When and How to Start Thinking About an IEP

Do you remember the first time you went in for a screening or assessment? You leave with notes and pamphlets, trying to remember the details but recalling only a few words? Do you remember trying to make sense of the jargon, knowing you had so much to learn, so much to do? But you need to drive out of the parking lot and make your way home, and then you need to make the lunches, find the favorite sock that’s missing, sign the permission slip, and make sure teeth are brushed. Finally, you fall into bed because you’re exhausted. You are emotionally drained. Maybe you’re processing information, but maybe you’re just frozen because it just feels too big to know where to start.

Those Three Powerful (Intimidating!) Little Letters—IEP!

The mention of ‘IEP’ reminds me of this frozen feeling. It feels big and kind of scary. Those three little letters are important, but what do they mean and how do I take this on? Let’s break it down in plain language.An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan. Basically, it is a plan uniquely created for your child to support him at school. If your child is eligible for special education services, he or she is eligible for an IEP. The IEP makes sure that everyone is on the same page and your child is supported as best as possible. As said by the organization Understoodan “IEP is meant to address each child’s unique learning issues and include specific educational goals. It is a legally binding document. The school must provide everything it promises in the IEP.”This makes absolute sense. So why feel stuck? Fellow Exceptional Lives blogger, Katie Emanuel, describes ‘why’ in her letter to her son’s pediatrician. Katie describes in beautiful detail the impact a child’s struggles may have on the daily function of the whole family. The bottom line is that the IEP is a support for children, and for families, that need supporting!

You are Not Alone!

If you are thinking about an IEP, you are either about to send a child off to school for the first time, you are sending your child to a new school, your child has just received a new diagnosis, or your child is not having success at school with the right accommodations or supports.We have all experienced at least one of these transitions and I think most would agree that they are times of BIG emotional distraction. It’s hard to learn new processes at these moments. Who am I kidding; it’s hard for me to get dressed and out the door in these moments.

There is Hope and HELP!

Thankfully, people have experienced this before us and put systems in place to help us navigate this new process. These resources are here to inform us as parents and caregivers, so when we hear things like “vision statement”(gasp) and “measurable goals” (eeek) we say, “pshaw, I’ve got this!” (stay tuned for an upcoming blog post for more exciting and creative ideas on goal setting!)

 So Where Do We Start?

Whether the IEP is initiated by you or by the school, you want to be prepared. This is where checklists come in! I find checklists help me to be as prepared as possible. Exceptional Lives has created Guides that will walk you through the process and keep it individualized to support YOU and your child (and you can save or print the guide to refer back in case you are pulled away to solve a crisis or answer a phone call!).Start MA Special Education GuideStart LA Special Education GuideIt is sometimes hard to find time at home. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan with the school. Sometimes you just need to talk to someone in more detail as you dive into the IEP process.For more support on your team, search the Exceptional Lives’ Resource Directory to find an Educational Advocate, a professional who helps parents advocate for their children’s special-education needs in meetings with school districts, or an Educational Consultant (a professional who helps parents plan their children’s education) in your area.Starting the IEP process does not need to be scary or leave you feeling frozen or alone. In fact, you’ve already started. Congratulations!