The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that all children in the U.S. have a right to a “free appropriate public education.”
For children with autism and children with certain other disabilities, this act mandates the creation of an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Each IEP is designed for one child. Its purpose is to meet that child’s specific special education needs. It sets goals and objectives and describes what services a child will receive as part of their special education program.
Who determines eligibility for an IEP?
Before an IEP can be created for a child with autism, there is a process to determine whether they are eligible for special education.
To start the process, your child needs to be evaluated for a disability. That includes autism spectrum disorder or ASD. Either you as a parent or an educational professional in your child’s school district needs to request evaluation. If the district makes the request, your consent is needed before the evaluation can be done.
Professionals within your child’s district are usually the ones who do the evaluation, but it can also be done by a developmental pediatrician or psychologist.The evaluation is what determines that your child is eligible for special education. It also helps identify the special services your child might need.
If you think your child’s evaluation isn’t accurate, you can ask for an independent evaluation. That will be done by a professional from outside the school district. Your child’s district may pay for that evaluation.
If the evaluation shows your child needs special education or services, creating an Individualized Education Program is the next step. The IEP will be tailored to your child’s needs and abilities.
What is the process for creating an IEP?
The next step after evaluation is the IEP meeting, which is required by law. The Individualized Education Program is supposed to address all aspects of your child’s education. So, a number of different people will need to attend the meeting. At the very least, the meeting should include you, your child’s teacher, and a special education teacher. Others who are familiar with different aspects of your child’s needs and abilities — social workers, school psychologists, therapists, or doctors — also should attend. When appropriate, your child may also participate and offer input at the meeting.
The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a written document that outlines a child’s education. As the name implies, the educational program should be tailored to the individual student to provide the maximum benefit. The key word is individual. A program that is appropriate for one child with autism may not be right for another.
The IEP is the cornerstone for the education of a child with a disability. It should identify the services a child needs so that he/she may grow and learn during the school year. It is also a legal document that outlines:
- The child’s special education plan (goals for the school year)
- Services needed to help the child meet those goals
- A method for evaluating the student’s progress
The objectives, goals and selected services are not just a collection of ideas on how the school may educate a child; the school district must educate your child in accordance with the IEP.
To develop an IEP, the local education agency officials and others involved in the child’s educational program meet to discuss education-related goals. By law, the following people must be invited to attend the IEP meeting:
- One or both of the child’s parents
- The child’s teacher or prospective teacher
- A representative of the public agency (local education agency), other than the child’s teacher, who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education
- The child, if appropriate
- Other individuals at the discretion of the parent or agency (e.g. a physician, advocate, or neighbor)
With the 2004 Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, or IDEIA (P.L. 108-446), parents now must be included as “members of any group that makes decisions on the educational placement of the child.” IEP meetings must be held at least once annually, but may be held more often if needed. Parents may request a review or revision of the IEP at any time. While teachers and school personnel may come prepared for the meeting with an outline of goals and objectives, the IEP is not complete until it has been thoroughly discussed and all parties agree to the terms of the written document.
Parents are entitled to participate in the IEP meeting as equal participants with suggestions and opinions regarding their child’s education. They may bring a list of suggested goals and objectives as well as additional information that may be pertinent to the IEP meeting.
The local education agency (LEA) must attempt to schedule the IEP meeting at a time and place agreeable to both school staff and parents. School districts must notify parents in a timely manner so that they will have an opportunity to attend. The notification must indicate the purpose of the meeting (i.e., to discuss transition services, behavior problems interfering with learning, academic growth).
Parents may encounter stipulations presented by school personnel that may not necessarily be supported by the provisions of IDEA. Some statements have included:
- IEPs must be a predetermined number of pages.
- IEPs are to be completed without parental input and only a certain number of goals and objectives are allowed in the IEP.
- If your objective doesn’t fit into the field length on our computer program, it can’t be included.
There is nothing in the federal law that supports these types of statements or rules. But while parents should not accept misinformation concerning the IEP, you don’t need to approach the parent/school relationship in an adversarial manner. It is in everyone’s best interest to remember that parents and teachers share a common goal: to develop a program that will be appropriate for the child with autism. By sharing information and knowledge, parents and schools can collaborate to develop a truly effective IEP.
Learn more about:
The IEP Meeting
After an evaluation has been done, the IEP meeting will be scheduled. As noted earlier, you are entitled by law to attend and participate in this meeting, and you must be given ample notification of the time and place. You should also request a copy of the evaluation results prior to the meeting so you have time to review them.
The Families and Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE) suggests considering the following:
- What is your vision for your child – for the future as well as the next school year?
- What are your child’s strengths, needs and interests?
- What are your major concerns about his/her education?
- What has and has not worked in your child’s education thus far?
- Does the evaluation fit with what you know about your child?
While the IEP meeting is meant to develop an educational plan for your child, it is also an opportunity for you to share information about your child, your expectations and what techniques have worked at home. If for some reason you do not agree with the proposed IEP, you do have recourse. See “Rights at School.”
