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Special Education Basics
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Autism Diagnosis and Interventions


Introduction to an IEP

Whether bringing their child to karate, football, or school, every parent wants to know that the instructor/coach/teacher is going to pay attention to their child.   In other words, they're going to want the people in charge to recognize their child's strengths and weaknesses so they can continue to boost them first while remedying the second.  That's really what an IEP does for special education students- it helps school staff build an individualized plan for them in order to appropriately support areas of weakness and challenge areas of strength in order to help them succeed. Now onto the nuts and bolts.


What is an IEP?

An individualized education program or IEP is mandated by IDEA 2004. 
 In other words, an IEP must be written for all students that receive special education services. These services are dictated by whether or not they meet IDEA eligibility requirements as interpreted by each state.   An IEP must be written based on the individual needs of the particular student in question.  The individual aspect of that statement is important, as all students with ADHD, for example, do not always have the same needs.  It's not a one size fits all kind of thing.  Still, the IEP should be written with the child's disability as a forefront concern in terms of how it effects the student at school.


IEP Musts

If you look at the IEP's that have been adopted in various states, you'll notice that they often look quite different, especially cosmetically, which will be discussed later. 
 However, all IEP's must address certain criteria that IDEA, including IDEA 2004, has mandated.  Some of these are stated and then elaborated on below.


Documentation of Disability: If a student is receiving special education services, their IEP should reflect what the primary disability is that they receive services under.  It should be noted that some students have more than one disability, but only receive services for their primary disability that effects their school performance.


Present Levels of Performance: Data should be used to tell those that read an IEP where a student's particular skills fall. Given the IDEA 2004 mandates that require the IEP teams to document “how the child's disability affects the child's involvement and progress in the regular classroom,” and that IEP's must also now contain a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided to the child in order for him "to be involved and progress in the general curriculum," the present levels of performance, though not necessarily mandated, should often have some tie to curriculum standards and assessments   


Measurable annual goals: The key words here are measurable and annual.  Each goal must be written for one year (from the time of the IEP meeting to the one a year later, not necessarily one school year) and will address weaknesses that the student demonstrates (which should be obvious via their present levels of performance).  In addition, these goals must be measurable.  This again relates to the student's present levels of performance in that data should be used to determine where the student is currently functioning and where the team hopes they can get to within a year.  Given the IDEA mandates related to keeping students in their least restrictive environment and in the regular education classroom, standards based goals, which are based more on the regular education curriculum, will often be a focus of goal writing.  That said, writing goals for students is not about simply regurgitating a curriculum standard, as was indicated by Project Forum (Project Forum at National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) is a cooperative agreement funded by the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education).


“A student’s goals and objectives on an IEP should not be a re-statement of a standard or a curriculum goal, but rather a statement that reflects the necessary learning that will lead to attaining a standard.”


Remember, these are individual goals and should always be written with the individual student in mind By the way, the 2004 revision of IDEA allowed 15 states the opportunity to develop an IEP to cover a three-year period as a pilot program.  Thus, their goals may be written for a longer period of time than one year.


How goals will be measured and reported on to parents: As you can see by now, many aspects of IEP's are interrelated.  For example, a student's present levels might tell you that they have a reading decoding weakness via some score.  Therefore, an annual goal may be written in reading decoding, as it was identified as an area of weakness.  But then when writing the goal, the team will have to determine how these goals will be measured (what data will be used to determine if a student is on their way to mastering a goal), and how and when parents will be made aware of progress.


Special education services, related services, and supplementary aids: Of course, every IEP will need to outline the kinds of services a student will receive.  For example, a student might receive a class in reading decoding from a special education teacher with a reading background for 2 hrs. per week.  In addition, related services time, such as services delivered by a speech/language pathologist or counselor, will also need to be written into the IEP.  Finally, if supplementary aids, such as some type of computer software or modification to instruction is needed, that will also need to be documented.

Since IEP's must now contain a statement of modifications and/or supports being provided to allow student's "to be involved and progress in the general curriculum," such services/modifications must be decided on with this in mind.


Schedule of Services: The IEP must also tell when and for how long the aforementioned services take place.


Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Data: One of the most important pieces to determining special education eligibility and services is a determination of a child's least restrictive environment.  This means that the team must attempt to keep the student in his regular education environment as much as is possible given appropriate services/modifications.  Along with this, an IEP should tell readers how much time the student spends in regular education vs. special education.

Explanation of any time the student will not participate with non-disabled children: It is important to note that it is not mandated that all students always be education with non-disabled children.  When a student must lose time with their non-disabled peers, however, an explanation of why this decision was made must accompany this.  Of course, the use of supplementary aids and services must be considered when determining the LRE of a student.


Accommodations to be provided during assessments that must be completed in order to measure academic and/or functional performance: For example, if a student needs extra time on statewide assessments as per their disability, that needs to be written in their IEP.  Same thing if they need a word processor to complete written work. (All accommodations to be provided during these assessments must be not only related to her disability, as the ones that are utilized within the regular classroom setting throughout the year)


Transition Services:  A student's IEP must now include transition services by age 16. Transition services are a steps taken focusing on academic and functional achievement, for a child with a disability that are designed to facilitate the movement between the school and a Post-school setting including, but not limited to post-secondary education, vocational education, and integrated employment.


When and Where IEP's Are Written

An IEP is written at meetings that can loosely be called special education meetings. 
 Each state has a different name (and sometimes names) for these meetings.  Meetings are conducted for several reasons, including determining a student's eligibility for special education services, during an annual review where annual goals and services are discussed, and when a revision to the IEP needs to be made.


The Actual IEP Form

Many states do not have a mandated IEP form.  In other words, school districts choose their own form.  Given this, there is obviously no national form currently in use.

Disability Categories Under IDEA (to be included in the IEP)



Developmental Delay (ages 3-5)

Emotional Disturbance

Hearing Impairment

Intellectual Disability (formally referred to as Mental Retardation)

Multiple Disabilities

Orthopedic Impairment

Other Health Impairment

Specific Learning Disability

Speech or Language Impairment

Traumatic Brain Injury

Visual Impairment (including blindness)





Special Education Basics
IDEA Classifications
Research Based Academic Interventions
Research Based Behavioral Interventions
Autism Diagnosis and Interventions

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