they will call another meeting and discuss their findings with you. At this time you all, as a team, will put together his IEP. The school cannot diagnosis your child though. They can offer suggestions, and give some therapies through the school, but often what they give aren't enough and the child could benefit from more therapies outside of school. If you want these services you will need to get a referral to see a developmental pediatrician who can give you the "official" diagnosis. The process can be long and I hate to say it, but a little depressing because they do focus so much of everything on the child's weaknesses. But in the end it usually helps them.
Be aware that getting the IEP may take time. All three of my kids have had one IEP meeting or another in their lifetimes. My oldest is 10 and has had an IEP in place since he was three. I had to fill out a questionnaire asking about everything from what my pregnancy and birth was to what he likes to do with his free time. If you get an evaluation done by the school psychologist he/she will have another questionnaire for you as well. My son has PDD-NOS. He's socially awkward, does not filter out what he says. His IEP has him in special day classes, gives him curb-to-curb bus service, and shows that he has behavior problems, and learning disabilities as well as his PDD-NOS, and that he is epileptic. It's long, sometimes complicated, but needed so he can get what he needs in school.
A Teacher Explains the Process
I'm a teacher, so I've navigated through the IEP world from the other side, and maybe I can help you with what you need. An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan, and it is usually used to help students with documented learning disabilities. Sometimes those students also have behavioral/mental health concerns. Now, in terms of getting help for your child, it's unfortunately not as simple as requesting an IEP. There is significant legislation written on these subjects and long lists of protocols to be followed, and although it can get frustrating, it's a necessary process to follow. Essentially the goal of the process is to help your child succeed with the minimal amount of intervention possible. So, at first, the school will try to accommodate your child without any written plans, and this period will probably go on for several weeks while they try different things. Next, if that's not working, the school may consider writing evaluations and testing for your child. Next, they would consider, and possibly attempt, a 504 plan. And then, if there are findings that would imply the Special Education Department should be involved, an IEP may be considered. Overall, this process can take months, but if the school doesn't follow the process to the letter, there can be consequences (there have been several legal reforms related to this process and schools do get audited on how they implement it, so although it irritates a lot of parents, it is a process they have to adhere to).
An independent evaluation may speed the process up; however, it usually only helps if you get a documented diagnosis that would lead you straight to a 504/IEP. Even if you do have that diagnosis, the school is still going to do some of its own evaluations, so you wouldn't completely bypass that process by doing one independently, and it will still take some time.
My suggestion would be that if the school has a psychologist, social worker, or guidance counselor on staff, contact him or her and set up an appointment to discuss your child's situation. If a teacher is unsure how to handle the situation, a school psychologist may have some experience and good advice for the teacher, which could have an immediate impact and make the situation a lot better. Also, the school psychologist can talk to your child and observe him in the classroom, which will provide a lot of important insight into the situation. If he/she sees something that warrants further evaluation, then the psychologist can make the request, and that may speed up the process.
I hope this helps. I know it can be terrible to watch your child when he's miserable and not be able to do anything about it.
Plus: Understanding Your Rights
The teacher is NOT the expert, your child's doctor is. The doctor gives the diagnosis and the school then gives services to accommodate him. DO NOT sign that IEP if you aren't happy with what they say! You have 15 days to sign, disagree, amend, or appeal it! Before I had an aide in place for my son, I was so sick and tired of the "experts" telling me what was wrong and doing nothing but writing big words on his IEP that were never implemented. So, when I returned it UNSIGNED, I had crossed out what was ridiculous and unfair and wrote what I wanted and situations that weren't handled well with him. The CST director was so impressed with the mess I made, that he and I are now friends and I am the president of the parent support group at our school.
If you are NOT in agreement with the IEP - DO NOT SIGN IT. Contact an advocate agency of you can to get more info about what to do when you are not in agreement with the IEP. You can also request another IEP in the middle of the year if you feel a need to do so. It is your right. See "Wright's Law."
Don't sign anything until you are comfortable. Also do NOT let a teacher diagnose your child. I hear this time and time again and they have NO AUTHORITY to diagnose your child. They are not medical or psychological professionals.
You would think that your rights are obvious, but unfortunately they need to be specified and defined. The school district has to provide you with information regarding your rights during the IEP meeting, this is law. Here is a website that might help with understanding what an IEP is: http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/learning/iep.html. Behavior plans are a part of an IEP, they help define your goals. If they are not part of the IEP then the school can make changes without notifying you, this is bad. An IEP can be appealed. However, it shouldn't get to that point. In order for an IEP to be official, YOU must sign it. So be aware of what you are signing. Demand a copy before you leave, you have that right. One last word - you don't have to have the meeting when they say so. IEP meetings are scheduled to the convenience of the ENTIRE IEP team, of which you are a member. So, if your husband wants to attend but can't get the time off that quickly, you can tell them they need to reschedule, for example. Also, IEP meetings CANNOT be held without the presence of at least one parent, and IEPs CANNOT be changed without the parent's approval.