Developing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

Once the school team approves your child's application for special education, an educational plan will be put together. Although different states have different names for this, the federal law calls it an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

This is a contract between you and the school for your child's education. You have final approval of this plan before the school can put it into action. However, you must respond to the IEP within 14 days or will take effect automatically.

It is very important for you to be involved in developing this plan. The IEP is a legal document used to plan, monitor, and evaluate your child's progress. As of January 2005, the IEP must include:

  1. Your child's current level of educational ability
  2. Goals and short-term objectives for the year
  3. Educational services needed to meet those goals and objectives
  4. Plan for how your child will be part of regular classroom programs
  5. Dates to begin services
  6. How your child's program will be evaluated
  7. Schedule for checking progress and making needed changes

When the IDEIA goes into effect July 2005, there will be changes to how the IEP is written. The new legislation removes the mandate for short term objectives except "in children with disabilities who take alternative assessments aligned to alternate achievement standards." The IEP must contain an indication of when periodic progress reports will be made to the parents on how the child is progressing toward the annual goals. It will be very important for parents to understand how the school district is going to help the child reach the goal and how they are going to measure success.

Think about why, when, and if you want to include your child in all or part of the IEP meeting. Consider your child's ability to participate in the planning process, to hear feedback, and to answer questions. Weigh how your child's presence will contribute to or limit discussions.

Many schools are in the habit of doing IEPs only once a year. However, the IEP of a student with a brain injury should be reviewed monthly after the student first returns to school. Later, you may want to set up reviews every 3-4 months. This is because the needs of a student with a brain injury change, especially in the first year after the injury.

TIP: Insist on frequent reviews of the IEP.

Setting up IEP meetings involves a lot of time and work by school staff. Insist on frequent meetings because they are the key to monitoring services, identifying changing needs, spotting problems and delays, putting together effective educational plans, and committing resources.

The goals and objectives written on the IEP should include not only what your child needs to learn but how your child will learn. Once an IEP is written, it must be followed by school staff. Any changes require the consent of the school team. As a parent, you have the right to request a review or revision of the IEP at any time.

I brought a list of questions and requests to each meeting. It was important to be prepared in advance, because it was easy to get flustered and overpowered in the meetings. There were usually at least 10 or 12 professionals at the meetings, and it took a while for me to get up my nerve and speak up.

Information to Record and Keep for Future Use

Just as you recorded information about the many medical and rehabilitation people who cared for your child, it is useful to set up a record-keeping system to keep track of the people involved in your child's educational plan. You will also find it useful to keep copies of Individualized Family Service Plans, Individualized Education Plans, education evaluation reports, and copies of written correspondence with school staff. There is a school personnel sheet to help you stay organized.

Getting Information to the School

Obtain reference material from the Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire and bring it to the educational team. Encourage them to contact the Brain Injury Association for a free training session on brain injury and its impact on learning.

Written Records

A problem often cited by schools is reports so filled with medical jargon and terms that they are not understandable by nor useful for the classroom teacher. You can help prevent this by asking to receive copies of all reports sent to your child's school. Read them over and check them for accuracy. Use yourself as a judge of whether they are understandable for school staff. If you can't understand them, chances are that school staff won't either.

Be sure that school staff get information that:

Important to include are:

  1. General information on traumatic brain injury
  2. Medical terms explained in understandable terms
  3. Meaning of test results
  4. Neuropsychological reports with recommendations for the school
  5. Predicted changes for how your child will move, think, and behave
  6. Suggestions for school staff that are practical and useful in the classroom
  7. Recommendations for special education services or programs
  8. Recommendations for follow-up, further tests, or evaluations

Meetings

TIP: Ask any experts who send written reports on your child to send you a copy. Ask if experts are available to follow up with a meeting or phone call to explain unfamiliar terms or to answer questions.

TIP: Ask the rehabilitation team to arrange a conference with school staff to discuss your child's condition, needs, and return to school. Several meetings may be needed. If this is not possible, ask for conferences by telephone. If school staff cannot travel to observe your child in therapy, send videotapes or pictures to give the school a "picture" of your child's condition and progress.

TIP: Be sure that your child's regular teacher attends meetings. It is important that your child's teacher(s) be at the planning meetings. Other people who may attend are: special education director, special education liaison or coordinator, school nurse, principal, school psychologist, guidance counselor, and social worker.

TIP: Ask for a staff member from the Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire to be present at team meetings. This individual can help explain brain injury, help advocate for your child's needs, and help the team determine how to implement services.

Keep Communication Going

You will be the person involved with the school over the long run, so don't leave all the communication to the rehabilitation experts and assume that "they will take care of it". Keep in touch with the school while your child is in the rehabilitation program. Give them regular updates on your child's progress, ask if they need any additional information, invite them to visit your child, and provide them with copies of any written information on brain injury that you receive.

Know who from the rehabilitation team is responsible for coordinating planning with the school and know who is responsible from the school. You are the bridge or the link between these two systems.

TIP: Remember, YOU are the "professional parent" on the educational team, and you are a very important person.

YOU are the professional parent on the educational team, and you are a very important person