What Is an IEP? How Do I Know If My Child Needs One?

Parent Resources

When a child is identified as having exceptional school needs, the process to develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP) begins. This process is increasingly common, and stigma around special education programming and IEPs is slowly giving way to a greater appreciation of the benefits of individualized education. In 2016, over 17% of Ontario students had an IEP. 

Are you noticing disruptions or differences in your child’s learning that might warrant speaking to your child’s school about an IEP? Or perhaps the school has reached out with concerns regarding your child’s learning, or you’ve recently received a diagnosis of dyslexia, ADHD or another learning disability. Here’s what to expect as you begin the IEP process to get the support your child needs.

What Is an IEP?

According to the Toronto District School Board: “An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a special education plan that describes special education programs or additional support your child needs. The IEP helps monitor and assess your child’s progress, and it is modified as your child’s needs change.”

An IEP outlines modifications to a student’s learning experience, such as:

    • modified and/or alternative learning expectations by subject, or generally
    • alternative expectations for areas not represented in the curriculum
    • changes to the learning environment or teacher’s style of instruction
    • inclusion of technology or equpment that allows a child to express their learning
    • transition plans between activities, classes and teachers

The IEP for students who are not identified solely as gifted and who are 14 years old or older will also include a plan for the transition to postsecondary education, or the workplace, and independent living.

What Is the Process to Create an IEP?

There are two routes to an IEP in Ontario. The first unfolds when a student has been diagnosed as having exceptional needs; this might include students with known physical and learning disabilities at the outset of school, as well as those identified in later months and years by teachers and school staff, in concert with parents. A formal Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) process follows,
usually involving a psycho-educational assessment. Students who undergo the IPRC process have a legal right to special education support.

Almost half of Ontario students who receive special education support without a formal IPRC process, according to the 2015 Annual Report on Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools. For these students, the development of the IEP occurs after an in-school team has identified the student has special needs or at a parent’s request.

iParents are consulted during the IEP process, and the IEP must be completed within the first 30 days of the child’s admission to a special education program or within the first 30 days of the school year. (in Ontario; check your province’s guidelines)

How Do I Get My Child an IEP?

If you believe your child needs a special education program, contact your child’s school principal. In addition to the possibility of an IPRC process and IEP, the school may be able to offer immediate steps to help meet your child’s needs. 

If your child has completed an Academic Assessment or has been diagnosed with a learning disability, you may request an IEP. If a psychometric assessment hasn’t yet been done, that may be part of the IPRC process to formally identify your child as having special education needs.

If there is a disagreement between the principal and parent regarding the need for special education, either party may request in writing that an IPRC decide whether the child is an exceptional student and, if so, what support is needed. Once requested, the IPRC must occur.

What Happens After an IEP is Created?

An IEP is considered a “working” document, in that it should be reviewed and updated regularly. Just as your child grows and their education needs and abilities change, the IEP must adapt continuously to support them.

The IEP is often reviewed near the end of the academic year so you and your child’s teacher may reflect on progress. However, you don’t need to wait for the annual review to ask questions or make suggestions with regard to your child’s learning. You can schedule a monthly email or phone check-in with your teacher, if they are amenable. 

If you are working with another professional or have received an assessment from The Reading School, a psychologist or occupational therapist, remember to inform your child’s teacher. Communication and alignment between home and school will help ensure the best learning experience for your child!


What did the IEP process look like for your child? Do you have a tip for parents who are just starting this process? 

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