What’s an Individualized Education Program? Who Needs One?

An individualized education program outlines learning goals and needed support for students with special needs. Read all about aspects of an IEP on HealthyPlace.

An Individualized Education Program, often referred to as an IEP, is an education plan designed specifically for a student with special needs. When a child has a disability, school can create unhealthy levels of stress because it feels seemingly impossible to learn, get along with classmates, and keep up with expectations. Help in the form of an individualized education program is available to eligible students attending a public school.

Special needs can be physical/medical, developmental, behavioral and/or emotional, and sensory impairment. Having a disability, though, doesn’t automatically qualify someone for an IEP. An individualized education program is created for a student whose disability negatively affects their functioning at school.

Students who might qualify for an IEP are those whose disability creates special needs in various ways in the school environment. Some examples of who might need an IEP include children and adolescents with:

What follows is a closer look at what, exactly, an individualized education program is, what’s included, how it’s created, and your rights as a parent.

What Is an Individualized Education Program?

An individualized education program is required for any child receiving special services from the school. The IEP is a plan designed to meet the special needs of a student with a disability that disrupts their learning or interactions at school. Every plan is different, and each child who qualifies receives a unique IEP.

A child’s IEP will establish where their education will take place. State and federal laws mandate that students be placed in the least restrictive environment. This varies from one special needs child to another.

Some students do best when remaining in the regular education classroom all day (this is known as inclusion or mainstreaming). Others need to stay in a special education room, while still others spend some time in each setting every day. If a student’s needs are severe, their IEP will specify a special school environment for intense education interventions.

In addition to outlining where the student will receive their education, the IEP includes many other types of support for students with special needs.

What’s Included in an Individualized Education Program?

To ensure the optimal learning environment for a student with an education-disrupting disability, an individualized education program incorporates a student’s unique strengths and needs.

The IEP specifies several things, including:

  • Child’s present level of functioning and performance and how their disability is limiting them
  • Learning goals
  • How progress toward the goals will be measured
  • Special accommodations and support needed for the student to achieve the goals
  • Services the district will provide
  • Modifications the child must receive
  • Testing parameters (how and where the student will take academic tests and whether they are exempt from state and federal testing)

The content of a child’s IEP is reviewed yearly and modified as needed. When possible, the people who review it yearly are those who were initially involved in creating the IEP.

How an IEP is Created

If you’re the parent of a child with special needs and believe they should qualify for an IEP for extra support, you can request that your child be evaluated. You can initiate the process with a letter to the school principal officially requesting an evaluation. Teachers can request IEP evaluations, as well. Your child can’t be tested, though, without your written permission.

Once the process begins, it proceeds methodically.

  • An Educational Planning Team (EPT) meeting is formed, and anyone with insights into the child’s school experience is invited, including the parents
  • The student is evaluated with valid and reliable written assessments; written observations from teachers, parents, and others who interact regularly with the child; and verbal interviews with the child
  • The EPT meets to discuss results and if the child qualifies, goals, placements and accommodations are set to create the IEP

Parents have the legal right to be involved in the entire process of creating an IEP for their child. Parents need to consent not just to test their child but to approve the final document. Parents or caregivers receive a written document, sometimes called procedural safeguards, with all their legal rights at the beginning of the process.

An individualized education program is created for positive reasons. It provides students with disabilities extra support so they can succeed academically, emotionally, behaviorally, and socially. IEPs seek to even the playing field for all students.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2022, January 17). What’s an Individualized Education Program? Who Needs One?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Last Updated: January 17, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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