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Is Your Exceptional Child Receiving the IEP Benefits They Deserve?

Updated: Apr 7

By Karen Kaplan, MS

Is your child or loved one with an Individual Education Program (IEP) not receiving their education benefits?

It continues to frustrate me when I read repeatedly on Facebook pages that parents still do not have the information needed to be the voice for someone with special needs and help get them into a program of benefit. I have been in this field for 40 years, and we have a plethora of information to help parents. Why are they not getting these materials? How can professionals and medical practitioners not share strategies with every parent without so many challenges? I say, first, understand your rights.

“Students with disabilities have the same right to K-12 public education that students without disabilities have. To receive and benefit from that education, students with disabilities may need special education and/or related aids and services. Section 504 and Title II require public schools to provide appropriate education and modifications, aids, and related services free of charge to students with disabilities and their parents or guardians. The “appropriate” component means that this education must be designed to meet the individual educational needs of the student as determined through appropriate evaluation and placement procedures.” Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) 

Educational Benefit: “A school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate considering the child’s circumstances” (Endrew F, 2017). Educational benefit is defined as a student’s progress on IEP goals and/or general education standards.

“Considerations for Educational Benefit (Goals): Are the goals and objectives/benchmarks measurable? Do the goals and objectives/benchmarks enable the student to be involved/progress in the curriculum?  Are all other educational needs resulting from the disability addressed? If the student is an English Learner, are the goals and objectives/benchmarks linguistically appropriate? Is the person(s) identified who is primarily responsible for implementing the goals and objectives/ benchmarks, and monitoring progress.” Ed-Benefit-Document.pdf (

“Considerations for Educational Benefit (Special Factors): Does assistive technology directly relate to the student’s disability? Was the need found through assessment? Are current assessments (within the year) in place to determine student’s English proficiency? Does data support the student’s need for a behavioral goal, or an assessment is complete to initiate a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)? Are specific positive behavior interventions, strategies, and supports clearly defined? Does the student require low incidence services, equipment, or materials? Were these needs determined by evaluation by appropriate personnel? What supports, services, and materials are necessary for the student who is blind or visually impaired to receive educational benefits? What supports, services, and materials are necessary for the student who is deaf or hard of hearing to receive Educational Benefit.”  Ed-Benefit-Document.pdf ( 

Considerations for Educational Benefit (Behavior Intervention Plan): Is the targeted behavior clearly described in specific, observable, and measurable terms? Does the replacement behavior determined serve the same need for the student as the problem behavior? Are member(s) of the IEP Team clearly identified who will be responsible for taking data related to the BIP? How will the data be communicated to the team? What services will the student need to implement the Behavior Intervention Plan and meet their goal successfully? Note: Consider the time it will take to teach replacement behaviors and monitor progress.” Ed-Benefit-Document.pdf (

Follow some or all of these tips for overseeing education benefits:

  • Make sure you develop meaningful goals with set dates to review progress quarterly.   Make sure you are receiving progress reports. When progress is not being made, stop, request an IEP meeting, and ask why not.  More time is not the only thing that may need change. Materials, settings, activities, and meaningfulness may be things that need to change as well.

  • Request monthly updates from the teacher and any therapists providing services. This could be a phone call, an email, a Zoom meeting, or Facetime. Set up times to observe therapy sessions and classroom goals.

  • Do not sign off on tri-annual evaluations. It is essential to re-evaluate strengths and challenges so that an effective program can be designed every few years. Individuals are constantly changing.

  • Are you asking questions about the professional development of the teacher, therapist, or paraprofessional assigned to your individual? Do they have the right experience and knowledge to design and support your individual?

  • Are you, the parent, working with your loved one in the home and collaborating with the educational team? This is also critical to an overall program of benefit. Are you receiving the training you need as a member of the IEP team?

  • Have you connected to a like-minded tribe of parents who can share knowledge? Find local chapters for Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC), United Cerebral Palsy, Autism Society, CHADD Children and Adults with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity.

See outside evaluations or consultations with knowledgeable professionals who can help you identify a program of benefit. UC MIND INSTITUTE, UC Davis MIND Institute, UCSF, Welcome to the UCSF Center for ASD and NDDs | The UCSF Center for ASD and NDDs, and Stanford, Stanford Neurodiversity Project | Stanford Neurodiversity Project | Stanford Medicine.Download the Autism Tool Kit for disputing the individual education recommendations, Disputing an IEP - Autism Speaks Guide to Individualized Education Programs.

Finally, I recommend we all read Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson to have those emotional but essential conversations.

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.

Karen Kaplan, MS, is a native San Franciscan. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, in speech pathology and audiology. She minored in special education and obtained her speech therapist and special education credentials in California. Karen worked as a speech therapist for schools for 20 years before opening her own residential and education program for students with autism. She worked in credential programs at Sacramento State University as well as UC Davis and spent 20 years directing private schools for those with autism and similar learning challenges.


Karen founded a non-profit, Offerings, which helps cultures globally to understand those with developmental challenges. For seven years, she founded and facilitated an autism lecture series and resource fair in Northern California. Karen still facilitates an annual Autism Awesomeness event. She is currently consulting, helping families, schools, and centers for children, teens, and adults. Karen has authored three books: Reach Me Teach Me: A Public School Program for the Autistic Child; A Handbook for Teachers and Administrators, On the Yellow Brick Road: My Search for Home and Hope for the Child with Autism, and Typewriting to Heaven… and Back: Conversations with My Dad on Death, Afterlife and Living  (which is not about autism but about having important conversations with those we love).




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