Preparing for Your First IEP: Elementary

Jul. 15, 2022Updated Oct. 7, 2022
Attending your child’s first Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting can be overwhelming. Don’t let it be! While you’re still getting used to all the new terms and the many parts of the IEP, you already have the hardest part down: learning everything you need to know about your child to help them succeed. So let’s get organized, read the essentials, and prepare for your IEP meeting.

Learning IEP basics

• What is an IEP?

An IEP lists the services and supports that your child's school or district will provide at no cost to your family to help them access a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, all students who receive special education services must have an IEP. You can read a quick explanation and background of IDEA and FAPE here.

• Who qualifies for an IEP?

There are 13 categories of diagnoses that may qualify a student for an IEP. A student who cannot make meaningful progress in school without special education services is likely eligible for an IEP.

• Who writes an IEP?

The first step is a formal assessment by the school or district. Then, the members of an IEP team (which includes the child's parents), will meet and review the assessments to determine whether a child is eligible for special education services. If so, the IEP team will work together to decide on the supports and services that address the child’s educational needs that arise because of their disability. Everything they decide on gets written into the IEP document.

• What are IEP assessments like?

Assessments help IEP teams identify a child’s goals, strengths, and areas of need. Before a student is eligible for an IEP, they must undergo an initial full assessment by a school psychologist, special education teacher, and/or other service provider(s). The assessment should cover social skills, communication, academic performance, and all other areas where parents or teachers have concerns.

• When does an IEP go into effect?

Within 30 days after a student has been deemed eligible for special education services, the school must hold an IEP meeting. You can learn more about IEP timelines here.

• What is in an IEP?

Your child’s initial IEP will include the following components:

  • Present levels of performance (PLOP)
  • Annual IEP goals
  • Progress monitoring measures
  • Related services
  • Supplementary aids and services
  • Extent of non-participation in the general education setting
  • Statewide testing and accommodations
  • Service delivery (offer of FAPE)

Once your child’s initial IEP is complete, you’ll have annual and triennial IEP meetings to make sure the IEP is up to date and reflects your child's needs and goals. You can also request an IEP meeting or assessment at any time if you have additional concerns. Read more about these other IEP meetings here.

Common special education acronyms used in IEPs

There are often many acronyms and education-specific words used during the process of working with an IEP team. Check out our comprehensive guide to these terms.

Parent training

An IEP can contain a provision that the school provide parent training and counseling to help you learn skills to support your child at home. Read more about parent training and how to request it in the IEP here.

Accommodations for IEPs and Section 504s

Accommodations that are written into an IEP help make it easier for your child to learn the same material as their peers and participate fully in school. Here are some common example accommodations in an IEP:

  • Assigning your child to sit near the teacher or additional personal space
  • Extra time to complete tasks
  • Giving the child fidgets or sensory seats to promote attention and self-regulation
  • A plan to help manage medication side effects
  • Supervision during mealtimes

Check out an extensive list of example IEP accommodations here, including a printable list you can bring with you to your IEP meeting if needed.

1:1 aides

If you feel that your child would benefit from 1:1 assistance from a school staff member to fully participate in their education, you can request a 1:1 aide in the IEP. Some of the most common reasons to request a 1:1 aide include help with toileting, health and safety, or behavior management in the classroom. Read more about 1:1 aides here.

Consider writing a parental concerns letter

Before the IEP meeting takes place, you may want to write a parental concerns letter about what you would like to see addressed at an IEP meeting. This letter makes sure your input and suggestions are included in your child’s file, and it's a chance to share information that you have as the expert on your child.

See our article with tips from two special education experts about when it’s beneficial to write a parental concerns letter and what to include.

You can also learn more about parent participation and procedural safeguards here to better understand your rights as a parent of a child with an IEP.

Strength-based IEPs

You want teachers and other members of the IEP team to see your whole child and not just focus on their deficits. Creating a strength-based IEP using positive, child-focused language is key.

A strength-based IEP focuses on a child’s needs, goals, abilities, and possibilities. Instead of focusing on what your child can’t do, a strength-based IEP focuses on what supports they need to accomplish their goals. For example, if a student has difficulty communicating verbally, a strength-based IEP might state, “Enjoys communicating with peers with a speech-generating device.”

Read more about strength-based IEPs here to learn how to get your entire IEP team on the same page when it comes to your child’s abilities and needs.

In this clip, Education Advocate Lisa Carey breaks down what an IEP does and how a strength-based IEP helps your child get the most out of their education:

What to know about placement in an IEP

Part of the IEP process is working with your IEP team to decide on your child’s educational placement. Ask your district program to share information about all options with you. By law, they cannot make a decision about placement before the IEP meeting or without your input. You are an equal member of the IEP team, and you can’t discuss placement without knowing about all the options.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that your child be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE), which means having access to the general education curriculum while their academic, social, emotional, and behavioral goals are supported. For example, suppose your child can be in a general education classroom with the support of a classroom aide. This is what should be provided. Your child should only be removed from a general education classroom if supports and services cannot meet their unique needs in that environment, or if you and the IEP team come to a decision on something else.

Learn more about placement options here.

IEP to-do list

You should receive a request from the school or district inviting you to the IEP meeting (or you can request an IEP meeting yourself). If you will be bringing a friend, specialist, attorney, or advocate with you, let the school know.

Bring the following items to the meeting — it’s a good idea to create a binder to organize your documents so they’ll be easy to find while you’re there:

  • A picture of your child for the cover of the binder
  • Documentation of your child’s strengths and interests
  • Recent progress reports and assessments as well as videos from current and previous therapists
  • Any relevant communications with your district or preferred school
  • A list of your concerns and solutions you feel may work. Bring this list to the meeting and use it to keep track of what your team agrees to, when they will start working on it, and who is responsible for each concern. Use this list of concerns template for handy note-taking at the meeting.

List of concerns template

We recommend you begin preparing for your meeting two days before:

  • Check with the person you asked to accompany you (perhaps they can take notes for you!)
  • If you plan to record the meeting, write the school to let them know you will be recording the meeting at least 24 hours beforehand.
  • Make a note to pack your laptop/device or favorite pen and a pad of paper for note-taking.

Busting common myths about IEPs

Do you have any questions about your child’s upcoming IEP meeting? Our IEP prep decoder is full of more tips and resources to help you understand what you're getting into. You can also reach out to an Undivided Navigator for 1:1 help prepping for your next IEP meeting!



Learning IEP basics

IEP to-do list

Busting common myths about IEPs

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