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IEP Definitions

What is an IEP? Who qualifies for IEP? What are IEP services? What is the IEP process?
If you find yourself asking these questions, continue reading.

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the formal planning process and resulting legal document that establishes related services and programs that will enable eligible children to participate in school services and receive an appropriate education. IEPs are provided without charge as part of the public education system.

To be eligible for an IEP, a child must be three-years-old and:

  1. Have one or more of the following conditions covered under IDEA (see bottom):

2. Have their educational performance negatively impacted by their disability.

3. Require special services for their disability.

Related services include:

  • Special education

  • Parent counseling and training

  • Physical therapy

  • Psychological services

  • Audiology services

  • School health services

  • Medical services

  • Rehabilitation counseling services

  • Transportation

  • Social work services in schools

  • Early identification and assessment of disabilities in children

IEP Team Members Include:

  • Parents

  • Special Education Teacher(s) or Provider

  • Regular Education Teacher(s)

  • Student

  • A person who can interpret evaluation results

  • School system representative

  • Others with knowledge or special expertise about the child (i.e., speech-language pathologist)

  • Transition services agency representative(s)

How is the IEP Process Initiated?

  • For children 3-4 years old: Call your local preschool clerk or school district directly to request an evaluation.

  • For children 5+ years old: Request an evaluation in writing to your child's teacher, principal, or special education office.

What is the IEP Process?

  1. Early Intervention: Ideally kids are identified early and receiving early intervention services. In this case, their service coordinator will help the family through the transition process to the public education and IEP system.

  2. Referral: a referral can be made by parents, school staff, or other individuals.

  3. Evaluation: The child is evaluated in all areas of suspected disability. Results of the evaluation are used to determine eligibility.

  4. Eligibility: Based on evaluation results, a group a professionals (the IEP team) and the parents decide if the child qualifies based on IDEA requirements and if they are eligible for special education and/or related services.

  5. IEP: Within 30 days of determining the child is eligible, the IEP team and parent develop the IEP document. Services begin as soon as possible following parental consent.

  6. Services: Classroom placement and services are provided according to the IEP. This can include classroom accommodations, modifications, support, and different services.

  7. Annual Review: The IEP team must review the IEP document and plan at least once a year, or more often if requested by parents or a professional on the team.

  8. Triennial Review: At least every three years the child must be re-evaluated to determine if they are making progress and still qualify for services.

Additional Terminologies:

Individualized Education Program (IEP) Meeting: Initial eligibility meeting or annual meeting where the parent and school representatives develop the child’s educational program for the following school year.

504 Plan: A 504 plan is developed by the school for disabled children who do not need or qualify for special education but could benefit from accommodations and/or specialized help in school. (i.e children with ADHD)

Individualized Education Program (IEP) Written Document: Document developed by an entire team, including parents and school representatives on an annual basis. It includes the placement- the specific program or class for the child; related services- the specific services the child will receive; and other educational components, curricula, and teaching methods. It must include measurable goals to determine progress.

Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA): A federal law that established a formal process for evaluating children with disabilities and providing specialized programs and services to help them succeed in school. One of the most important parts of this law is the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process. (Enacted in 1975 and revamped in 2004).

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): Fundamental education rights your child is entitled to under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act). The goal of ‘appropriateness’ is used to evaluate all IEP (Individualized Education Program) components, including goals, services, and placement. To be considered ‘appropriate’ all must provide some meaningful educational benefit and kids must progress academically.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): Placement for children that takes into consideration their abilities and disabilities to meet their individual needs. This may be a regular classroom (“mainstreaming”, or”inclusion”), separate classes, separate schools, or residential placements. There is typically a strong preference for mainstreaming children as much as possible, even when aids or other services are required.

For more information on the process of initiating services visit:

Check our our article Advocating for Your Child Throughout the IEP Process for more information:


Skyrocket Pediatric Therapy Foundation (Skyrocket) does not provide medical or legal advice or services. Skyrocket provides general information about developmental disabilities and developmental therapies as a service to the community. The information provided on our website is not a recommendation, referral or endorsement of any resource, therapeutic method, or service provider and does not replace the advice of medical, legal or educational professionals. Skyrocket has not validated and is not responsible for any information, events, or services provided by third parties. The views and opinions expressed in blogs on our website do not necessarily reflect the views of Skyrocket.


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