American Asperger's Association Support Group

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Writing a good IEP for students with Autism

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1 Writing a good IEP for students with Autism on Fri Apr 10, 2009 7:27 am


Writing a Good IEP for Student with Autism
Prepared by Tracy J. Stephens, Ph.D.

What is the purpose of an IEP?
The purpose of the IEP is to provide an individualized document that will guide the programming for the student
with autism and will allow the team to determine if the student is really making progress.
The IEP is like a blueprint
that is used to build a new house.
The exact plan is drawn up ahead of time including what the final product should
look like and what materials are going to be needed, and it provides the instructions for the builder to go ahead and
create the final product.
The blueprint needs to include each room’s exact measurements and guides the actions of
those carrying out the plan. That is what we need our IEP to do as well.

The Issue of Minimum vs.
Maximum Services
If you have ever heard the phrase “The law says we do not have to provide you the Cadillac model in services,” you
know what I am talking about here.
The correct interpretation of the law states that if given two equally appropriate
programs or strategies, the school district has the right to choose the less expensive of the two.
However, if the
program being offered by the school can be shown to not be appropriate for the student or does not have any data to
support the methodologies or strategies being used, then the law, in the past, has required schools to provide the
more effective program option for the student regardless of cost factors.

Does the IEP need to be perfect before I sign it?
Yes! and No! As stated above, the IEP is the blueprint for the student’s education.
The team needs to work together
to come up with a plan that is easily understood by all possible team members (including the parent, the para and a
Goals and the methods used to teach the skills should be clearly outlined so that we can objectively
measure if the student is making progress.
We certainly do not want to waste an entire school year working on a
skill that the child is just not capable of performing or realize too late that we were using the wrong teaching

We need to be careful in not writing an IEP that is too complicated, large and overwhelming to the people
implementing it. The IEP needs to be as clear and concise as possible.
Sometimes for students who make very
quick progress and for whom long term goals are difficult to write, rather than take a blind stab at an annual goal
that is very vague, I have suggested that the team write very specific short term goals and meet quarterly to amend
the IEP.

The IEP needs to be as “perfect” as the team can humanly get it; however, it is almost always necessary in any
document drawn up by a group of people that there is going to need to be a lot of negotiating and compromising by
all the parties.
Parents should know, though, that if they are in disagreement about something that is written in the
plan, they need to speak up immediately and make sure that the disagreement is noted in the document· Not noting
disagreement and allowing the IEP to go into effect have been viewed by some courts in the past as assent on the
parent’s part. The signature page on the front of the IEP is just a list of those in attendance.
There currently is not a
signature designation in the IEP form that talks about agreement and assent of the team members.

Serving the Entire Spectrum of Autism
This is not easy to do! The needs of students with autism are very unique and can vary 180 degrees from one
student to the next. Students with autism often take the term “individualized” to the Nth degree.
There is no cookie
cutter approach or template for these IEPs! That is why it is absolutely critical to do good assessments so we know
exactly what the child can and cannot do.
For the student with autism, this means that the “present level of
performance” section on the IEP is probably going to be the most important part, because once we know where
they currently are in each of the identified skill areas, it is pretty easy to write goals to get them to the next skill

With team that I work with, I usually recommend that there be at least one major goal in each of the following areas
for a student with autism:
Lower functioning or younger students with autism:
• Functional communication skills
• Play skills
• Social skills
• Adaptive behavior skills
• Academic skills
• Behavior support plan for difficult situations
Higher functioning and older students with autism or Asperger Syndrome:
• Social skills/friendship skills
• Pragmatic language and conversation skills
• Organizational skills
• Academic skills
• Independence & adult readiness (adaptive behavior skills)
• Employability skills/ Self Advocacy/Determination
• Behavior support plan for difficult situations
Behavior Intervention Plans
If the box on your IEP that reads “This student’s behavior is impeding learning” is checked then a second document
should be drawn up that is an appendix of sort to the original IEP.
This appendix is called a behavior intervention
plan and should lay out in a very clear manner the following information:
• Description of the problem behavior
• Hypothesis statement regarding function of behavior:
• Triggers/Setting Events/Antecedents
• Prevention strategies
• Alternative skills to be taught which should replace the inappropriate behavior
• Proactive Instructional Strategies
• Reactive Consequence Strategies
• Safety Plan
• Long Term Prevention Strategies
An example template of a behavior intervention plan is provided as an attachment to this handout.

Creating Equal Partnerships between Parents and Teachers
This is a critical component for developing good IEPs and providing the highest level of assistance to the student.

As much time and energy that goes into actually preparing for and writing the IEP should go into building positive
relationships between the home and school environments.
It is a must that school administrators and teachers view
the parents of the student with a disability as an equal partner in this process and as an expert on autism and this
particular student.
There is nothing more disconcerting to a parent than to come to an IEP meeting where the IEP is
already written and very little input was solicited or discussed prior to the meeting or being told at the onset of the
meeting that there is a strict time limit for the meeting as the professionals are very busy.

This is likened to a business partnership where two partners come to a meeting and one partner has just signed a
major merger deal without even talking to the other partner.
These types of situations will almost always lead to
decreased communication and long term collaboration difficulties.
Excellent home-school communication on the
part of the professionals is very important for facilitating active involvement of parents in the education of their
Much of this communication can be done quite effectively prior to the actual IEP meeting in order to cut
down on lengthy meetings where not much gets accomplished (which we have all sat in on before!).

It is the parent’s job and responsibility in this partnership to become a knowledgeable advocate for their child.

Although not always a desirable position, and often an unwanted role, it is just a fact if you are to help your child
and obtain the needed resources and services.
No one is going to do it for you and your child cannot do it for
An excellent leadership and advocacy training opportunity for parents and for people with disabilities themselves is
offered each year through South Dakota Advocacy Services.
The workshop series is titled “South Dakota Partners
in Policymaking.
” Additional information and an application can be obtained by contacting the Pierre office: 1-800-
658-4782 or

Websites that offer Special Education Law information and other resources:
How Well Does Your IEP Measure Up? by Diane Twachtman-Cullen and Jennifer Twachtman-Reilly.

Creating a Win-Win IEP for Students with Autism by Beth Fouse.

Both of these books are available for check-out through the Wegner Health Science Information Center by calling

General information and education on legal rights, effective educational methods and medical treatments, and how
to present your child's problems to school staff so they want to help:
Evaluations, Assessments &Tests information:
Briefs for Families on Evidence-based Practices:
Responses you can use to common "hurdle talk"--words and attitudes that keep the IEP meeting from being
successful--as you are advocating for your child's needs:
Law practice dedicated to representing children and adolescents diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders and
other disabilities:
Special Education Advocacy Strategies:
General Information on Legal Issues:
Public Policy and Legislative Information:
This document is available in alternate format upon request

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