34 Things People Might Not Realize About IEPs


An IEP (individualized education program) is a program set in place by a child’s team (which can include parents, teachers and therapists as well as the child) to ensure he or she has every opportunity to thrive in school. According to understood.org, an IEP must include certain information by law, such as the child’s education goals for the year and what the school will provide in terms of modifications and accommodations.

There’s a lot to learn about IEPs — so much so that it can sometimes seem overwhelming when you’re just getting started. But there is also a lot people should know about IEPs, the meetings around them and the process in general.

We asked our Facebook communities to share one thing people don’t always realize about IEPs. Here are some of their answers:

1. “As a teacher, I always wanted parents to know that I saw far more positive and potential in their child than I could express in the IEP paperwork. It represented only a fraction of my hopes and goals for the student.” — Janice Smith Williams

A blurred photo of a test with a pencil and the text: “As a teacher, I always wanted parents to know that I saw far more positive and potential in their child than I could express in the IEP paperwork. It represented only a fraction of my hopes and goals for the student.” — Janice Smith Williams

2. “You have a right to bring anyone to a meeting with you. Don’t be afraid to use an advocate. You may not fully understand your rights or what you are entitled to under the law.” — Sharren Foster

3. “A child’s IEP does not define them; it outlines the way in which the school environment, teaching and curriculum are to be adapted to meet the student’s needs. It should both challenge and ensure success!” — Emily Hastings-Speck

4. “You don’t have to sign it if you don’t agree with it. You are part of the team. You can ask for things to be added. Just because it is ‘typed and finished’ doesn’t mean you have to sign it.” — Laralyn Doran Gill

5. “Having a learning disability, I always went to my IEP meetings. It was a chance for my teachers to get to know me better. I also learned to advocate for myself while many of my peers relied on their parents to do that for them.” — Tracy Augustine

6. “We should all go into it with a ‘team’ mentality. Don’t we all want what’s best for the child?” — Amanda Paffe

7. “You have a say in what goes in them. Speak up. Ask for what you need. You are an integral part of the process.” — Meg Davis

A photo of raised hands in front of a chalkboard with the text: “You have a say in what goes in them. Speak up. Ask for what you need. You are an integral part of the process.” — Meg Davis

8. “I’ve been on both ends of the IEP world as a mom and as a teacher. The biggest thing the professionals need to know is how to talk to the parents. It can be very intimidating to the parents, and they want to be heard, too. Often parents feel as if they’re inadequate because their child has certain needs and the staff doesn’t help with the ‘you should do this or that’ speeches. They need to know their input is important and valued because they tend to know their child the best.” — Tara Braman

9. “Special education teachers put so much time into them. I spend hours working on IEPs so they are a cohesive snapshot of each child.” — Allie Szczecinski

10. “Being legally blind and having one, I hated it. I felt freaked out having someone follow me all day taking notes like I was a lab experiment, and being forced to hear all the bad things I did made me feel bullied by the adults who I thought cared about me.” — Mandy Ree

11. “Having an IEP does not make you ‘stupid,’ ‘slow,’ etc. You learn differently; that’s all it means and all it should mean. Having an IEP doesn’t have to come with stigma.” — Yael Gottesman

A photo of a stack of books and an apple on a desk with the text: Having an IEP doesn’t have to come with stigma.” — Yael Gottesman

12. “You don’t have to sign the first copy they offer you! You can take it home, make changes, think of questions, get advice from your doctor and therapists. Also, you should go line by line in the meeting out loud to make sure you understand everything written. If something needs to be rewritten, then cross it out and make changes. Just remember to set up another meeting for one to two weeks later to review the new copy.” — Dinah Conti Huff

13. “As a special education teacher and a mother of a kiddo with an IEP, I want people to know it’s a flexible document that everyone puts together in the best interest of the student. It breaks my heart that so many people think it’s a boxing match.” — Dana Brandt-DeMaria

14. “Federal disability law demands the classroom accommodate the child — the child does not have to accommodate to the classroom.” — Amy Carlton Collen

15. “Some programs that offer academic or other support, especially grant-run ones, sometimes fall outside the specific special education programs. Seek those out as well. See if they can be included.” — Kate Cahill Scarpena

16. “The student should be involved in the IEP meeting as much as possible.” — Lauren Berglund

17. “The IEP is a legal document that must be implemented with fidelity. And you have the right to request evidence of implementation.” — Becky Smerdon

