Every public school child who receives special education services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP must be an individualized document designed for a specific child. The IEP creates opportunities for school administrators, teachers, parents, and the student to work together to improve success for the child with disabilities.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires certain information to be included in each child's IEP. States and local school systems can design their own IEP document but they have to meet certain aspects of federal or state law. The flexibility that states and school systems have to design their own IEP forms is one reason why they may look different from one education system to another. However, each IEP must meet the federal requirements and is critical in the education of a child with a disability.

To create an effective Individual Education Program, parents, school staff, and even the student must come together to look closely at the student's needs. The participants pool their knowledge and experience to develop an educational program that will help the student be successful in the school's curriculum. The IEP guides the delivery of special education supports and services for the student with a disability.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act defines a child with a disability as follows: 

  1. In general: The term ''child with a disability'' means a child:
    • with mental retardation (MR) or mild mental retardation (MiMR), hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments (SLI), visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance (hereinafter referred to as ''emotional disability or ED''), orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury (TBI), other health impairments (OHI), or specific learning disabilities (SLD); and
    • who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.
  2. Child aged 3 through 9: The term ''child with a disability'' for a child aged 3 through 9 may, at the discretion of the State and the local educational agency, include a child:
    • experiencing developmental delays, as defined by the State and as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures, in one or more of the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development; and
    • who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.

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