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Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for Autism

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that all children in the U.S. have a right to a "free appropriate public education."

For children with autism and children with certain other disabilities, this act mandates the creation of an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Each IEP is designed for one child. Its purpose is to meet that child's specific special education needs. It sets goals and objectives and describes what services a child will receive as part of his or her special education program.

Autism and Your Child

Each child with an autism spectrum disorder will have his or her own individual pattern of autism. Sometimes, a child's development is delayed from birth. Other children with autism develop normally before suddenly losing social or language skills. In some children, a loss of language is the impairment. In others, unusual behaviors (like spending hours lining up toys) predominate.

Parents are usually the first to notice something is wrong.

Continue reading about types of autism spectrum disorders, such as Asperger's, Rett's, and more.

Who determines eligibility for an IEP?

Before an IEP can be created for a child with autism, there is a process to determine whether he or she is eligible for special education.

To start the process, your child needs to be evaluated for a disability. That includes autism. Either you as a parent or an educational professional in your child's school district needs to request evaluation. If the district makes the request, your consent is needed before the evaluation can be done.

Professionals within your child's district are usually the ones who do the evaluation, but it can also be done by a developmental pediatrician or psychologist.The evaluation is what determines that your child is eligible for special education. It also helps identify the special services your child might need.

If you think your child's evaluation isn't accurate, you can ask for an independent evaluation. That will be done by a professional from outside the school district. Your child's district will pay for that evaluation.

If the evaluation shows your child needs special education or services, creating an Individualized Education Program is the next step. The IEP will be tailored to your child's needs and abilities.

What is the process for creating an IEP?

The next step after evaluation is the IEP meeting, which is required by law. The Individualized Education Program is supposed to address all aspects of your child's education. So, a number of different people will need to attend the meeting. At the very least, the meeting should include you, your child's teacher, and a special education teacher. Others who are familiar with different aspects of your child's needs and abilities -- social workers, school psychologists, therapists, or doctors -- also should attend. When appropriate, your child may also participate and offer input at the meeting.

The people who attend make up a team. That team will discuss how to best meet your child's educational needs. To prepare for the meeting -- and if your child is able to articulate answers -- you may find it helpful to ask your child questions about school such as:

  • "What is your favorite subject?"
  • "What is the hardest thing for you at school?"
  • "What is the easiest thing for you at school?"

Understanding how your child and his or her team view your child's strengths and weaknesses can be a big help in the development of the IEP.

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