Start your free 7-day Joon App trial

Understanding the IEP Meaning: What Parents Need to Know

June 14, 2024
Table of Contents

    IEP can stand for either "Individualized Education Plan" or "Individualized Education Program." An IEP is a legal document designed to ensure that kids with eligible disabilities receive specialized instruction, accommodations, or other relevant services at school.

    Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a recognized disability. An IEP can be a game-changer for kids with ADHD because it provides legal documentation not only for the services and tools they need to succeed at school but also because it requires that school staff adhere to what’s outlined in the plan as it represents a legal document. 

    For example, a child with ADHD might benefit from taking tests in a separate, distraction-free environment, or they might require extra breaks to stay on track and focus. They may also need support and specific tools that assist them with things like impulse control, organization, or time management. 

    Let’s first discuss what an IEP is and its components. Then, we’ll talk about what to expect when developing an IEP, the role of parents and educators in the IEP process, common challenges you might face, and how to address them. 

    Designed for kids with ADHD and related disorders, Joon can support your child’s education by helping them finish things like homework and school assignments. The app also helps kids stick to supportive routines, like morning and night routines, that set them up for success. 

    Here’s how it works:

    Parents sign up first and make a task list for their child. When kids finish each task, parents approve it, and the child gets rewards. In-app rewards let kids continue playing the game, care for a virtual pet of their choice, unlock mini-games, and more. New, novel rewards keep kids interested. 

    Joon is backed by educators, parents, and professionals, but the best part about the app is that kids love it. In fact, 90% of kids who use Joon finish all of their tasks.

    Click here to try Joon for free

    What is an IEP?

    The role of an IEP is to ensure that children with disabilities get free, appropriate public education as is required by law. An IEP is not the same as a 504 plan. Technically, children with ADHD might be eligible for both IEP and 504 plans. However, which one is best and most accessible varies from child to child. 

    Who is involved in the IEP process?

    Your child's IEP team might be bigger than you realize. Each person in a child's IEP team plays a distinct role. Key professionals involved in the IEP process usually include:

    • At least one special education teacher
    • At least one general education teacher (if applicable)
    • At least one qualified school district representative
    • A professional responsible for assessing the child and interpreting the results of said assessment
    • An educational advocate or another individual with special knowledge or insight about the child.

    When appropriate, a student can be involved in the IEP process themselves. This may be more common in older (e.g., high school) kids. 

    Legal requirements for IEPs

    Some laws vary by state. However, every IEP must conform to the standards provided by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and must have a set of specific parts or components.

    Components of an IEP

    What are the specific components involved in an IEP? Every IEP requires the following, regardless of US state.

    • Present levels of performance.some text
      • Your child's IEP must include the details of their current educational performance, including the challenges they face in educational settings. This should illustrate their need for an IEP and why the student requires specific accommodations.
    • Annual goals.some text
      • Measurable annual goals are a vital part of all IEPs. Your child's measurable goals will be unique to them but may pertain to communication and social skills, attendance (e.g., increasing attendance to a certain percentage), executive functioning, specific subjects, like writing or math skills, or something another applicable area.
    • Special education services and supports.some text
      • An IEP should clearly state how much time your child will spend in a general education curriculum and when they receive or do not receive special education services.
    • Accommodations and modifications.some text
      • Your child's IEP must discuss the specific accommodations or classroom and educational modifications they need. These should be evidence-based and might include tools, extra breaks, or something else that pertains to your child's unique needs.
    • Progress monitoring.some text
      • Just as goals must be specific, your child's IEP must detail how and when their progress will be monitored.
    • Transition planning.some text
      • As kids age, expectations and support needs might also change. This section of the IEP will plan for postsecondary school goals and services a child might need to help them achieve those goals.

    A start date for the IEP must also be outlined clearly in the document.

    Developing an IEP

    Developing an individualized education plan takes time and consideration. Parents can expect to move through the following steps as they help their child get an IEP. 

    Initial evaluation and eligibility determination

    When a child first shows a possible need for accommodations, usually through lack of progress or other challenges, educators will try new techniques that might help the student, such as simple classroom accommodations and behavioral interventions. This is often called the "pre-referral" process. If those techniques don't work, the child can get referred for an assessment.

    That assessment will determine student needs based on their functioning in education, at home, and in social or major life activities. Once the child's strengths and need for educational services have been assessed, their eligibility for special education services will be determined.

    Conducting an IEP meeting

    Once the steps above are complete, it's time to schedule the first IEP meeting. Although this can be nerve-racking, your role as a parent is absolutely vital in this process. As time goes on, you'll get to know other members of the team and the overall IEP process better. You can speak up regarding your child's learning needs in the first meeting and future meetings.

    Writing the IEP document

    After student goals and necessary accommodations are agreed upon in an IEP meeting, the IEP will be created. Your child might get referrals for mental health support, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other medical services, alongside specialized instruction and classroom accommodations. Every child is unique, even if they have the same condition, so your child's IEP will be 100% catered toward the needs displayed at this point in time.

