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  • Writer's pictureKatie Vahey Gaebler

The IEP: It doesn't transfer to college

An IEP stands for an Individualized Education Program. It comes from the Individuals with Disabilities Act also known as IDEA. The purpose of an IEP is to support students with disabilities throughout their time in the public school system (K-12th grade). To create an IEP teachers, parents, and the student come together to examine the needs of the student. The IEP process typically happens in 10 steps:

  1. “Child Find”: (For children younger than age 5) The student must be identified as requiring special services by school staff, teachers or parents.

  2. Evaluation: The student will be assessed in any areas relating to the student's potential disability. The results of the evaluation will be used to determine the level of services the student will receive. If parents/caregivers disagree with the evaluations findings they can request a school district re-evaluation and/or seek an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). Parents/caregivers have the right to ask the school system to pay for the IEE. Community Resource Boards (CRBs, based on the county the student resides) can also be applied to, for IEE funding. Also, a medical diagnosis can be pursued first or simultaneously for concurrent evidence in favor of an IEP.

  3. Eligibility: Professionals and parents will review the evaluation results and together decide if the child is a “child with a disability," as defined by IDEA.

  4. Found eligible: If the child is found to be a “child with a disability," as defined by IDEA, they are eligible for support and special education services. Within 30 days of decided eligibility, the IEP team must meet to write the IEP for the student.

  5. IEP Meeting: The IEP meeting is scheduled by the school system. Legally the school staff must: “contact the participants, including the parents; notify parents early enough to make sure they have an opportunity to attend; schedule the meeting at a time and place agreeable to parents and the school; tell the parents the purpose, time, and location of the meeting; tell the parents who will be attending; and tell the parents that they may invite people to the meeting who have knowledge or special expertise about the child.” Parents retain the right to enact a school advocate or therapeutic provider to attend IEP meetings, at their discretion.

  6. IEP is Written: IEP team meets to discuss the needs of the student and to write the students IEP. Parents and students are a part of the meeting for some of this. Parents must give consent before the IEP is enacted in the school setting.

  7. Services are provided: The school ensures the IEP is being implemented as expected. Depending on the grade level progress a student demonstrates, whether enough and appropriate services are provided can sometimes become a point of challenge. Parents, teachers, and support staff all retain current copies of the IEP.

  8. Progress reported to parents: The progress of the student meeting their annual IEP goals is measured and reported to parents. A variety of assessment tools may be applied to measure progress, so it’s important for a family to be aware of their options and what constitutes progress. “These progress reports must be given to parents at least as often as parents are informed of their nondisabled children's progress.”

  9. Review IEP: At least once a year (if not more often), the IEP team and parents review the IEP. If needed, the IEP is revised. Parents are encouraged to make changes, agree or disagree with IEP goals and placement as they see fit. If a parent requests an IEP evaluation and does not agree with the outcome, they have the right to request a new assessment at any time.

  10. Reevaluation: Every three years the student must be evaluated to confirm that they still meet the criteria for "child with a disability," as defined by IDEA.

The IEP process can be incredibly confusing and time consuming. For many, once the process is complete their students are able to participate in the educational process in a way they weren’t able to before. Many students and families struggle to receive these paramount accommodations due to lack of understanding, language barriers, time constraints, and much more. For students who are not deemed IEP eligible until their later educational years, there can be added challenges such as catching up to grade level. To this day, families of minority demographics may be more likely to struggle to receive IEPs. Additionally, school districts within lower economic communities are more likely to have staff shortages for both evaluations and service implementation. This demonstrates further systemic inequity as these students are more likely to struggle in school regardless of disability. Additionally, many families don't have the time or familiarity to ask essential questions or understand their rights. Even if families are able to receive IEPs for their students, these supports and accommodations end once their student graduates or turns 21 years of age, whichever comes first.

An IEP does not carry to the world of postsecondary education. This leads to a “cliff of service” where students have been able to access services through IEP but lose school-based services access post high school. This is devastating as a student can make it through 12th grade and whether or not they decide to continue their education, their previously accessed services stop. In HS students are entitled to accommodations whereas in college/postsecondary it's based upon eligibility. Because of this, students are required to actively self-advocate, as post high school, as these rights are not ensured to them. With this, it is important that families and students plan ahead for this transition.

Dr. Katie with AutismNERD believes that if you have a support team to help a family and the student plan ahead, and coach the student on self-advocacy skills, that will offer the student the best chances to assure the “cliff of service” is a more manageable transition following graduation. It’s recommended that a family begin working with a support specialist to start post high school planning, around the middle of 9th grade.

Some of Katie’s top tips for the transition from high school to post secondary education include:

  • Seek an Independent Education Evaluation and/or an updated diagnosis within 3 years of when the student would start at a college. Many campus Access Service offices require documentation of the disability and recommended accommodations to be current within 3 years of initial enrollment.

  • Encourage and support your student in advocating for themselves throughout this transition process. In college, your student will be required to speak up for themselves and manage their own advocacy.

  • Start early, have you and your student connect with the on campus Access Services office for a meeting regarding their department’s enrollment process, their accommodation options, and the necessary documentation to receive these accommodations.

  • Gain awareness of your options. Organizations like AutismNERD is a starting point for the variety of personalized local resources available. Finding places that will work with you and your student to advocate and support you provide some assurances for managing success during this time of transition.


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