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Individualized Education Program (IEP): Tips and Overview

Navigating the educational journey for a child with learning disabilities can be challenging, but an Individualized Education Program (IEP) offers a beacon of hope and support. This legal document, mandated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), is tailored to ensure that children with special needs such as Down syndrome receive a free appropriate public education in an inclusive environment. 


In this article, we delve into the definition of an IEP, its critical importance, steps in the IEP process, along with real-life examples.


  1. What is an Individualized Education Program (IEP)?

  2. Why is IEP Important?

  3. Steps in the IEP Process

  4. IEP Examples

  5. Free IEP Resources: Exceptional Needs Today

What is Individualized Education Program (IEP)?

What is an Individualized Education Program (IEP)?


An IEP is a legal document created after it has been determined that your child struggles with learning disabilities or developmental delays that significantly hinder their ability to access a free appropriate public education (FAPE) as is their right under the Individuals with Disabilities Act or (IDEA) or least restrictive environment (LRE). 


What’s the Difference Between IEP and a 504 Plan?


The main difference between a 504 plan and an IEP is that an IEP’s eligibility is determined based on how a student’s educational performance is impacted and is supported by educational law. A 504’s eligibility is determined based on how an individual’s disability impacts their life and ability to engage. It is supported by the Rehabilitation Act of 1974, a civil rights law, physically and functionally. An IEP can follow a child through their final year in high school. However, a 504 can follow a person through their college and career. 

Why is IEP Important?


An IEP helps ensure that a student does not miss out on FAPE under Section 14 of the Federal Education Law. An IEP is developed to consider any impediments to a student’s educational growth and put in place accommodations appropriate to that student, which will help them better succeed in the least restrictive environment so that they may continue to be educated among their peers. 

Steps in the IEP Process


The IEP has several steps; once those steps are complete, it is still not the end. An IEP is a legal and living document. If you feel the need to revisit any portion of the IEP with your team, you may do so at any point. However, the first step in the process of determining if your child is eligible for an IEP is a request for evaluation or a referral. Students with special needs ranging from autism to dyslexia may be eligible for an IEP.



A referral to the school may be made at any point to determine if a student is eligible for an IEP. The school may recommend an evaluation, or a parent or guardian may indicate a need for evaluation. It is always best to do this in writing. Once the request is made, a PTE is sent home to the child’s legal guardian. A PTE is the Permission to Evaluate form and must be completed and sent back to the school before formal testing begins.


Evaluation and Eligibility


Once the PTE has been returned to the school, the school has 60 days to evaluate your child and determine eligibility. Federal law gives schools 60 days to complete their evaluation. However, some states offer schools as few as 30 days to evaluate. It is essential to check with your state to determine what the timelines are for your state. 


IEP Meeting


Once your child has been evaluated and it has been determined that your child requires an IEP, the school has 30 days to form an IEP specific to your child. At this point, an IEP meeting will be set up to discuss what that looks like moving forward. It is important to know that a parent Is an equal member of an IEP team, and your suggestions and observations are of equal value when determining how the IEP will support your child’s needs. It is always a good idea to have someone with you who can take notes so that you can focus on the discussions that are being brought up at the table. If you have any questions during this time, never be afraid to ask. Teachers and administrators are happy to explain anything that might not make sense to you. There are many educational acronyms that can be overwhelming in the beginning. 


IEP Plan Development


When the team comes together, they will discuss the findings of your child’s evaluation as well as their plan and suggestions to address any deficits or obstacles to learning. You may wish to bring your own notes so that if you have any concerns, you can ensure they are addressed. There is a section in the IEP that is labeled parent concerns, and it is a good idea to have this filled out. An IEP is a legal document, so having your concerns in writing makes them more likely to be addressed.


IEP Implementation


Once you have received an evaluation and your child has been determined eligible for an IEP, you will meet with your IEP team. Your team will consist of a special education teacher, a regular education teacher, the school district, or a Local Education Agency (LEA) representative. This will usually be a principal or a vice principal, someone able to make decisions for the school. The IEP team will also have any related services representatives present, such as an occupational therapist, speech and language person, and the child’s parents or legal guardians. You may also have anyone that you feel is important to include. After the team meets and a plan is discussed, you will receive a Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (NOREP). It is sometimes referred to as Prior Written Notice. Once you receive this, you can either agree with the plan or disagree with part or all, and there is a place to indicate either. Once you indicate whether you agree with the Educational Placement, you will sign the NOREP. You must sign the NOREP so that the IEP can begin being implemented. Without a signature on the NOREP, the initial IEP cannot start. Once the IEP is implemented, you may reach out to your team at any time to discuss possible adjustments to the IEP. 


