Once your child has been found eligible to receive special education services because of his or her visual impairment, the process of determining your child’s individual needs begins. The document that outlines these needs and services is known as the Individualized Education Program (IEP). You can think of it as the blueprint or roadmap for the appropriate services that your school system will provide for your child.

All the steps of the IEP process, the principles behind it, the individuals involved in writing it, and its required components are laid out in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law that governs special education. If your child receives services as an infant or toddler, the document that sets out the services she will receive is called the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). The IEP is written by a group of people who make up your child’s educational team, of which you are an important member. The IEP describes the services your child will receive for one year, and a new one must be written every year. Before writing the plan, members of your child’s education team must conduct an assessment to identify her strengths and the areas in which she needs services.

Essential Elements of the IEP

When you meet with your child’s educational team to write her IEP, you will find that the plan has a number of different sections. The following elements all need to be explained or identified in the plan. You may find the terminology—which comes from the law that created the IEP—confusing at first, but it will be helpful to become familiar with it ahead of time.

  • Your child’s present levels of educational performance: This section describes your child’s current status, what she can do, and what she knows at the time the IEP is written. This includes a description of how your child’s visual impairment affects her involvement and progress in the general curriculum.
  • Measurable annual goals: Measurable goals include what the IEP team considers to be the priorities that need to be addressed so that your child can progress in the general curriculum and to help your child learn as independently as possible. These include other educational needs that result from her disability (often termed the expanded core curriculum). Annual goals describe what your child should learn in one year and must be measurable so that you can tell when your child has attained them.
  • Special education, related services, and supplementary aids and services, program modifications, and supports for school personnel: This section describes the supports and services your child needs to attain her annual goals so that she can progress in the general curriculum and the expanded core curriculum and participate with other children without disabilities in school activities.
    • Related services are additional services required to help your child benefit from her special education, such as transportation, hearing services, physical therapy, counseling, and the like.
    • Supplementary aids and services would include assistive technology, adapted materials such as braille or large-print textbooks, or help from a paraeducator.
    • Program modifications include accommodations and modifications that may need to be made in teaching or testing your child.
    • Supports for school personnel includes training for your child’s classroom teacher and other school personnel that will, in turn, benefit your child’s learning.
  • Beginning of the services and the anticipated frequency, location, and duration of those services and modifications: This statement includes the projected date for the beginning of services as well as for how long and where your child will receive each of the special education and related services, accommodations and modifications, support, and supplementary aids and services that she needs.
  • Extent, if any, to which your child will not participate with nondisabled children in the general education class and other school activities described: Because IDEA requires that students with disabilities be educated with other children who do not have disabilities in the regular class environment to the greatest extent possible, any proposed deviation from that principle needs to be documented.
  • Testing accommodations: This statement addresses any accommodations your child will need in taking state- or district-wide tests of students. If the IEP team decides that your child will not participate in a particular test, the abatement must include the reason why and how she will be alternatively assessed.
  • How progress will be measured and how the child’s parents will be regularly informed: The IEP must indicate how your child’s annual goals will be measured and when periodic reports will be sent to inform you of your child’s progress toward the goals. You must receive this information at least as often as report cards or other periodic reports are sent out for children without disabilities, although you may want to encourage the school to send this information to you on a more frequent basis.

Your child’s IEP is the key document that will govern all the special services he or she receives during the school year. Your presence as a member of the team that writes this document enables you to share your special knowledge of your child and her abilities and needs. Understanding the IEP process and its components will help you work closely and productively with the school system to obtain the educational services that will be important to your child.

See A Parents’ Guide to Special Education for Children with Visual Impairments, edited by Susan LaVenture, for more information.