A Parent Guide to Demystifying Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)

Author: Ginette Rhodes

Every human mind is uniquely different. People come in many shapes and sizes with equally different ways of thinking and brain functionality. One of the key goals of the term neurodiversity is to remove the negative stigma surrounding varied brain functionality. This approach provides a framework for recognizing and embracing the unique ways children think, learn, and process information.

Today, about 1 in 5 children have brain development variations, including but not limited to ADHD, autism, and dyslexia. Making it critical for parents to equip their families with the appropriate resources and support necessary to advocate for their child(ren’s) educational needs. Individual Learning Plans (IEPs) help remove learning barriers in the classroom. Let’s explore more about IEPs with the Coalition’s Educational Advocate, Jefferic Hibbler:

Hi Jefferic! We’ve compiled a list of common questions surrounding IEPs for neurodiverse children.

Q: What’s an IEP?

A: An IEP or Individualized Education Program is a document used to outline and provide support and services to students who meet the eligibility criteria for special education services.

Q: What’s the purpose of an IEP?

A: The purpose of an IEP is to provide a detailed overview of a student’s specific disability(ies), progress, goals, supports, services, accommodations, and modifications used to aid the student in their educational environment. Additionally, this document serves as a progress monitoring tool reviewed annually to determine if a student is on track to meet their specific goals with the services and supports in place and determine if additional adjustments are needed to facilitate improvement.

Q: How do children benefit from IEPs?

A: Children with IEPs benefit from access to targeted supports and services that are designed to facilitate their success in school, allowing them to maintain confidence in themselves and their ability to be successful when it comes to school.

Q: What makes a quality IEP?

A: A quality IEP is developed specifically for a student and includes effective supports and services targeted to help improve a student’s specific deficits in a school environment. It involves thoughtful and effective planning from the IEP Team. It addresses a child’s deficits and needs through SMART Goals, supports and services targeted towards the disability, and accommodations and modifications that are useful across all classroom settings.

Q: How can parents best prepare for IEP meetings?

A: Parents can best prepare for IEP Meetings by reflecting on their child’s progress in school and writing down their specific questions, comments, and concerns regarding their child’s educational needs so that they can be addressed in the meeting. If the child has an IEP in place, parents should also review this document to determine if they have any questions or concerns that they would like to address with the IEP Team.

Q: What is a common challenge with IEPs?

A: One common challenge with IEPs is ensuring that all the accommodations and modifications listed in the document are followed by every one of the student’s teachers. Unfortunately, even though teachers are provided a copy of this document once it is finalized, some general education teachers can find it challenging to provide those outlined supports without reminders or support from special education teachers or service providers.

Another common challenge with IEPs is ensuring that parents, caregivers, and individuals outside of the realm of special education understand the details of the document and how it is used to support a student. IEPs are comprehensive and include a lot of information which can be confusing when the document is provided with no or a limited explanation.

Q: Common misconceptions about IEPs?

A: One misconception about IEPs is that it is only available for students with academic deficits. IEPs can also be provided to students who have a qualifying social-emotional or health impairments that affect a student’s ability to access education in the same way as their peers who do not have these challenges.

Q: What’s the difference between a 504 vs an IEP?

A: Outside of the legal origins of both documents, the most notable difference between a 504 and an IEP is that a 504 typically involves providing a semi-limited range of accommodations and supports in the learning environment for students with a wide range of disabilities, while an IEP offers a wide range of accommodations, modifications, special education services, and related support services designed to address the needs of students who meet the eligibility criteria for 13 specific disabilities categories.


Contact Educational Advocacy for Comprehensive Support

If your child is experiencing an educational “barrier”- something getting in the way of a child’s educational success or access, or you have questions about the resources provided by Educational Advocacy, please contact:

Risharda Parker, Director of Educational Advocacy – 800.FOSTER.3 (314.367.8373)

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