An IEP can be a student’s best tool

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, August 9, 2017

By Joan Graves

If you’ve read my blog, you know I am a fan of IEP’s. The Individualized Educational Plan is one of the most valuable tools for both parents and teachers. Rarely is there a federal law that fully benefits all parties but the IEP does precisely that.

Recently, I’ve heard from parents who tell how a teacher discouraged them from obtaining an IEP and they now regret it. I realize an IEP makes more paperwork for a teacher, but it is also an ironclad protection for both teacher and student.

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We all know how conflicts in the classroom arise, but the IEP ends the drama scarcely before it begins.

The discouragement of an IEP is often based on the child’s age. Parents are told kindergartners, and especially preschool students, don’t need an IEP. Some teachers feel that age is too young for an IEP and/or the child will “grow out” of the IEP. Well, that is somewhat true but not entirely.

An IEP is not intended to be a one time document. It should be altered to fit your child’s growing needs. Think of it as a fluid educational map, not a rigid globe with no way to change. It should evolve at the same rate as your child, which is why meetings to discuss possible changes are usually at the beginning of the school year. However, by law, a parent can call a meeting anytime the child needs educational alterations.

A teacher may say an IEP isn’t needed because she’s already doing things in the classroom an IEP would cover. Why take up everyone’s time for something already being done? First, celebrate the fact your child has a great teacher. Second, get the IEP anyway. As great as the current teacher is, you may get one next year who does the opposite. You will save yourself a lot of drama and frustration if you and a teacher don’t see eye-to-eye but an IEP in in place.

I’ve heard it said young children change so much it’s better to wait until he’s older to get an IEP. A changing child needs an IEP. What happens when Billy, who has navigated school just fine, suddenly begins having problems? This often happens when medications are tried, changed or deleted. Having potential behaviors documented with ways to respond to them is a lot easier than trying to create an IEP in crisis mode.

People tend to downplay your vehemence to create an IEP when you’ve not obtained one previously. I’ve had teachers conclude it must be a behavioral or parenting issue since the parents never sought an IEP in the past. It doesn’t matter than the previous teacher discouraged it. It only matters you knew by law you could get one but didn’t.

An IEP is like disaster planning. When the problem strikes, everyone knows exactly what to do.  The quicker and most stress-free you can resolve an issue the better it is for everyone.

For the special needs child, an IEP is a life preserver in the education pool where he often feels adrift.


Joan Graves is a mother to five boys and an advocate and activist for children with special needs and their families. For more, go to