Monitoring Results


During your child’s IEP meeting, your team will discuss goals. Goals may be created to address deficits in academic, social, emotional, or behavioral areas of need, as indicated by your child’s evaluation results. Goals should be created as SMART, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time focused. Once goals have been created, progress will be monitored over a certain amount of time and updated throughout the year to indicate whether or not the specially designed instruction with the IEP is working for your child. If goals have been met or are not being met, the team will meet to discuss updating those goals.




Reevaluation must occur at least every three years for a student with a disability and every two years for a student with an intellectual disability. If a school or a parent feels that a reevaluation is unnecessary, then the parent or guardian must sign an agreement to waive reevaluation. If the team agrees to reevaluate, the process will begin by reviewing existing data. After the existing data has been reviewed, the LEA will send home a prior written notice for reevaluation and a request for consent to be signed by the child’s parent or guardian. Once the form has been returned to the school and signed, it has 60 calendar days to complete its reevaluation, not including summer break.

IEP Examples


An IEP is a legal document that will contain the student’s present levels, goals, specially designed instruction, related services, and transition planning (depending on the age of the student.) There are several places to find examples of an entire IEP document.



IEP for Special Education


IEPs are written for students requiring special education services to receive a free, appropriate public education. The percentage of special education is listed in the section of the IEP labeled educational placement. The three levels are: Itinerant: receives special education for 20% than 20% of the student’s day but less than 80% of the day. The last level is full-time. A student receiving more than 80% of special education support and services is considered full-time. It is beneficial for the student to be placed in the least restrictive environment whenever possible; this will look different for each student. Discussing your child's appropriate level of services with your team is essential.




Many people believe that having an IEP is reserved for someone with severe intellectual disabilities. However, an IEP is designed for students who have disabilities that interfere with their capacity and ability to learn. An IEP is often used for someone with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Modifications such as shortening homework assignments and breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks are common adaptations for a student with ADHD. Also, a student with ADHD may be struggling with other learning disabilities masked by their diagnosis. A complete evaluation may uncover areas of need that could prevent further struggles as your child grows in their learning.

Free IEP Resources: Exceptional Needs Today


For free resources on managing diagnoses, mobility, and accessibility support, self-advocacy, personal rights, educational rights, occupational therapy, mental health support, schools and camps, transitioning to adulthood, job opportunities, financial planning, supporting the family/caretakers, subscribe to Exceptional Needs Today. Subscribing to our award-winning e-magazine is free, and it enables us to connect with more readers, helping us support the special needs community more effectively. We publish a new issue every quarter - delivered straight to your email.

Exceptional Needs Today magazine is an award-winning different abilities publication that supports working together to promote awareness, acceptance, and inclusiveness for ALL. Visit our other articles for useful information about

  1. Autism

  2. ADHD

  3. Down Syndrome

  4. Dyslexia

  5. Intellectual Disability

  6. Speech Delay

  7. Developmental Delay

  8. Early Intervention

  9. ABA Therapy

  10. Occupational Therapy


Katie Foley is an advocate for The Arc of Northeastern Pennsylvania (, where she runs Sibshop, creates and presents content and trainings focused on assisting others in advocating for themselves or their loved ones and assists in individual advocacy in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Her education is in communications with a focus on theater, and she has a secondary degree in elementary education.

She also enjoys teaching an Acting class for Adults of all abilities that focus on socialization and emotional understanding through Acting techniques. She has written You May Never Be French, a children's book that looks at autism through a cultural lens.

Katie has also written and contributed to other children's books and has been a contributing author for Autism Parenting Magazine and a guest blogger for other nonprofits. She is on the Family Advisory Board for Community Cares Behavioral Health in Pennsylvania and a founding board member of The Art's Alliance in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. Katie also enjoys volunteering for Equestrian Special Olympics; however, she is most grateful for her role as a parent of exceptional children who teach her new things about herself and life daily.

Why is IEP Important?
Steps in the IEP Process
IEP Examples
Free IEP Resources: Exceptional Needs Today
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