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Autism Grandparents and IEPs

IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. Every child who is eligible for special education is required to have an IEP. The school that she attends organizes an annual meeting to determine the IEP. Grandparents are allowed to be extremely involved in the process – that is, of course, if that’s what the parents want and if the grandparents are available.

I am involved in my granddaughter’s education, and when I attended my first IEP meeting I made lots of mistakes. My biggest mistake was thinking that all I needed to do was show up and allow the IEP experts to develop an appropriate program for her.

I now have a much better handle on how to have the best involvement. The following information and suggestions cover the basics.

The U.S. government requires that every child receive “free appropriate public education . . . in the least restrictive environment.” And, thanks to a 2017 Supreme Court determination that centered on a student with autism, IEP goals for special education students must be “appropriately ambitious.” That is, schools are not allowed to aim for simply minimal progress. “Every child must have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”

Your grandchild’s school has the responsibility of determining whether he is eligible for special education and associated services. The school does this via an evaluation process – an evaluation process that is initiated by parent request. The evaluation covers a lot of ground, and if the evaluation determines that the child is not eligible for special education, the parents can request that the school district conduct an IEE (Independent Education Evaluation).

After the student is determined to be eligible for special education, the school will arrange for a meeting to determine an IEP: Individualized Education Program. The meeting attendees typically include the child’s case manager, the school’s special education teacher, a general education teacher, a school administrator, perhaps a school psychologist or social worker, and perhaps other teachers and/or therapists who know the child. Parents attend the meeting and can bring others with them who know the child: therapists, doctors, close friends, attorneys, grandparents, etc.

The parents (and grandparents if involved) can prepare for the IEP meeting by knowing (and listing) the child’s strengths and weaknesses both in and out of school, by doing research on the various types of programs and supplemental aids (e.g. speech therapy, assistive technology, special seating, etc.) that might be appropriate for the child, and listing their own goals for the child’s school year.

Parents (and grandparents) should always be aware that THEY know the child best, and should be advocates for what THEY believe are the best components for an appropriate IEP. And parents should come to the IEP meeting with a positive attitude and very high expectations.

The IEP goals should be measurable, and there should be a clear understanding of how and when progress will be measured for each goal. Goals should be measured at least quarterly. And any recommended supports and services should be clearly defined.

Beginning when children enter middle school, the IEPs should begin addressing plans for transitioning into adulthood.

I knew none of this in advance of my first IEP meeting for my granddaughter. It was simply an education meeting that her parents asked me to attend. It was both intimidating and unnerving to sit there and hear a half-dozen “experts” talk about my granddaughter’s strengths and challenges, and observing them determine a best-case education program for her. They were all nice and well-meaning, but their in-person involvement with my granddaughter had been far less than mine. And so was their knowledge of her abilities. Had I come prepared I would have been able to provide valuable input to the IEP development.

One interesting thing is that if there is not a public school that can accommodate the child’s IEP, the child can attend an appropriate private school at public expense.

How involved should parents/grandparents be in the child’s education and IEP development? VERY! And what is the best way to be very involved? Be involved in the school and have good relationships with the appropriate teachers and administrators. The best way to be involved with the school is to take part in school activities and volunteer for school events. And the best way to be involved with the teachers is to ask them, and comply with, what sort of communication (and how often) they want from you: e-mails, meetings, telephone, etc.

So if you, like me, have in-person involvement with your grandchild’s education, you can play an important role in establishing a best-case IEP with best-case results. And if you are not involved with your grandchild’s education, you may want to let your grandchild’s parents know that you’re willing to share some research and guidelines with them regarding establishing and maintaining a productive education program.

There is of course a lot of information about IEPs on the Internet. Autism Speaks’ website is a great place to start:

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