First Person Perspective

How to Help Your Child Learn: Understanding Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)

When James* was in his early years of elementary school, he had severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.

His disorder made it difficult for him to tolerate being in a classroom and unable to leave the bathroom because of his hand-washing compulsion. Due to his special needs, he qualified for an individualized education program (IEP), which allowed him to come to a Sheppard Pratt school and receive therapy and medication during the day. James’ IEP was the tool that guaranteed him free access to the services he needed to be successful in school.

How Do I Know If My Child May Need an IEP?

Some children are easy to identify as being eligible for special education services. But other students may “fly under the radar” for several years. Parents should keep an eye out for several indicators that might include:

  • Lower grades
  • Difficulty finishing tasks independently
  • Difficulty sitting still or focusing
  • Behavior issues that impact school functioning

If you believe your child may have special education needs, the first step is to raise your concerns with your child’s school. 

The IEP Process

After you have requested a special education assessment for your child, their school will complete the evaluation process. The assessments vary based on the needs of the child and may include tests to assess your child’s academic proficiency and intelligence quotient (IQ), as well as their mental health. If your child is determined eligible for an IEP, you, as the parent or guardian, will be involved in the IEP development process.

Goals and Outcomes

Your child’s team will share which special education services they are eligible to receive as well as accommodations that will help them be successful. The IEP that the team creates will outline a variety of academic and behavioral goals and measurable outcomes. 

Successful Students

At Sheppard Pratt schools, we serve a variety of students who require accommodations or special education services. The IEP is an important tool to connect students with the support they need to thrive at school. 

Want to learn more about IEPs or Sheppard Pratt Schools across Maryland? Click here

What Is an Individualized Education Program (IEP)?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) states that everyone deserves a free and appropriate education. If a student has a disability that impacts their education, they may be eligible for an IEP at no additional cost to the family. An IEP is a written plan created by a team of specialists that may include the child’s teacher, special educator, psychologist, and other professionals such as speech and language specialists. The plan outlines goals and measurable outcomes that are uniquely suited to the child’s abilities and educational needs.

Meet the Expert

  • Justine Larson, MD, MPH

    Medical Director, Schools and Residential Treatment Centers
    Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, School Psychiatry, Systems of Care