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  • Posted May 7, 2021

Three Ways To Create A Better Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

Every student who receives special education services has an individualized education plan, or IEP, that lists individualized goals tailored to their needs. Parents and school staff attend IEP meetings throughout the school year to create these goals and track the student’s progress. However, IEPs can vary wildly in quality due to lack of student input, unrealistic and uneven goals, and school district politics.

The best way to prevent these IEP pitfalls from happening in the first place is to think ahead and advocate effectively for things the student wants. Here are three ways teens/young adults and their parents can create better IEPs and prepare for life after graduation.

TIP 1: Teach students self-advocacy by including them in IEP meetings

I have heard far too many stories of students who are unable to attend their own IEP meetings. In my opinion, this does them a huge disservice and actively hurts them in the long run. The last thing anyone wants is for the student to be entirely dependent on their parents and special education staff, but that’s exactly what will happen if they don’t learn how to advocate for themselves during IEP meetings!

The importance of self-advocacy cannot be overstated, and IEP meetings are the perfect place to teach and practice it. The student at the center of the IEP meeting should have a say in their own goals and should be encouraged to advocate for their own needs using whatever communication method they’re most comfortable with. By practicing self-advocacy in IEP meetings, they’ll be ready to advocate for accommodations in college, the workplace, and beyond. If they’re unsure of how to start, Planning Across the Spectrum has an autism self-advocacy guide that will help them with the basics.

It is also important to talk to the student about why IEP meetings are important. When I was a student in the special education system, I had a lot of goals that I wanted to accomplish, but they were never implemented into my IEP because I never advocated for them. I wish I knew how important IEP meetings were when I was a student, because I would have taken them far more seriously and advocated for myself a lot more.

TIP 2: Push for goals relating to vocational and life skills

Due to the complex nature of disabilities and the special education system itself, long-term goals related to life skill tend to be glossed over in favor of short-term goals related to academics. That can be a major problem; if those life skills aren’t fostered in high school, the student’s overall independence will be compromised.

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way. Transition plans, which are a subsection of the IEP implemented from age 13-14 to graduation, focus on these kinds of long-term life skills so that the transition into adulthood is more seamless. Student and parents alike can advocate for certain skills, such as driving, cooking, and budgeting, to receive top priority in the transition plan.

While every student has different independent living needs, Planning Across the Spectrum recommends prioritizing transportation/driving and financial literacy in the IEP. Transportation is essential to independent living, and we often talk about how a license unlocks new social and employment opportunities in our special needs driving guides. Likewise, learning money skills at an early age allows people to engage in ASD financial empowerment and education, which is something we are passionate about at Planning Across the Spectrum.

TIP 3: Connect with outside organizations before aging out of school services

For students with higher support needs, it is critical to connect with outside services and organizations before the student ages out of the school system. Far too often, they – and their families – don’t know what their options are and choose the school’s default recommendation. Depending on your situation, said recommendation can be anything from a transition program to placement in a state agency or vocational rehab facility, all of which have years-long waitlists.

The thing is, one size fits all does not work. Everyone has individualized experiences and different needs, and there may be better options for the student that the school is not aware of. That’s why we recommend networking with outside organizations and discovering comprehensive options. For an example, someone may connect with Planning Across the Spectrum to learn about our special needs financial planning services for parents. Parents using our services can learn more about accessing benefits from one of our advisors who specialize in helping neurodivergent and disabled individuals. We also help families in consulting about making the most out of special education as well. By connecting with us and other organizations, parents and students can make more informed decisions about the future.

Tying it All Together

We know how challenging IEP goal-setting can be, and that there is no official roadmap for the teenage and early adult years. Sure, they are recommended steps and milestones, but it is all vague and ambiguous. That is why we help people make sense of IEP planning and advocating for the goals you want.

Advocacy and early planning during the school years is important because of the ambiguous nature of adulthood. If money and daily living skills are left in the dark, adulthood becomes harder as a result. Therefore, we care about planning for the future, so individuals can have maximum financial freedom and have a clearer direction in life. We will help advocate the next steps and work around any special education loopholes to get the services you need in the schools. Be sure to check Planning Across the Spectrum’s page on Individualized Education Programs and other resources.