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It's National Special Education Day! Get the 411 on IEPs

It's National Special Education Day! Get the 411 on IEPs

Today is National Special Education Day, which commemorates the anniversary of our country's first federal education law. When the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (originally known as the Education of Handicapped Children Act) was signed by President Ford on December 2, 1975, it made public education available to all eligible children with disabilities and ensured they were provided the special education and related services they needed. 

In the United States, students who qualify for special education have an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which provides individualized teaching and other resources at no cost to their families. If you've heard the term "IEP" but aren't familiar with what it entails, here’s a quick rundown of what they are, why your child might need one, how they’re developed and who you might be working with as part of a collaborative team to help your child.

What are they?

IEPs are special services that public schools provide to children with learning struggles, developmental delays or other special needs, at no cost to you. They are specific, well-developed plans tailored to your child’s needs to help them succeed in school.

Why would my child need one?

IEPs can be for just about any delay or disability; speech, ADHD, autism, visual impairments, emotional disorders or learning disabilities, to name a few. In general, if a child is identified as struggling, delayed or “special needs,” they’re likely a candidate for these free services.

How are they developed?

If you or your child’s teacher are concerned about one or more issues your child is exhibiting, you can choose to have your child assessed by a group of professionals. This “team” may include a vision specialist, a speech therapist, a hearing specialist, an occupational therapist, a psychologist and/or a physical therapist.

The results of each team member’s assessment are compiled into a comprehensive evaluation report (CER). The CER will share their findings, advice for short-term and annual goals, and possibly an educational classification.

You and the teacher will then have a meeting with the team to discuss the CER and what everyone’s roles (including yours) will be.

How are they delivered?

IEP services are provided to students in a number of different settings. In many cases, children can receive extra assistance as part of a group of students who share similar struggles. These group services may be provided in the classroom (e.g., off to the side during reading or math instruction) or in a separate room.

Some students receive individual instruction, such as those who struggle with articulation. In those cases, a specially trained teacher (e.g., a speech pathologist) may come in once or twice a week to work with your child, often in the hall or a separate room.

Your child’s IEP can be changed at any point if you feel as though they need different, more or fewer services. Some IEPs, such as those for speech, may only require a couple months of services.

If you would like to have your child assessed, talk to your child’s teacher or contact your school to request an appointment.