March 30, 2023

What is an IEP (Individualized Education Plan)?

You may hear the term IEP or Individualized Education Program if and when your child struggles at school. Children with delayed skills or other disabilities can be eligible for special services. These services provide individualized education programs in public schools without any additional charge to the families.

An Individualized Education Program helps children be academically successful in school. It is not just a written legal document or plan. An IEP lays out the details and program of the special education instruction, supports as well as services children need at school.

The updated version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) passed and this turned the parents of children with special needs even more of a crucial part of their child’s education team. IEPs are covered by this special education law and created for eligible children attending public school.

IDEA makes it so that it is required that children with special education needs in public school as well as related services must have an Individualized Education Program. Each of these IEPs must be designed specifically for the student’s need and, as it can be inferred from its name, it must be an individualized document.

How to Write an IEP

According to the IDEA, there is certain information that must be included in each child’s IEP. The process of writing an effective IEP that will be beneficial for the child requires the involvement of almost every party in the child’s life: the parents or caregivers, teachers, other school staff, and often the student themselves must gather and determine the unique needs of the child. The IEP is the foundation of quality education for children with special needs.

An Individualized Education Plan should be prepared together with the parents or caregivers, teachers, school staff, and the student. They gather and examine the unique needs of the student, pool knowledge and experience as well as design an educational program that will fit the needs of the student to make them successful in their school life. This is definitely teamwork.

Team members start with their individual assessments. These are called a comprehensive evaluation report (CER) that compiles what they found from these assessments, and also outlines the skills and the support the child will need. CER will also provide an educational classification for the student.

Before IEP is prepared, the parents or caregivers can review the report. This is the time for them to work together with the school to come up with the best plan possible that meets their child’s unique needs. The next phase is to decide what to include in the plan. Here, the educational needs of the child will be discussed based on CER, and certain specific, measurable short-term and annual goals will be determined for each of the needs identified. IEP

As per the IDEA, the IEP must include certain information regarding the educational program designed to fit the child’s special and specific needs:

  • Current performance of the child meaning how the child is doing at school. This information usually comes from the evaluation results like the tests and assignments.
  • Annual goals which are developed based on the child’s current level and assessed every year to be adjusted. These are broken down into short-term objectives.
  • Age of majority Starting from the last one year before the child reaches the age of majority, there must be a statement that the student has been informed of any rights that will transfer to them at the age of majority. This statement would only be necessary in certain states where transfer rights at the age of majority.
  • Special education and related services that will be provided to the child must be listed in the IEP.
  • Participation with nondisabled children must be included in the IEP, explaining the extent the child will participate or not participate with disabled children in the classroom.
  • Participation in state and district-wide tests should also be specified in the IEP. The modifications in the administration of achievement tests that are given to children in certain grades or age groups as well as the reason why the test is not appropriate and how the child should be tested must be stated in the IEP.
  • Dates and places of the services, how often they will be provided, and the location must be specifically stated.
  • Transition service needs must be included. Beginning when the child is 14 years of age or younger if appropriate, the IEP must state the courses the student needs to take to reach certain post-school goals. Also, in each of the child’s following IEPs, a statement for the transition services must be included.
  • Needed transition services should be included in the IEP beginning when the child is 16 years of age or younger if appropriate to state what transition services are necessary to help the child prepare for leaving school.
  • Measuring progress should be stated in the IEP where the child’s progress will be measured based on the specified goals and the way the parents will be informed of this progress.

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Differences Between IEP and 504

A 504 Accommodation Plan is to ensure that a student with disability has access to accommodations to improve their academic functioning and is guided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A student qualifies for a 504 plan if they have a diagnosis for a physical or emotional disability or impairment that restricts their life activities, such as participating class activities.

The difference between an IEP and a 504 Accommodation Plan is that IEP plans are covered under IDEA and are for students who qualify for special education. On the other hand, section 504 covers students who don’t qualify or meet the criteria for special education, but still need and require some accommodations. Both of these plans are in place to ensure that students with disabilities and special needs have access to appropriate public education.

Another point is that section 504 is considered a civil rights law that is designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities. Both the Individualized Education Programs and 504 plans are there to help K-12 students who are struggling in school.

IEP Goals for Autism

IEPs are developed specifically for the child’s educational needs. Since autism is a spectrum disorder and no two children with autism have the same needs, the goals specified in the IEPs would also differ. It is possible to create an effective plan since IEPs are individualized and tailored to the specific needs of the individual.

There are many goals that can be set for the child, like academic, social, and behavioral goals. Academic goals could include learning a new skill, like adding or subtracting. Social skills goals could include developing appropriate play skills with classmates. A behavioral goal could be developing or acquiring coping mechanisms for the problem behaviors. In addition, motor skills can also be included like acquiring handwriting skills.

The important thing is to identify what the child needs and put it in the IEP. Each goal should be broken down into measurable objectives in order to assess the child’s progress later on to make the necessary adjustments. Another point could be the involvement of the child themselves. Engaging the child into the IEP process would enable the autistic child to advocate for themselves. This could help them identify their problem areas and needs to establish reasonable goals in turn.


This article is examined by Clinical Child Psychologist and Ph. D. Researcher Kevser Çakmak, and produced by Otsimo Editorial Team.

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This post does not provide medical advice. See Additional Information.