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5 Tips for Navigating Your Child’s IEP this School Year

Woman smiling with others in the background during a meeting

A new school year is on the horizon and for many parents, that means preparing to review and meet about their child’s IEP.

If your child is receiving special education services through the school system (such as Speech, Occupational, and Physical Therapy), he or she is required to have an Individualized Education Plan (commonly referred to as an IEP).

Meetings to develop an IEP include several professionals, including:

  • a general education teacher
  • a special education teacher
  • a representative from the school system
  • an individual who interprets evaluation results
  • therapists or others working with the child

…and you, the parent.

IEPs and the meetings surrounding them can be overwhelming to many parents.

An IEP is a legally binding contract that public schools are required to adhere to. It’s included in the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) that at any time from age 3 until graduating high school, public schools are required to create an IEP for any child who requires special education services.

The legalities, terminology, and number of different professionals involved can make things a little overwhelming and intimidating for parents when it comes to navigating their child’s IEP.

By taking the time to learn about what an IEP is and how to navigate both the plan and meetings, you can play a key role in shaping your child’s academic environment in a way that can help him or her thrive.

The more you know, the more you can take a key role in developing your child’s IEP!

Here are 10 helpful tips for navigating your child’s IEP.

#1: Know how to get an IEP.

First, you should know how the general process of developing an IEP works.

A child can receive an IEP upon entering a public school after preschool-age, or anytime it is suspected that he or she may require special education services.

How do you start the process?

If your child is enrolled in a state funded early intervention program, his or her eligibility for the program will end at age 3. At that time, the EI program will help guide you through transitioning your child into the public school system.

Children who continue to require specialized services such as speech, occupational, or physical therapy will undergo updated evaluations and the IEP will be developed at that time.
An IEP can be created at any time during a child’s educational journey. If a teacher has concerns regarding your child’s skills in a certain area or learning behaviors, he or she may bring those to your attention and refer for developing an IEP.

If you as the parent would like to see if your child would benefit from an IEP, you can start by contacting your school district or your child’s school. After this initial referral step, your child will need to complete evaluations for eligibility.

Following these assessments, if your child is determined to be eligible for special education services, the school is required to hold a meeting within 30 days (which you will attend) to develop the IEP.

#2: Familiarize yourself with the terminology.

IEP’s include terminology that can be confusing to parents. Here are some key terms to know before walking into your child’s IEP meeting:

Accommodation: variation in the time, format, setting, and/or presentation of an educational task that allows a child to learn the same content as other students. For example, extra time on tests.

Modification: a change in what is being expected or taught to a student.

OT/PT/ST: OT= Occupational Therapy, PT= Physical Therapy, ST= Speech Therapy

IPRC: Identification, Placement and Review Committee. A committee of at least 3 professionals from the school system who evaluate and determine whether a child meets the criteria of having an IEP.

Exceptional Student: A student who qualifies for an IEP. The child’s academic performance must be proven to be adversely affected by his or her disability in one of 13 specified areas.

Annual Goals: Written statements that represent a target for the child to reasonably obtain by the end of the school year, given necessary special education services.

#3: Gather information beforehand.

Talk to those who work with your child before meeting about his or her IEP.

Ask teachers, therapists, and other professionals who know your child for specific information that could be helpful in developing the child’s plan.

If your child is receiving private Speech Therapy, for example, ask your child’s SLP what goals your child is currently targeting and what some areas of concern are.

You should also gather any evaluations your child has had outside of school. Make sure you have copies of their most recent assessments, read them ahead of time, and consider bringing them to your child’s IEP meeting to bring up any key points if necessary.

#4: Know your rights.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and exercise your rights as you navigate through the development and meeting of your child’s IEP.

1. An Educational Advocate is a professional who can help you navigate your child’s IEP. This can include helping parents interpret the results of assessments, gathering information, and analyzing a child’s IEP with the parent.

The Educational Advocate can help you prepare for an IEP meeting by offering advice and assistance to ensure your child receives the amount and type of special education services that appear necessary.

2. Parents can invite someone to join them in the IEP meeting. This can include a friend, an educational advocate, a therapist working with the child, or another parent. Having someone like this by your side in such an important meeting can be helpful.

3. Don’t agree with your child’s IEP? You have options.


You can choose to file a complaint with your state’s department of education, seek mediation, or request a due process hearing.

4. You have the right to request a meeting to revise your child’s IEP at any time.

The IEP must be reviewed annually. You’ll also receive reports throughout the school year on how your child is progressing with the goals on his or her IEP. But if you or someone working with your child has concerns that your child isn’t meeting these goals, or you want to revisit the types of services he or she is receiving, you can request an IEP meeting.

5. Not ready to sign during the meeting? You can request a draft your child’s IEP before the meeting, or request to take the plan home (and discuss with family members or professionals) before signing.

#5: Stay calm and work collaboratively.

The IEP can be a long, complex document. The initial meeting and those that follow can be intimidating.

Try to remain calm and remind yourself that you know your child best. You play the most important part in developing your child’s education plan, so be honest with others about your concerns and stay positive.

Remember the school system and the teachers, assistants, and therapists working with your child are there to support his or her academic learning. Think of yourself and those professionals as a team championing for your child to succeed!

Additional Resources

Children who require special education services at school may have difficulties in communication, fine motor skills, behavior, or gross motor skills, which impact their academic performance.

If you have concerns about your child’s development in any of these areas, your child can receive an evaluation or additional services outside of school.

TherapyWorks offers Speech Therapy, Occupational and Physical Therapy both in-home and via teletherapy (nationwide). If you would like to learn more, or discuss your child’s specific needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to TherapyWorks!

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