What an IEP is and Isn’t: Clearing Up the Confusion

What an IEP is and Isn’t: Clearing Up the Confusion

One of the things that continues to surprise and disappoint me is how much misinformation there is on the internet and parent sites about what an successful IEP is and what it isn’t. Navigating the special education system can be overwhelming and can leave feeling unsure about what you need for your child. No parent should ever have to feel that!

There is a lot of information to process, but it is really important to start at the very beginning and understand what an IEP is and what it isn’t. By doing so, you’ll be able to jump into the race with a base knowledge and understanding that allows you to have a strong start!

Also, pick up my “What is an IEP?” PowerSheet to keep you on track! Get it HERE.

So let’s start with what a Successful IEP isn’t:

1. An IEP isn’t a form

An IEP is not just a form! It is not meant to be completed and filed away, not to be looked at again until the next IEP. It is so much more than that and both parents and teachers need to treat it with the respect it deserves. IEP teams need to take the appropriate time to create the IEP. When complete, both parents and teachers need to use it as a guide for the upcoming year.

2. An IEP isn’t simple

Every IEP SHOULD take time to create and it SHOULD take a little work to make it right. An IEP is not simple because a child is not simple. Children are complex human beings and IEP’s need to match that level of complexity.

3. An IEP isn’t a stigma

This is one of the biggest misconceptions out there. I know how scary it can be to find out something is “wrong” with your child. It is so important that you take the time you need to recognize and deal with those feelings and grieve whatever loss you might be feeling. I can reassure you that having an IEP will NOT stigmatize your child. I wouldn’t dream of telling you that having special needs doesn’t complicate things, because it certainly does, but I will tell you that having an IEP in place will actually make things better. An IEP doesn’t define your child, it provides the support your child needs to be the best that he or she can be!

5. An IEP isn’t developed by only a few

The law requires that the entire team (including the parents) has input into the development of an IEP. The team should be made up of experts in every field that your students requires support in. Each of the experts should give input into the development of the IEP. Parents are included in the list of required team members for a reason. You are the expert of your child as a child, as a human. I always encourage parents to listen to the advice and recommendation of the experts around the table because although you know your child as a human being, you may not be an expert in all of the areas your child needs help. An IEP does its job when all members share their expertise and wisdom to develop a plan that is uniquely designed for your child.

And now let’s look at what a Successful IEP is:

1. An IEP is a legal and living document

Federal law (IDEA) requires that an IEP be developed for every child found eligible for special education. The law also requires that the IEP be reviewed every year. At any time, either the school or family can request an IEP meeting and make changes to the IEP based on current information or data. For example, a teacher may call an IEP meeting during the year because they see another area that a goal needs to be developed (or even better, a goal that was written has already been met). Similarly, a parent can call an IEP meeting for all of the same reasons. The IEP document is a living document and can be changed and adapted as many times as needed to meet the needs of your child.

2. An IEP is individualized

If I had to pick one thing to rate as the most important for parents to know it would be this: no two IEP’s should be exactly alike because no two children are exactly alike. I worked with a family with identical twins and even their IEP’s were not identical. Some things you should not hear at an IEP meeting include:

  • “For this type of student, we offer these types of services.”
  • “For a child like this, we write these goals.”
  • “Students with this eligibility get this program.”
  • “Students with this disability don’t need these accommodations.”
  • “We don’t do that here edlekarna.com.”

Every student is different and every IEP should reflect that individuality and uniqueness. If it doesn’t, it won’t be effective for the success of that child.

3. An IEP is an education plan

An IEP is an educational plan that is developed by a team of experts to assist your child’s educational school year. The IEP focus is on ensuring that your child can access his/her education. This includes not only academics but everything encompassed in a school day including vocational skills, social skills, behavior skills, speech and language, to name only a few. It is NOT designed to work on deficits in the home or community and that is something that confuses many at first.

4. An IEP helps “level out” the playing field

This is one of the most common confusions parents have. They believe that once their child enters into special education, the goal is to “cure” or even “close the gap”. This is not the case. The IEP is designed to assure that your child makes meaningful progress on their own path, not in comparison to anyone else. The supports and services that an IEP provides should allow your child to access learning in the school setting in a way that is meaningful to their unique situation. Every child is different and every IEP should be different to meet those individual needs. An IEP will assist your child in being able to learn, grow and make progress toward their specific goals.

5. A Successful IEP supports your child being educated in the way that best meets his/her individualized needs

When an IEP is completed, anyone should be able to look at that document and know exactly what your student needs across all educational settings. The information should be found throughout the entire IEP document and include present levels, goals, accommodation/modifications and services. You know you have the best IEP possible when anyone who doesn’t know your child could read the IEP and understand exactly what your child needs to be successful. If this isn’t the case, then the team needs to go back to the drawing board! Being specific is NOT a bad thing, in fact it’s the key to a powerful IEP!

Your Successful IEP Won’t Match Someone Else’s

There is so much to learn and know about special education. Navigating the system can be overwhelming and leave you feeling scared and alone. Be very careful who (and where) you get your information and advice. The internet has been an amazing resource for special needs parents, but be cautious and understand that just as your situation is uniquely your own, so is the same for every other family and child. What has been true and right for someone else, may not be true and right for you. Surround yourself with people who support you in becoming the superhero you are meant to be when it comes to ensuring the success of your child!

You don’t have to do any of this alone. Grab your free consultation with me today and we can lay out a plan for your child’s success. I’d love to be your biggest advocate throughout this challenging time!

All my best,


P.S. Did you pick up the PowerSheet I made just for you? If not, you can grab it HERE.

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