Autism Politico

Discussing the politics of autism.

Editorial #29: IEPs

Autism Politico thinks that if you are a special needs student in elementary, middle, or secondary school in the US, and if the course of your education is determined by an IEP, it may be interesting for you to know whom is acting on your behalf to get you what you need to maximize your educational opportunities.

With the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (PL 94-142), and prior and subsequent legislation, you may be entitled to specific rights.

These rights will be listed out in your school district policies which are freely available to the public. Though your parent or legal guardian is ultimately responsible for understanding district policy, most districts provide parents and guardians with their policies regarding special needs students upon the initiation of the assessment, evaluation, and IEP process. District policy must conform with city, county, state and federal laws. 

Most special provisions begin with a multidisciplinary team. “This group of professionals with appropriate training and experience evaluates students referred for consideration for special education services. Although the composition of this team varies according to the needs of each particular student, it should include a teacher or other specialist with knowledge in the area of the suspected disability. The multidisciplinary team considers referral information, assesses the student, and then determines whether the student is eligible for special education services. The team can recommend an educational placement, but final placement decisions are made by the IEP committee.” (1) 

It is important to for you or whomever is acting on your behalf to understand issues of privacy and the laws associated therewith in your state. In some states, parents and guardians must sign a consent form which allows the school to acquire information form an external source and/or to share information with other sources. The information which can be shared is specified in the contents of the form. In most states, a school district cannot share information without permission, nor can it acquire information without permission. The exceptions to this are many, but mainly they include

1)      When the child is deemed to be in danger, a school may share information with legal authorities.

2)      When a subpoena has been issued to acquire information from the school for legal purposes the school is obliged to share the information.

In some states, when you reach a certain age, and if you are deemed of sound mind, YOU may ultimately retain control of which information is shared and under what circumstances. 

Be advised, however, that control of your own information requires careful forethought. A failure –either by you or your parent or legal guardian- to indicate that information you are sharing is confidential may result in third and fourth party sharing of that information. One thing people forget is that discussing matters with a friend, family member,  a colleague, or the media, does not always imply a contract of confidentiality, and if confidentiality is not specifically stated, the information you have given out is open to interpretation and re-presentation, often in a public place. If you yourself post your private information in a place freely accessible to the general public’s view, you may also void confidentiality. It is in your interest to protect your personal information wherever possible.   

Interestingly, if you have control over your own personal information, and your parent shares your personal information without your consent, you may have legal recourse against your own parent, especially if it can be proved that the dissemination of that information caused harm.

Contact a legal representative to find out what your rights are in your state, as what is listed on this blog may NOT be legally applicable.

Next is the IEP committee. “This group develops, reviews, and revises the Individualized Education Program. IEPs are written for all handicapped students who receive special education services and must be reviewed, and revised if necessary, at least on an annual basis. The IEP committee may include the following members:

1)      A representative of the school, other than the student’s teacher, who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education

2)      The student’s teacher(s) (regular and/or special)

3)      One or both of the student’s parents.

4)      The student, when appropriate

5)      Other individuals requested by the school or parents

6)      If the student has been evaluated, an individual who is able to interpret the results of that evaluation” (2)

As you can see, your parent or legal guardian is involved in this process from the very beginning. It is important to note that any IEP that is developed is based upon an assessment instigated by the multidisciplinary team after the assessment results have been agreed upon by the multidisciplinary team, the IEP team, and your parents or legal guardians. The course of your entire school career is determined by IEP developed upon the results of this assessment, and the school cannot initiate the IEP without the approval of your parent or legal guardian.

It is important to note that assessments and evaluations will vary by districts since policies vary by district. Therefore, switching districts will result in different assessment and evaluation results. Though a district may accept previous assessments and evaluations from other districts, they are not obliged to. In fact, it is better to reassess, as the degree of presentation of some diagnoses change over time. In other words, educational objectives created a year ago on an earlier assessment and evaluation may be obsolete or unnecessary now given the result of the new assessment and evaluation.

A Due Process Hearing is something you need to be aware of. “If the school or parents of a handicapped student are not satisfied that the student is receiving an appropriate educational program, an impartial due process hearing can be requested. Hearings attempt to resolve disagreements regarding issues such as identification, evaluation, and educational programs and placements. When a hearing is requested, the student remains in the current placement until the disagreement is resolved.” (3)

As you may guess, the best time to request a due process hearing about your identification (i.e. identification as a special needs student) and evaluation is at the beginning of your educational career, not the end. In this way, a smooth flow through the school system is assured, and you can be assured that any IEP developed for you will be tailored specifically to your diagnosis. Naturally, a due process hearing may be requested at any time, and is sometimes requested many times, especially in pertinence to educational programs and placements.

You may be able to benefit from Related Services. “These are services offered to handicapped students to supplement special education programs. They include transportation and other developmental, corrective, and supportive services such as speech pathology and audiology, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, diagnostic medical services, and counseling.” (4)

It is important to note that your parent or legal guardian should be the one to request these services for you if the school  does not. Schools will omit certain services based upon their interpretation of your identification and evaluation. Your parent can get these services by making a case on your behalf that your education would benefit from having these services. It may also be that your city, country, or state offers these services if your school district does not. It is important to note that your educational success may be dependent as much on services you receive outside of school as much as it relies on services you receive inside of school.

You are entitled to a Nondiscriminatory Assessment. “Assessment is nondiscriminatory when it does not penalize students for their native language, race, culture, or handicapping condition.” (5)

If your parent or legal guardian accepts your assessment, it represents a tacit acknowledgement that your assessment did not discriminate against you. If you feel that you were discriminated against, though you may protest at any time, the time to object to your assessment is upon receiving the results, not further down the line after your IEP has been developed and implemented.

Of importance is also the Parent Surrogate. “If a parent of a handicapped student is not available to work with the school, a surrogate parent can be appointed. The surrogate parent approves the student’s placement, works on the IEP committee, and serves as an advocate for the student. “ (6)

In short, your educational needs should be well taken care of if your parent or legal guardian has done their duty and ensured that the duties of all the above teams have been performed adequately. The entire process –especially the drafting and implementation of the IEP – is open to augmentation at any time, ergo there should be no excuse for your needs to go unmet.

Autism Politico suggests that if you are able please take an interest in the above process to make sure you get the most out of your education.

Replies to this editorial are welcome.

(1) “Teaching Special Students in the Mainstream” 1987.  Rena B., Doorlag, Donald H. Merill Publishing Company,Columbus

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.


February 18, 2010 - Posted by | Autism & Schools | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Surprise Surprise, there is no law in the USA that says that a parent MUST follow the recommendations on the IEP. I learned this in a horrible custody battle during my divorce. Many abusive or “in-denial” fathers will not allow a child to be diagnosed with Autism in the first place. They might then appeal to the court and say that the mother is suffering from hysteria, and there is nothing wrong with the child.

    Comment by autism custody battles | July 25, 2010

  2. Autism Politico thanks you for your comment.

    Comment by Autism Politico | July 25, 2010

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