18. “These educators, most of whom have good intentions, only see a small part of who your child is. The psychologist who tests every few years who spends 30 minutes with your child… doesn’t know your child like you do. Don’t take everything they say to heart — you are the expert on your child.” — Andrea Detra

19. “People think an IEP is going to tell the people working with the child everything they need to know. Honestly, I always felt like the IEP only created more questions. People have to actually spend time with the student, assess the student and make observations themselves for them to understand what a child needs. The IEP is extremely important, don’t get me wrong, but it also should not be the only thing that is used to make decisions.” — Kaitlin Eckland

20. “Just because a child has an IEP doesn’t mean the child is less of a person. And the child understands what you are saying during the meeting. They are not invisible and should be involved in the process.” — Desiree Ferguson

21. “People of all abilities have IEPs for different reasons.” — Miranda Cox

22. “You have more power than you think you have in the process. You have to do your homework and understand your child’s rights, but most importantly understand your child’s needs and be relentless in pursuit of the supports your child requires to be successful in their education.” — Suzanne Fitzpatrick-Marquardt

23. “Creating a PowerPoint presentation about your child — strengths, weaknesses, medical conditions, likes, dislikes — with lots of pictures of your child helps remind everyone there’s a very special person who we’re all advocating for, not just a name on a piece of paper.” — Cassandra Imfeld Jeyaram

24. “No child’s worth is defined by results of an evaluation or testing. Every child is unique and beautiful and worthy, no matter the challenges they have.” — Kimberly Evans

A blurred photo of a scantron with the text: “No child's worth is defined by results of an evaluation or testing. Every child is unique and beautiful and worthy, no matter the challenges they have.” — Kimberly Evans

25. “As a parent going through the process and as a teacher who’s been through the process — provide as much info as you can about what you see at home, what works, doesn’t work, etc. Your child may act completely different at home than at school, and that’s important info! If you have had specialists run tests, provide copies for the school so your child isn’t getting tested multiple times for the same thing. Remember that everyone in the room wants your child to succeed and be happy.” — Kasi Farr

26. “The IEP is a living, breathing document. Never should it be assumed or interpreted as a document that is set in stone. An effective IEP is updated with important information and paints a clear and accurate picture of the student.” — Lisa M Rhodes

27. “Even if the team builds an excellent IEP, it means nothing if it’s not actually implemented. Sometimes parents really have to work to make sure that happens.” — Kelly Rich

28. “The school will make their recommendations, but you do not have to say yes to anything. If they tell you they want to reduce services, ask for data to back up their recommendation. If they tell you they don’t agree with a medical diagnosis, bring contradicting paperwork from every professional you have access to. If possible, get the teacher in your corner. Before the meeting, try to get your child’s teacher on the same page regarding what accommodations and services will make your child the most successful.” — From the Bowels of Motherhood

29. “Bringing coffee and donuts to your meetings really does help, I promise.” — Delaina Conour

30. “Students on IEPs aren’t getting ‘special treatment.’ They are getting what they need to access the curriculum like everyone else.” — Anna Davis Gode

31. “I have ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and had an IEP growing up. I hate them. [IEP meetings] can be stressful, embarrassing and even hurtful sometimes. We’re reminded of the things we’re doing wrong and then when you do things right, you start doubting yourself.” — Arianna Lea Nyswonger

32. “Bring someone with you for support, for knowledge, to take notes. Some things like test scores may be hard to hear. It’s good to have someone else along for the ride.” — Stephanie Sumulong

33. “You don’t need to wait until the IEP to have discussions with people on the team. I shoot to have sit-down conversations with 80 percent of the team members in the two months before each annual IEP. I like to make allies, solve any misunderstandings, ask questions and feel out any possible area of disagreement. Then I bring warm cookies.” — Amy S Paegel

34. “The more active the parents are in the process, the better the results will be. They know their children best. I appreciated being included in my IEP meetings when I was old enough to provide input starting in sixth grade. Involve the child when the time is right.” — Meghan Bayer

Blurred photo of two people talking with the text: “The more active the parents are in the process, the better the results will be. They know their children best. I appreciated being included in my IEP meetings when I was old enough to provide input starting in sixth grade. Involve the child when the time is right.” — Meghan Bayer

Editor’s note: Some of these answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. These answers are based on people’s personal experiences and do not necessarily represent the IEP process for everyone. If you’d like to add your own experience, share with us in the comment section below.

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