What is an Individualized Education Program (IEP)


What is an “IEP?”

IEP refers to an Individualized Education Program. The IEP is outlined in a written document that must include:

  • your child’s current academic, linguistic and physical abilities as well as your child’s social, emotional and behavioral functioning
  • a description of the program that includes:
    • measurable academic and functional goals
    • the instructional setting
    • any support services (such as speech therapy) and who will provide them, for what amount of time
    • any accommodations that will be provided (including those for participation in statewide assessments)
    • any specific interventions or curriculum that will be used
    • a post-secondary transition plan, when appropriate
  • a summary of how your child’s disability affects participation in general education activities (both curricular and extra-curricular) and how your child will be included
  • identification of any assistive technology to be provided

For people with autism, what needs to be considered in the IEP process?

Due to the fact that autism affects most if not all areas of a child’s ability to benefit from the educational setting, it is critical that the IEP be comprehensive.

Make sure that all areas of functioning have been addressed. Consideration should be given to strengths, challenges and preferences in:

  • cognition
  • communication
  • interpersonal skills
  • sensory processing
  • motor functioning
  • executive function
  • general health

Why is the IEP important?

The IEP is the school’s agreement with you about the educational program for your child and must be signed by you to be implemented.

If you disagree with the IEP as outlined by your child’s school (district), you may note your concerns as well as recommendations and the school is required to consider your input.

For more, see “Tips Concerning Due Process” (below).

I’m not sure what the IEP process is. What should I do?

The IEP process is a legal process outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The process contains several steps starting with a request for an evaluation (to determine if your child is in need of special education) and concluding with steps for on-going review of your child’s IEP. The steps include:

  • Request for An Evaluation to Determine Eligibility: This request should be made in writing to the special education administrator. The school had 60 days (or less by some state’s laws) to complete the evaluation. The school (district) may also initiate an evaluation but must have your consent to complete the evaluation. Contact your child’s school if you are unsure whom the special education administrator is.
  • The Evaluation: The school (district) must provide you with a list of the tests to be used along with a description of each and who will administer the tests. The evaluation should also include parent reports, teacher reports, documentation of school performance and any other reports from providers involved with your child. You may provide any relevant information as you choose such as general medical records, previous test results or evaluations, previous school records, reports from providers (such as an in-home support person or a social worker), or others. An evaluation that determines your child is eligible for special education will be followed by an “initial IEP meeting.” For children who receive special education, a comprehensive re-evaluation must be completed at least every three years. Annual testing may be completed as appropriate. If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of the (initial or 3-year) evaluation (i.e. the determination or the recommendations), you may make a written request for what is known as an “independent evaluation.” This evaluation will be completed by an independent evaluator, at the school district’s expense.
  • Initial IEP Meeting: This meeting is intended to provide time to review the results of the comprehensive evaluation that determined your child’s eligibility for special education, including the recommendations, and to develop the IEP as outlined above. You will receive copies of all reports of testing that were part of the evaluation prior to the meeting. Take time to review the reports, especially the recommendations, since they largely will guide the IEP development. Write down any questions, ideas for services and requests for consultation that you have. Bring these questions, along with your copies of the reports and all other correspondence from the school (district), to the meeting. If you need help understanding the reports, learning about types of services and consultation, or preparing for the IEP meeting, you may be able to get support from your state’s autism organization. To find the autism organization(s) in your area, enter a phrase such as “state autism organization” followed by your state’s name into the search window of a browser to use Google search or some other search engine.
  • The IEP Team:
    • Parent/guardian
    • Child, as appropriate and once post-secondary transition planning begins
    • Special educator familiar with the type of needs of your child
    • General educator (to provide information about general education expectations)
    • Representative of the district (who is familiar with special education and can commit resources)
    • Representatives of transition service providers, as appropriate
    • Others invited by you/the school (district) to provide expert information
    • Others you invite for advocacy or other support

Note: The special and/or general educator also should have knowledge of your child.

  • The Annual IEP Meeting: A meeting must be held at least once a year to review and update your child’s IEP based on progress to date. Be sure to receive regular (written) updates about your child’s progress including data documenting response to specific services and interventions. Bring these updates to the annual meeting especially if you have questions. As with the initial IEP meeting (outlined above), review any reports and bring your ideas and questions to the meeting. Make sure a comprehensive evaluation is completed every three years and that you receive copies of the reports from the evaluation prior to the meeting. You (or the school) may request more frequent meetings if there is a need to modify the IEP or address any specific concerns.

Where can I go for more information?

Overall Tips

For more information about specific questions such as when a member of the IEP team can be excused or when those who provide/pay for transition services must be invited, go to The U.S. Department of Education’s IDEA website.

See also our section on Transition Planning for Job Opportunities and Transition Planning for College Students.

For information about specific timelines (such as the amount of notice you must receive prior to an IEP meeting) and other requirements of the IEP process in your state, contact your state department of education (also known in some states as the department of public instruction). The department can provide information about your state’s special education regulations. A list of email addresses by state can be found at Institute of Education Sciences website.

Tips Concerning Due Process

If you disagree with the IEP as outlined by the school, be sure to voice your concerns. If your input is rejected or you still are not satisfied with the plan, send a letter to the school and the district special education administrator that outlines your reasons.

If your efforts do not result in a resolution, you may pursue Due Process. For a summary of your due process options at What If Parents Don’t Agree With the IEP? on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

What can I do now? Where can I find help with this?

  • Contact your state’s autism organization: To find the autism organization(s) in your area, enter a phrase such as “state autism organization” followed by your state’s name into the search window of a browser and use Google search or some other search engine.
  • Contact parent groups: Your state’s autism organization may sponsor a parent group or provide contact information for the parent groups in your state. You also may find parent groups by entering a phrase such as “parent groups” followed by your state’s name into the search window of a browser and using Google search or some other search engine. For a more specific search use the phrase “parent groups autism” followed by your state’s name.
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