Fact sheet  for information on  the individualized education program and Autism, an Autism Spectrum Disorder


Definition of Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

An individualized education plan means one that is designed to meet the unique educational needs of one child. The IEP must be tailored to the individual student's needs as identified by the evaluation process and must help teachers and related service providers understand the student and how best to work with that student. In other words, the IEP should describe how the student learns, how the student best demonstrates that learning and how the school staff and student will work together to help the student learn better.


Under no circumstances should an IEP be written “to fit” a particular placement. Services for each student should be individually considered and recommended and should not depend on known or existing services. Each IEP should be designed to meet the specific needs of one student and should be a truly individualized document


In the United States an Individualized Education Program, commonly referred to as an IEP, is mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In Canada an equivalent document is called an Individual Education Plan.


In the US, the IDEA requires public schools to develop an IEP for every student with a disability who is found to meet the federal and state requirements for special education. [1]. The IEP should be designed to provide the child with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The IEP refers both to the educational program to be provided to a child with a disability and to the written document that describes that educational program.


Key considerations in developing an IEP include assessing students in all areas related to the suspected disability(ies), considering access to the general curriculum, considering how the disability affects the student’s learning, developing goals and objectives that make the biggest difference for the student, and ultimately choosing a placement in the least restrictive environment.


Components of an IEP

In the US, the IDEA 2004 requires that an IEP must be written according to the needs of one student, and it must include the following:


The child's present levels of academic and functional performance
Measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals
How the child's progress toward meeting the annual goals are to be measured and reported to the parents
Special education services, related services, and supplementary aids to be provided to the child
Schedule of services to be provided, including when the services are to begin, the frequency, duration and location for the provision of services
Program modifications or supports provided to school personnel on behalf of the child
Explanation of any time the child will not participate along with nondisabled children
Accommodations to be provided during state and district assessments that are necessary to the measuring child's academic and functional performance
When the student is 16, a statement of post-secondary goals and plan for providing what the student needs to make a successful transition. [2].
IEPs also include other pertinent information found necessary by the team, such as a health plan or a behavior plan for some students.


Procedural Requirements for IEP Development

The outcome of the IEP development process is an official document that describes the education plan designed to meet the unique needs of one child with a disability.


Determination of eligibility for special education

Before an IEP is written for a child with a disability, the school should first determine whether the child qualifies for special education services. To qualify, the child's disability should have an adverse effect on the child's educational progress. Merely having a disability is not sufficient for eligibility.

To determine eligibility, the school should conduct a full evaluation of the child in all areas of suspected disability. Based in part on the results of the evaluation, the school along with the parents meet to review the results and the child's current level of performance and to determine whether special education services are needed.

If the child is found eligible for services, the school is required to convene an IEP team and develop an appropriate educational plan for the child. The IEP should be implemented as soon as possible after the child is determined eligible. IDEA does not state specific timeframes for each step. However, some states have added specific timelines that schools should follow for the eligibility, IEP development, and IEP implementation milestones.


Members of the IEP Team

The IEP team should include the student's parent(s) or guardian(s), a special education teacher, at least one regular education teacher, a representative of the school or district who is knowedgeable about the availability of school resources, and an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of the child's evaluation results (such as the school psychologist).

The parent or school may also bring other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child. For example, the school may invite related service providers such as speech and occupational therapists. The parent may invite professionals who have worked with or assessed the child, or someone to assist the parent in advocating for their child's needs, such as a parent advocate or attorney. Many parents choose to bring at least one other person with them to IEP meetings because meeting with such a large group of school personnel can be intimidating to parents.

If appropriate, the child may also participate in IEP team meetings. For example, some children begin participating in their IEP meetings when they reach middle school age.


Role of the Parent

Parents are considered to be full and equal members of the IEP team, along with school personnel. Parents are crucial members of the team because they have unique knowledge of their child's strengths and needs. Parents have the right to be involved in meetings that discuss the identification, evaluation, IEP development and educational placement of their children. They also have the right to ask questions, dispute points, and request modifications to the plan, as do all members of the IEP team.

