First Steps to an IEP


Editor's Note: If your child struggles with all or certain parts of his schoolwork, he made need specific supports to achieve his full potential. It can be overwhelming to face the process of determining whether your child qualifies for an IEP. Special education advocate Lisa Lightner breaks it down step by step to empower parents to have a voice in the process and know what they should ask for and when and how to ask for it. 

It’s kinda weird that I have a blog about IEPs, and I’ve never done this post. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in IEP issues and helping parents solve problems, that I forget that there are many people out there who want to get an IEP for their child but don’t know how. If you want to know how to get an IEP for your child, but don’t know where to start….this is for you!

The first thing to remember is….you are not asking for an IEP. You are asking that your child be evaluated for one. IEPs are needs-based, and if there are not any identified needs, you will not get an IEP.

If you already have an IEP, and need some ideas for troubleshooting, then click here.

For the rest of you, it’s pretty simple. And, I’m going to keep it simple. If you need the whole truckload of IEP information, you can find it here on this blog. But I’m not going to overwhelm you with that right now.


Most important thing to remember about IEPs

The first step, and most important thing….and don’t ever let go of this concept…

Get everything in writing. Everything. Start now, get in the habit of writing and documenting everything. Your first step is going to be to send a written request. My advice would be to send it to the school principal, with your child’s teacher getting a copy of it. CC them on it.

Be very clear about what you are requesting. State very clearly: I wish to have my child evaluated for special education services or accommodations. No gray areas. Not “hey, I think she’s struggling in school, is there something we can do?” Direct request. If you do otherwise, it will only drag out the process.

If you’re not positive you need special ed, there are other options. Maybe you’re not quite ready to request special education services. Still, be clear about what you want. Ask to meet about RTII, and ask them to explain that process to you. Go over it, go home and read about it, then make your decision.

I don’t know what to put in my letter! That’s ok, very common. And, I have dozens of letter templates right here:

Describe exactly what you are seeing. You want to be clear – what reading struggles are you seeing? Social skills, time management, whatever skill deficits you are seeing, describe them in bullet points in this letter.

Shouldn’t I be asking for specific tests and evaluations? No. There are literally thousands upon thousands of different types of evals, parents can’t possibly know them all. Plus, if you only request specific evals, those might be the only ones you get, and they may not be correct. Let the school decide – give them a chance to get it right. They are required to evaluate in every area of suspected disability, so this is why you want to include as much as you can in your letter.

Then what? Now you wait. Within a week or two, you should receive a Permission to Evaluate letter from your school. When you sign it, write a note, reiterating your areas of concern. Timelines vary by state, so you’ll want to check your own state regs to see exactly how long they have to return your forms and do the evaluation. Once the evals are completed, you will be invited to either an IEP meeting or meeting to go over the evaluation results. If your school chooses to go right to an IEP meeting, or does the meetings back to back….I would ask for a change. Particularly if this is your first child going through the process for the first time, it is a LOT to absorb. I would ask to have a meeting for qualified individuals to go over your results, then schedule the IEP meeting a few days or weeks after that, after you’ve had time to do some reading and absorbing.

They said no when I asked for an IEP! Yeah, it happens. You ask for special ed evals and your school says no. It’s ok, deep breaths. You should have been presented this information on a PWN form. If not, ask for it. You have choices – accept their decision or not. I would highly recommend if this happens, that you join our Facebook Group and discuss your issue there.


The special ed and IEP process is slow. Like I said, you’ll have to check your state’s guidelines for specifics. This can be a very stressful time, so again, I highly recommend that you join our Facebook group for support and ideas. You’ll find many experienced advocates and parents in there, all too willing to help.

Lisa Lightner is a Chester County, PA mom of two. This post was adapted from the blog A Day in Our Shoes, which she co-authors. It provides support, resources and advocacy services for parents of children with special needs.


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