Could Your Child Benefit from an Individualized Education Program?

You know your child has struggled with school in the past, but you might resist seeking help—especially if you’re worried that your child could be labeled as having a disorder. But some children who find school difficult get many benefits from an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP tailors learning goals to your child’s specific needs.

There are many types of learning disabilities—both major and minor—that can impact your child’s ability to thrive. Once you address the learning disability, children may show incredible improvements at school.

Federal law requires that all children have access to a fair and equal education. This means states must provide IEPs for students who need them. Consider if your child might benefit from extra assistance, so they can make the most of their education.

What Is an IEP?

An IEP is a learning plan tailored to a child who qualifies for special education services. Since the IEP is designed exclusively for one student, it helps teachers, parents, and other school staff team up to improve educational outcomes for that child.

The goal of an IEP is to guide how the school provides special education services and support. They are often created collaboratively by parents, teachers, school administrators, and learning disability specialists, like psychologists. After an IEP is in place, it is reviewed once a year.

Does My Child Need an IEP?

If your child has been struggling in school without significant improvement, you may want to investigate the option of qualifying for support services, such as an IEP. Remember, it is not always easy to recognize learning disabilities, which come in many forms and degrees of severity.

For example, the Mayo Clinic notes that dyslexia—a common learning disability that affects reading skills—may go undiagnosed for years. When this happens, children who are struggling in school may get the message that they are “not smart.” But with support services, children with dyslexia may become highly successful in school.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) points out that people may struggle for years to learn certain basic skills, like reading or memorization, without understanding the cause of their frustration. When a learning disability is finally diagnosed, it can be addressed, with all the tools available.

In order to qualify for an IEP, your child must be evaluated. Federal law requires that a multidisciplinary team determine if your child (1) has a disability, and (2) requires special education or other services. You always have the right to request that your child be evaluated for learning disabilities. NCLD recommends contacting your school district office or state department of education. They can advise you about getting a copy of your state’s guidelines for special education services.

IEPs may be helpful for many different conditions. Consider taking steps to learn more if you think your child may be affected by:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Emotional disorders
  • Developmental delay
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism
  • Visual, hearing, speech, or language impairment

Implementing the IEP

Although an IEP may benefit your child, obtaining one may not be easy. Great Schools, a national non-profit organization, notes that parents may feel overwhelmed by the process. After an evaluation has determined that your child needs an IEP, parents generally must attend an IEP meeting. Great Schools offers advice for how to get the most out of an IEP meeting:

  • Touch base with school staff before the meeting, so you’re aware of what they might say.
  • Write down important points you want to make so you’ll have the information on hand. Remember, you can ask to have specific information included in your child’s IEP.
  • Bring your spouse, a family member, or trusted friend to the meeting for emotional support. Let the school know in advance, in case they have a policy about who can attend.
  • Remember that you don’t have to agree with the goals or services recommended by school staff at the meeting.
  • Be sure to ask questions if you don’t understand terminology. You can also meet with teachers and staff one-on-one after the meeting to ask follow-up questions.

Great Schools notes that written parental permission is usually required before an IEP can go into effect. If you disagree with parts of the IEP, the organization suggests letting the school know which parts you do agree with, so those services can begin for your child.

Are There Other Options?

If you’re nervous about requesting a formal evaluation for an IEP, there are other options. NCLD notes that many schools use alternative methods to pinpoint a student’s learning difficulties before referring them for a formal evaluation.

NCLD describes one such approach as a “pre-referral intervention.” This involves a team made up of teachers, the school psychologist, and other school staff coming together to brainstorm educational techniques that may improve a child’s ability to learn. If these techniques work, the student may not need to undergo a formal evaluation. Depending on the school, and the services available, there may be many options for your child.

Support Your Child

You may find it stressful to see your child struggling in school. But remember, your child may be feeling just as much stress about their difficulties as you are. Sometimes children who appear to have a “bad attitude” toward school are actually attempting to conceal embarrassment. NCLD suggests reassuring your child that having difficulties with learning doesn’t mean they are stupid or lazy. Remind your child that they are capable of success and ask them to be honest about what helps them learn. All children have strengths and challenges. With the right tools and support, your child may be capable of achievements you never thought possible.