Although IEP teams are required to work toward consensue, school personnel ultimately are responsible for ensuring that the IEP includes the services that the student needs. By law, schools districts are obligated to make a proposal for services to the parent. If agreement cannot be reached, the school district cannot delay in providing the services that it believes are the best services to ensure that the student receives an effective educational program.

An IEP meeting is not to be confused with a Parent/Teacher conference in which the parent sits and listens as the teacher reports the student's progress and performance. In order to fully participate in developing their child's IEP, parents should be knowledgeable about their child's specific disabilities, their rights under federal and state law, and the policies and procedures of the local education agency. Few parents have this knowledge when their child is initially identified as having a disability. IDEA requires each state to fund parent training and information centers [3] to provide parents the information they need to advocate effectively for their child. The centers may also provide a knowledgeable person to accompany a parent to IEP meetings to assist the parent in participating more fully in the process.

The school should make a significant effort to ensure that one or both of the parents are present at each IEP team meeting. If parents are unable to attend, the school should be able to show that due diligence was made to enable the parents to attend, including notifying the parents early enough that they have an opportunity to attend, scheduling the meeting at a mutually agreed on time and place, and offering alternative means of participation, such as a phone conference.

The school should also take whatever action is necessary to ensure that the parent understands the proceedings of IEP team meetings, including arranging for an interpreter for parents who are deaf or whose native language is not English.


Developing the child's education plan

After the child is determined to be eligible for special education services, the IEP team should develop an individual education plan to be implemented as soon as possible after eligibility is determined. Using the results of the full individual evaluation (FIE), the IEP team works together to identify the child's present level of educational performance, the child's specific academic, and any related or special services that the child needs in order to benefit from their education.

When developing an IEP, the team should consider the strengths of the child, the concerns of the parent for their child's education, results of the initial or most recent evaluation of the child (including private evaluations conducted by the parents), and the academic, developmental, and functional needs of the child. In the case of a child whose behavior impedes the child's learning or that of other children, the team should consider the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports to address the behavior.

The IEP team should also consider the communication needs of the child. For example, if a child is blind or visually impaired, the IEP should provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless an evaluation of the child's reading and writing skills, needs, and future needs indicate that this instruction is not appropriate for the child. If a child is deaf or hard of hearing, the team should consider the child's language and communication needs, including the need to communicate with school personnel and peers, and the child's need for direct instruction in the child's language and communication mode. In the case of a child with limited English proficiency, the team should consider the language needs of the child as those needs relate to the child's IEP.

A matrix is then drafted containing the student’s present level of performance, indicators about ways the student’s disability influences participation and progress in the general curriculum, a statement of measurable goals; including benchmarks or short-terms objectives, the specific educational services to be provided; including program modifications or supports, an explanation of the extent that the child will not participate in general education, a description of all modifications in statewide or district-wide assessments, the projected date for initiation of the services and the expected duration of those services, the annual statement of transition service needs (beginning at age 14), and a statement of interagency responsibilities to ensure continuity of services when the student leaves school (by age 16), a statement regarding how the student’s progress will be measured and how the parents will be informed in the process.

IDEA requires a child's IEP be developed solely based on the child's needs, and not based on pre-existing programs or services available in the district. Whether particular services are available in the district should not be considered when identifying the services a child needs to receive an appropriate education.


Determining the appropriate placement

After the IEP is developed, the IEP team then determines placement—that is, the environment in which the child's IEP can most readily be implemented. IDEA requires that the IEP be complete before placement decisions are made so that the child's educational needs drive the IEP development process. Schools may not develop a child's IEP to fit into a pre-existing program for a particular classification of disability. The IEP is written to fit the student. The placement is chosen to fit the IEP.


IDEA requires state and local education agencies to educate children with disabilities with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. A child can only be placed in a separate school or special classes if the severity or nature of the disability is such that appropriate education cannot be provided to the child in the regular classroom, even with the use of supplementary aids and services. When determining placement, the starting assumption should be that the child will be educated alongside his or her typically developing peers. After examining the child's needs and considering possible in-class aids and services are insufficient to meet the child's needs can the IEP team consider placing the child in a more restricted environment.


The goal of the IDEA is that, as much as possible, children are to be educated in the same classroom as the child's non-disabled peers in the school nearest the child's home.


