A Parent’s Guide to The Beguiling IEP Universe—Part 1

Mention the acronym, IEP, to a parent of a special-needs student, and you’ll probably awaken a series of nightmares. My daughter just turned 14 this past Sunday, and over the years—from past IEP reports, countless evaluations, meeting logs, behaviors plans, progress reports, separate Department of Education hearings—I get anxiety just looking at the countless binders, especially if God forbid, for example, I have to locate a specific evaluation that was conducted when she was six years old! When a local parent new to the special education process expressed her confusion about IEPs, I drummed up this three-part series, in which I will address IEP questions, culminating with a Q&A with a special education advocate, offering an incredibly utilitarian guide for caregivers navigating NYC’s oftentimes spiritually-taxing special education universe. So, whether you’re an O.G. or newbie parent, buckle up and get ready for an educational ride!

First, let’s breakdown special education terminology. An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan written for students who receive special education services, i.e. for children with disabilities. This is not the same as Response to Intervention (RtI), which is a general education initiative for any students who are struggling with for examples, reading, math or writing. IEPs differ from Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSP) in that an IFSP is the document for children from birth through age three. Once a child turns three, they move from an IFSP to an IEP with their local school district. IEPs are written for children age 3 to 17, who have a disability and require special education services.

To qualify for an IEP, a student must have one of the 13 NYS DOE’s classifications: autism, deafness, deaf-blindness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, learning disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment (for example, ADHD), speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, or visual impairment. IEP eligibility cannot be based on: a lack of appropriate instruction in reading and math, or limited English proficiency.

Here’s a question. Why is an IEP important for a student who has autism? Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), every child with a disability is entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), which should be designed to meet a child’s “unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.” The purpose of an IEP is to level the school learning environment so that children with special needs can succeed in school and participate with their peers to the fullest extent possible. An IEP assists students behind in school learning, and/or have behavior, physical or social challenges, and facilitates this with a team of people (including parents!) to create the IEP document, using their combined knowledge to write individual goals, as well as supports needed for success.

In the next column, I will breakdown the various sections of the IEP and why parent advocacy is crucial, especially if you believe the DOE is not providing a fair and appropriate education for your child. However, before I close, I wanted to clarify how to request an IEP. Now, let’s say you’re a parent who did not go through NYC’s Early Intervention’s pre-school services, but suspects your elementary, middle or even high school student may be on the spectrum of autism and needs an IEP. What should you do?

We first looked into paying for private evaluations for our daughter. The price? Upwards to $6K! Then, discovered that if we could prove that she was regressing in her public-school education, and also a diagnosis from her pediatrician, the DOE was required to pay for independent evaluators, including neuro-psychological, speech, occupational and physical therapies evaluations. According to the NYC DOE, your parental due-process right is to demand they pay for all evaluations. Just determinedly present your concerns to the social worker/guidance counselor at your child’s school.

Stay tuned for more info!

Readers, if you have any questions regarding IEPs or other special education questions, feel free to email: kami@rockawaybeachautismfamilies.org

Also, learn more at Rockaway Beach Autism Families’ monthly parent support group meeting happening next Thursday, October 27, 7 p.m. at Knights of Columbus (333 Beach 90th Street). Our guest speaker will field all questions on “IEPs and Navigating NYC’s Special Education Universe.” For more info, visit: Rockaway Beach Families on Facebook/Instagram.


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