Special Ed 101 – March 2024: Developmental Disability & the IEP

Pathfinder logo to the upper left. Shamrock banner in the upper right with the hashtag #DDAM2024 in white text on top of it. "Special Ed. 101" written in the center. "Developmental Disability and the IEP" written in white text on the bottom right. All against a chalkboard background.

Walking into your first IEP meeting can feel like a rollercoaster of emotions while you process so much information. It can feel like drinking from a fire hose of information. March is Developmental Disability Awareness month and frequently after a diagnosis many parents must engage with the IEP process for the first time. To help make the process a bit less overwhelming, here are some tips and suggestions that may help you with the first couple of IEP meetings.

Before getting into the details of the IEP process, it is important to understand what a developmental delay means in the education setting. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a developmental delay is typically given to children under the age of 10 when there is a delay in more than one of the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, communication, social, and adaptive behavior. Typically, children under the age of three who show delays in various areas will receive services from TN Early Intervention Systems (TEIS). After the child turns three and is receiving TEIS services, the family can decide if they would like to continue services through TEIS until the school year after the child turns five or they can start to receive services through the school system once the child turns three. The decision is left ultimately to the caregivers in terms of what is best for the child and if the child is eligible to extend services based on TEIS eligibility.

Once a child leaves TEIS, support will be given through the Individual Education Plan (IEP) if the child continues to show delays that directly impact the education process. Typically, the first step is to determine if the child’s delays adversely impact their ability to access the general education curriculum. This is done through an evaluation that will be given by various professionals within the school system such as a school psychologist, speech and language pathologist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and other professionals. Testing cannot be done without the caregiver’s consent. After the testing has been completed, the IEP will gather to share the results with you and determine if supports are needed in the school setting. It is important to note that even if a child has a medical diagnosis of a developmental delay there will still need to be an evaluation done to show how it is impacting the educational setting.

If a developmental delay was determined as the eligibility for an IEP, this means the child will receive support in the areas where there is a delay. Support may include special education interventions, physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and other supports as needed.

Again, this can be a lot to process especially as you navigate the IEP process for the first time. Here are some great questions to ask during those first couple of IEP meetings:

  • Is there a way to have a contact list of all the professionals that will be supporting my child, so I know who to contact if I have questions?
  • What will support look like in the school setting?
  • What is the best way to communicate with the IEP team?
  • Will the interventions happen in a special education setting or in a general education setting?
  • How will I know my child is making progress and meeting IEP goals?
  • When will we evaluate to determine if additional support is needed?
  • Can you explain what the least restrictive environment will be for my child?
  • How can I collaborate with the IEP team?

If you feel like any question has not been answered clearly or there is still confusion, feel free to re-ask the question or ask for clarification. You want to make sure you know all that is outlined in the IEP before agreeing to sign the IEP. You are an active member of the IEP team, and your input is greatly valued. By clearly understanding the components of the IEP and the services offered, it will help set the student up for success.

If a child has a developmental delay diagnosis, a new evaluation will be given before the child turns 10 for a new eligibility category. Based on the evaluation, the IEP will determine the best diagnosis for the student and the appropriate supports that are needed.

The IEP process can feel overwhelming but know that you are not alone. At TN Disability Pathfinder, we are always happy to help support you in any way we can. If you feel like you need more resources or help navigating the IEP process, reach out to us at 1-800-640-4636, and we would be so happy to guide you to the appropriate resources. We want to be on your team and help you navigate the journey of having a child with a developmental delay. Your child is such a gift to our community and our community is a better place with your child in it.