Content of the IEP
The IEP should address all areas in which a child needs educational assistance. These can include academic and non-academic goals if the services to be provided will result in educational benefit for the child. All areas of projected need, such as social skills (playing with other children, responding to questions), functional skills (dressing, crossing the street), and related services (occupational, speech, or physical therapy) can also be included in the IEP.
The IEP should list the setting in which the services will be provided and the professionals who will provide the service. Content of an IEP must include the following:
- A statement of the child’s present level of educational performance. This should include both academic and nonacademic aspects of his/her performance.
- A statement of goals that the student may reasonably accomplish in the next 12 months. This statement should also include a series of measurable intermediate objectives for each goal. This will help both the parents and educators to know whether the child is progressing and benefiting from his/her education. The development of specific, well-defined goals and objectives is crucial to your child receiving an appropriate education.
- Appropriate objective criteria, evaluation procedures and schedules for determining, at least annually, whether the child is achieving the short-term objectives set by the IEP (e.g., “How are we judging whether intervention is successful?” “How long will my child be in this program?”).
- A description of all specific special education and related services, including individualized instruction and related supports and services to be provided (e.g., occupational, physical and speech therapy; transportation; recreation). This includes the extent to which the child will participate in regular educational programs.
- The initiation date and duration of each of the services, as determined above, to be provided (this can include extended school year services). You may include the person who will be responsible for implementing each service.
- If your child is 16 years of age or older, the IEP must include a description of transitional services (a coordinated set of activities to assist the student in movement from school to post-school activities).
It is important that the child receive an appropriate education and benefit from it. Students with disabilities have a right to related services to help them learn and receive the maximum benefit from their educational programs. Related services, according to IDEIA, consist of “transportation and such developmental, corrective and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education.” These services are to be determined on an individualized basis, not by the disability or category of the disability.
If a child needs any of these “related services” to benefit from his/her education, the services must be written into his/her IEP. Frequency and duration of services, as well as relevant objectives, should be included. Related services as defined by IDEIA may include, but are not limited to the following:
- Counseling services
- Early identification and assessment of disabilities in children
- Medical services (for diagnostic or evaluation purposes only)
- Occupational therapy
- Parent counseling and training
- Physical therapy
- Psychological services
- Rehabilitation counseling
- School health services
- Social work services
- Speech pathology
The regulation does not limit related services to those specifically mentioned above. If a child requires a particular service to benefit from special education and that service is developmental, corrective or supportive, it is a related service and should be provided. It does not have to be expressly listed in the regulation. Examples of these kinds of services may include a full- or part-time aide or assistive technology, such as a computer.
While IEP goals and objectives should be child-centered, the document may also contain information regarding teacher/staff training. If the IEP team decides that additional training for a teacher is required, this information must be included in the text of the IEP. For example, the team may decide it would be beneficial for a teacher to take an autism course at a local university. Or it may want the school support staff to attend a two-hour seminar on autism. Personnel standards and teacher certification requirements are established by each state. For more information on the state certification requirements in your area, please contact your state education agency.
An IEP should include goals and objectives specific to each child’s unique needs. Goals may be broad, such as “John will increase his verbal communication and comprehension,” or specific, such as “This student will learn to interact more with her peers at recess and lunch.” Educational objectives are tailored to a child’s individual needs and based on the long-term goal. They describe the process by which the child may reach the goal and how a child’s progress will be monitored.
GOAL: “Krista will increase her verbal responses to questions during the course of the year.”
OBJECTIVE: “Krista will increase her verbal responses by receiving speech therapy from a licensed speech pathologist at least four times a week, in a one-on-one situation, in the resource room. The sessions will last at least 30 minutes. Krista will verbally answer questions with 85 percent accuracy after receiving both verbal and visual cues. The speech pathologist will send weekly reports, based on record-keeping, to Krista’s parents as well as her homeroom teacher. This therapy shall begin September 1st and continue until June 3rd, excluding pre-determined school holidays.”
The above objective specifically states:
- The service to be provided (speech therapy),
- The professional who will be providing that service (a licensed speech pathologist),
- The setting in which the service will be provided (resource room),
- How often the service will be provided (four times a week), and
- The length of the service (30 minutes/session from September 1st through June 3rd).
The evaluation component of the objective addresses the question: “How will we know whether Krista is making progress?” In this case, the speech pathologist will determine whether Krista is meeting the goal of 85 percent accuracy and send reports to her homeroom teacher and family each week. Other evaluation methods include test-taking, videotaping, peer reports, daily logs, checklists, computer printouts, and worksheets.
The above information is only one example of an objective to meet the goal of increasing verbal responses. Goals can have more than one objective. Parents may wish to review the curriculum and methods used for their child’s education with school staff. This information can be used as a springboard for discussion among IEP team members.