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4 tips for parents to get the individualized out of IEP

Parents are natural advocates for their children
Parents are natural advocates for their children
Photo by Pavel Losevsky/Photoxpress

Individualized special education programs (IEP) are designed to meet a child’s unique educational needs.

Individualized plans may be time-intensive, difficult to administer, and require more resources for a school district, but are crucial for academic success. In fact, school districts are required by law to provide each child with an IEP specifically addressing unique needs.

An IEP includes sections such as present levels of performance, Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), etc. While these are important, a section not to overlook is the related services section.

Related services include therapies such as speech therapy, physical therapy, etc. Qualifying for Related Services is just one part of the equation – determining how much, how often, where, and by whom are crucial decisions all too often overlooked.

The bottom line is parents are in the best position to advocate for their child’s related services in the IEP. Here are four tips:

Be Proactive
Proactive parents will have the most success ensuring their child’s individual needs are met. To be proactive, parents need to plan before the IEP meeting. Successful parents know what their child needs and how the school system operates.

Be Prepared
Proactive parents prepare in advance of the IEP meeting. Independent evaluations are conducted if necessary, and supplemental documentation from related professionals (e.g., licensed speech pathologist) have been gathered outlining their child’s needs and recommended services.

Be an Active Participant
Many parents find themselves unsure of the rules and engagement in an IEP meeting but frankly, parents know their child better than anyone. Parents, as a successful advocate, will play an active role in determining what services, how often, how much, etc. are provided to their child.

Be Persistent
Special education is expensive and in the business of running schools, bills must be paid, pupils and teachers accounted, and the bottom line met. Disagreements will occur deciding appropriate services; what matters is how parents respond. That is, responding with documented evidence to support an argument is an effective strategy.

For example, how much speech therapy should a child receive per week? The Illinois State Board of Education published a Speech/Language Eligibility Criteria Matrix describing how much therapy is recommended based on the severity of the speech disability. Parents can bring this matrix to the IEP meeting to support their rationale for a particular amount or type of therapy.

To ensure an IEP is individualized remember the four P’s: Proactive, Prepare, Participate and Persistence. 

If you have a question or a topic for Dr. Barrett to research and report on, please email Dr. Barrett.


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