    Implementing and revising the IEP

    Reviews are conducted regularly. Often, there’s a review every year. Sometimes, they’re multiple years apart, depending on the state you live in. If your child does not have enough support to meet the goals outlined in their IEP, it may be revised. It can also be revised as they progress.

    Role of Parents in the IEP Process

    Parents are involved in the process of creating an IEP plan. You know your child best, and your involvement can help your child get the right accommodations in accordance with their individual needs.

    Advocating for their child

    Advocacy is the #1 thing to be prepared for as you work toward an IEP plan for your child. You may have to advocate for specific parts of the IEP plan or advocate to ensure that the IEP plan is followed. If they are deemed ineligible for services, you may also have to advocate for your child to get an IEP or alternative accommodations. Schools need to provide adequate reasoning for why a child is not eligible, and they must also give you information regarding what to do if you disagree with their decision. 

    Providing input in the IEP meeting

    During IEP meetings, you will tell other IEP team members what services or accommodations your child needs and why. They can provide their input as well and work with you to find solutions. 

    Understanding their rights and responsibilities

    As a parent, you need to understand your rights—especially if you encounter challenges along the way. We’ll discuss what to do in that instance next. In addition to a copy of the IEP, parental rights in the IEP process include but aren’t limited to:

    • The right to participate in all decision-making processes related to the IEP.
    • The right to disagree with a school or school district's decisions.
    • The right to bring an educational advocate (or another individual of your choice with special expertise).

    You have knowledge about your child that others might not. If you can give specific examples that show why a specific accommodation is necessary, it may be helpful.

    Role of Educators in the IEP Process

    Depending on whether your child is in elementary, middle, or high school, in addition to other factors, the educators at your child’s IEP meeting might differ. Here’s a little bit about their role in the process. 

    Collaborating with parents and other team members

    During meetings, educators involved in the IEP process must participate and work with other members of the IEP team, including parents. Since they'll be providing many of the accommodations or strategies outlined in the plan, it is integral that educators are present for meetings and thoroughly understand the IEP.

    Implementing the IEP in the classroom

    Whether in special education programs or general curriculum, all of your child's teachers must follow the IEP. This is one of the #1 roles educators play in the IEP process. An IEP is legally binding and must be followed by law.

    Monitoring and documenting student progress

    A child's educators must monitor student progress according to the goals outlined in the IEP and document what they see. For example, specific improvements in educational performance. This provides potential direction for future adjustments to the IEP.

    Common Challenges and Solutions

    15% of US students were served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in the 2022-2023 school year, more than any previous year. There’s also a shortage of special education teachers. Although the special education law is there to ensure students' educational needs are met, educators are overwhelmed at this time. This can be particularly true in public school settings. Thankfully, there are solutions to issues that might arise with an IEP. Knowledge is power for parents.

    Communication issues between parents and educators

    Some things could get jumbled or misinterpreted throughout the IEP process, which can be a problem. To avoid this, be as clear and concise as you can, confirming what others say aloud as much as possible. The goal is to leave your IEP meetings confident and with a transparent understanding. 

    Addressing disagreements in the IEP process

    Teachers, parents, school district officials, and others involved might disagree on how to best meet a child's learning needs or whether they require a specific accommodation. The best thing you can do is advocate for your child and gather evidence proving the efficacy of desired accommodations.

    As discussed above, you have the right to disagree with a school or school district’s decisions; you also have the right to appeal those decisions. In some cases, this could be what you need to do. While difficult, it’s not uncommon. Don’t be discouraged. It can take time for everyone to get on the same page.

    Ensuring consistency in implementing the IEP

    Some educators may not follow through with an IEP. If this happens, you can meet with the teacher first to discuss your concerns. The next step, if a meeting with your child’s teacher isn’t successful, would be to talk with the school’s administrative team. Finally, if talking to the administrative team doesn’t work, you can request a meeting with the entire IEP team to find a solution together. 


    Individualized education programs or plans, called IEPs, are important legal documents. The goal of an IEP is to help students with disabilities get their individual needs met and access free, appropriate public education. For example, kids with ADHD or learning disabilities might need specific accommodations. IEPs matter because they ensure that students get those accommodations.

    Family members, school district professionals, a special education teacher, and others may be involved in a child's IEP team. Each member of an IEP team plays an integral role and, ideally, will work together amicably to establish a strong foundation for a child's education.


    Dr. Joe Raiker, PhD

    Joe Raiker, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who has extensive training and clinical experience in the principles of behavior modification and cognitive restructuring (i.e., CBT). He provides assessment and psychotherapeutic services to patients of all ages, primarily via Telehealth, including treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to seeing patients, Dr. Raiker also provides Clinical Supervision for Therapy and Assessment Services at South Florida Integrative Medicine.


    Dr. Joe Raiker, PhD

    Joe Raiker, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who has extensive training and clinical experience in the principles of behavior modification and cognitive restructuring (i.e., CBT). He provides assessment and psychotherapeutic services to patients of all ages, primarily via Telehealth, including treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to seeing patients, Dr. Raiker also provides Clinical Supervision for Therapy and Assessment Services at South Florida Integrative Medicine.