Implementing the child's IEP

After the IEP is developed and placement is determined, the child's teachers are responsible for implementing all educational services, program modifications or supports as indicated by the individual education plan.


Schools should have an IEP in effect at the beginning of the school year. Initial IEPs should be developed within 30 days of the determination of eligibility, and the services specified in the child's IEP should be provided as soon as possible after the IEP is developed.


Annual review

After the IEP is developed and placement is determined, the child's teachers are responsible for implementing all educational services, program modifications or supports as indicated by the individual education


Acceptance/Amendments of an IEP

An initial IEP should be accepted and signed by a parent or guardian before any of the outlined services may begin. However, parents/guardians need not sign any paper work when it is initially proposed. They have 30 calendar days to take the paper work home for their consideration.
The IEP is never set in stone; any member of the team may call a meeting at any time to edit the IEP.


Procedural safeguards

School personnel have an obligation to provide parents with a Procedural Safeguards Notice, which should include an explanation of all of the procedural safeguards built into IDEA. In addition, the information should be in understandable language and in the native language of the parent.


Schools should give parents a copy of the child's IEP at no cost to the parent.


Services that may be provided to a child with a disability
Specially designed instruction
Related services
Program modifications
Classroom accommodations
Supplementary aids and services


Specially designed instruction

Specially designed instruction affects the instructional content, method of instructional delivery, and the performance methods and criteria that are necessary to assist the student make meaningful educational progress. This instruction is designed by or with an appropriately credentialled special education teacher or related service provider.

For some students, teachers may need to present information through the use of manipulatives. For other students, teachers may need to select and teach only important key concepts and then alter evaluation activities and criteria to match this content change.

The IEP team should determine whether a specific type of instruction should be included in a student’s IEP. Generally, if the methodology is an essential part of what is required to meet the individualized needs of the student, the methodology should be included. For instance, if a student has a learning disability and has not learned to read using traditional methods, then another method may be required. When including such an IEP recommendation, the Team should describe the components of the appropriate type of methodology as opposed to naming a specific program.


Related services

If the child needs additional services in order to access or benefit from special education, schools are to provide the services as related services.

Services specified in IDEA include, but are not limited to, speech therapy, occupational or physical therapy, interpreters, medical services (such as a nurse to perform procedures the child needs during the day, for example, catheterization), orientation and mobility services, parent counseling and training to help parents support the implementation of their childs IEP, psychological or counseling services, recreation services, rehabilitation, social work services, and transportation.


Program modifications

Modifications to the content of the program Lowered success criteria for academic success increased emphasis on daily living skills and decrease Alternative state assesswments, such as off-grade level assessments


Classroom accommodations

Some of a student's educational needs may be met using accommodations. Accommodations are typically provided by general educators within the general education environment. Accommodations do not involve modifying the material content but do allow students to receive information or to demonstrate what they have learned in ways that work around their disabilities.


Accommodations may include such provisions as preferential seating, providing photocopies of teacher notes, giving oral rather than written quizzes, alternative or modified assignments, extended time for tests and assignments, use of a word processor or laptop, and taking tests in a quiet room.


The IEP team should reflect on the affect the disability(ies) has on educational progress and then identify accommodations, if any are needed, for the student to make effective progress.



Kamens, M. W. (2004). Learning to write IEPs: A personalized, reflective approach for preservice teachers. Intervention in School and Clinic, 40(2), 76-80.
Katsiyannis, A., & Maag, J. W. (2001). Educational methodologies: Legal and practical considerations. Preventing School Failure, 46(1), 31-36.
Lewis, A. C. (2005). The old, new IDEA. The Education Digest, 70(5), 68-70.
Patterson, K. (2005). What classroom teachers need to know about IDEA '97. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 41(2), 62-67.
Weishaar, M. K. (2001). The regular educator's role in the individual education plan process. The Clearing House, 75(2), 96-98.
Ormrod, Jeanne Ellis. Educational Psychology: Developing Learners (fifth edition). Pearson, Merrill Prentice Hall, 2006.

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For children on the autism spectrum, the most critical aspect of their educational program is their individualized education program (IEP) to assist in their development and education