Preparing for Your First IEP: Preschool and Elementary

Jul. 15, 2022Updated Aug. 3, 2022
Attending your child’s first Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting can be overwhelming. You’ll come across many new words and acronyms, and the IEP itself has many parts. We’ve outlined the essentials below to help you get organized and prepare for your IEP meeting!

IEP basics

What is an IEP?

An IEP is an outline of services and supports that the school or district will provide at no cost to the student’s family to ensure their needs are met. All students who receive special education services must have an IEP — and all IEPs must ensure that the student has access to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE), as outlined in IDEA. You can read a quick explanation and background of the IDEA and FAPE here.

• Who is eligible for an IEP?

A child is eligible for an IEP if they meet the criteria for one of 13 eligibility categories and cannot make adequate progress in school without special education services.

• Who develops an IEP?

After a formal assessment by the school or district, the IEP team is created — read about the members of the IEP team and who is legally obligated to attend here. The team will meet and review the assessments to determine whether a child is eligible for special education services. If so, they will design a program to address the child’s educational needs that arise because of their disability; this program is outlined in the IEP.

• How will my child be assessed?

A thorough assessment is the key to creating a strong IEP that accurately reflects a child’s goals, strengths, and areas of need. To qualify for an IEP, a student must receive an initial full assessment by a school psychologist, special education teacher, or other service provider. A full assessment is multidisciplinary, meaning it will include multiple areas of interest, such as social skills, communication, and academic performance.

• When is an IEP developed?

An IEP meeting must be held within 30 days after a student has been deemed eligible for special education and related services. Learn more about IEP timelines here.

• Types of IEPs

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, as well as other options for reassessment and amendments. Read more about types of IEPs here.

Translating IEP language and common special education acronyms

During the IEP process, you may come across many acronyms and unfamiliar words. Check out our comprehensive guide to these here.

Parent training

One essential service an IEP can provide is parent training and counseling. You can request this at your IEP meeting to help you learn skills to support your child at home. Read more about parent training here.

Accommodations for IEPs and Section 504s

Accommodations help remove barriers that make it difficult for your child to learn the same material as their peers and allow them to participate fully in school. Some common accommodations are:

  • 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.

1:1 aides

A 1:1 aide is a staff member who works individually with your child to help them access FAPE. You can request a 1:1 aide at your child’s IEP meeting if you feel your child may benefit from this service. There are many reasons the IEP team may determine your child needs this support, including but not limited to help with toileting, health and safety, or behavior management. Read more about 1:1 aides here.

Consider writing a parental concerns letter

As a parent, you are an integral part of your child’s IEP planning and decision-making team. One way to make sure your input and suggestions are part of your child’s file is by writing a parental concerns letter about what you would like to see addressed at an IEP meeting. This is a chance to share information that only you know about your child.

If you feel it would be helpful for your upcoming IEP meeting to draft a parental concerns letter, see our article with tips from special education attorney Grace Clark and special education advocate Dr. Sarah Pelangka.

You can also learn more about parent participation and procedural safeguards here.

Strength-based IEPs

Unfortunately, the language used in your child’s IEP can influence adults’ perception of them. Creating a strength-based IEP using positive, child-focused language can help the adults working with your child learn about them as a whole person.

A strength-based IEP focuses on a child’s needs, goals, abilities, and possibilities. Instead of more attention being placed on something a child can’t do, it 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.”

You can help create strength-based goals for your child by writing a vision statement, where you discuss your hopes for the life your child will lead, which can become a focal point for the IEP team when creating goals. Read more about vision statements and strength-based IEPs here.

In this clip, Education Advocate Lisa Carey breaks down what an IEP does and how a strength-based IEP can only benefit your child.

IEP to-do list

You should receive a request from the school or district inviting you to the IEP meeting (if you don’t, read about how to request an IEP meeting here). If the date and time work for you, accept and let the school know if you will be bringing a friend, specialist, attorney, or advocate with you. (You can read about the differences between special education attorneys and advocates here).

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 by:

  • Packing your laptop/device or favorite pen and a pad of paper for note-taking.
  • Checking 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.

Say what!? 5 myths about IEPs

Do you have any questions about your child’s upcoming IEP, or any of your own IEP myths or stories to share? We’d love to know!

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