Does Your Student Need an IEP?

Despite the recent school board dramatics of aspiring politicians like E’Lena Ashley with her Marjorie Taylor Greene aspirations and the understandable but nonetheless dire shortage of people willing to teach for abysmal pay, school is finally kicking back up in the Tulsa metro area. I know this by the hours we spent hunting for the perfect pairs of ADIDAS and Vans for walking up and down the five flights of stairs our freshly behighschooled kids will have to navigate this year and by the seering disappointment of learning we would once more have to deal with school uniforms for our newly minted middle schooler only two weeks before school started. And most importantly, I know this by the annual IEP meeting we’ll need to schedule in the next couple of weeks. 

For those who may not know, an IEP is an individualized education plan designed to meet a student’s unique education needs. One thing I’ve realized over the past few years is that there are a ton of students out there who could benefit from having one, but their parents don’t understand how to navigate the process, where to even begin, or in some cases, that their young person even qualifies for one. IEPs are incredibly useful and can serve as a significant advocacy tool for many young people. If you believe your young person may qualify for an IEP, I strongly urge you to begin the process today. 

Understanding IEP Eligibility

The federal law that allows for IEP creation is called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The purpose of an IEP is to make sure every individual in the education system who interacts with your student or their education is on board with your student’s needs. Part of planning an IEP includes sitting down regularly with your student’s key educator team to go over everything included in that document, creating a legal framework of protection for your student and giving you and your student an opportunity to voice concerns or ask for specific accommodations.

These are some (but not all) of the reasons a student would be eligible for an IEP: 

  • Autism spectrum 
  • ADHD
  • Hearing impairments
  • Visual impairments
  • Developmental delays ages 3 through 9
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Limited English proficiency
  • Dyslexia

You can read more about Oklahoma’s SPED eligibility requirements on the state Department of Education website.  

How to Get an IEP Started

If you’re one of those parents that knows your undiagnosed young person has ADHD or another cognitive or other disability that is interfering with their learning process to any degree, you’re only helping them when you get them diagnosed. 

Think of it like this. At 5’ 2” tall, I have to use a stool to reach the second and third shelf in my kitchen. When I use a stool, I’m not getting an unfair advantage – it’s what I need to reach what everyone else can anyway due to no fault of anyone’s. In much the same way, my autistic teen needs a few different educational tools to have the same opportunities as neurotypical students. 

1. Get a diagnosis.

To get your young person started on the path to their IEP, you’ll need to get a professional diagnosis. There are a few ways you can do this in Oklahoma. If you’re not sure where to start, I highly recommend calling Family and Children’s Services. They provide a full range of services including wraparound support, in-school education support, and medication management (among others).

The great thing about going through FCS is that they offer nonjudgmental support for young people and families, and anything they can’t help you with, they will go out of their way to find you someone who can. These folks have been a lifeline for our family. They even offer virtual appointments or can come to your home. 

2. Contact the school.

Once you’ve got the diagnosis, you’ll need to take that information to the school and get it on file right away. Be sure to find out who will be in charge of your student’s IEP, and be on the lookout for any emails or information you may receive from them. It’s never a bad idea to be proactive, so don’t be afraid to contact your student’s counselor. 

3. Do some research.

Your next step will be attending your student’s IEP meeting. But going into this meeting can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not sure what accommodations will best benefit your student. Since these meetings set up your young person for the coming semester, it’s a good idea to get as prepared as possible ahead of the day. I like to read about accommodations that help other students with similar needs to my son. We also involve my son in the process as much as possible, since at the end of the day, he’s the person who is most impacted by these accommodations. 

When our family is having a difficult time, we reach out to our FCS team and anyone else we can. I also recommend subscribing to Facebook groups for families of individuals with the special need your student has. For supporting our autistic son, we also try to listen to the lived experiences of autistic individuals who post videos or write on social media and consider these when developing our son’s support plan. 

4. Attend your student’s IEP meeting.

You want to get the IEP meeting out of the way as soon as possible so they can be getting the support they need, but it’s also good to remember that the school can make changes to your student’s IEP as needed. When attending your student’s IEP meeting, you can bring other advocates including your student’s counseling or support team. Just be sure to let the school know ahead of time so they can make sure they’ve got enough room for everyone in the space used for the meeting!

What to Expect at the IEP Meeting

Your student’s IEP meeting will typically be a group meeting. Expect to see everyone involved in your young person’s education team including teachers, counselors, and special education teachers. They will be able to make recommendations for your student’s needs based on their experience and education, but they are also fully aware that every student is different, and most teams will be open to your suggestions (and your students).

If this isn’t your experience, please don’t be afraid to advocate for your young person or bring in an outside advocate who will be able to help. And if there’s something you feel would benefit your student that isn’t what would be considered, speak up – their education team is usually fully aware that the parents or guardians know things they don’t about the student’s needs and they want class time to go smoothly for everyone and are willing to do what it takes to make that happen. 

The IEP appointment is lengthy, so be ready to hang out for a while. After the appointment ends, you’ll get a copy of the IEP either in hard copy or electronically. 

Here are just a few examples of things that could be written into your young person’s IEP:

  • Weighted vest
  • Noise-canceling headphones
  • Extra time to complete assignments
  • Untimed tests
  • Shorter or modified assignments
  • Front-of-classroom spot
  • Ability to leave the classroom and go to a designated quiet location as needed
  • Plans for handling meltdowns/shutdowns
  • Modified schedule
  • Extra time for moving between classes
  • Access to fidgets/stimming toys

For a lengthy list of accommodations and modifications, check out this list from the folks at A Day in Our Shoes. 

If you have a family member on an IEP, what challenges or accommodations have you encountered as part of the process? Leave me note below, and have a great first week of school in your little nebula!

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