How to Handle Individualized Education Programs With a Limited Income

individualized education programs

If you have a special needs child, you’re no doubt familiar with the associated challenges for everyone in the family. For instance, specialized instruction in the school environment may be necessary, and that’s where an individualized education program comes in.

Fortunately, cost need not get in the way of finding an individualized education program that specifically meets your child’s unique needs. The Government of the U.S. has a law on the books that requires schools to offer “specially defined instruction”cost-free to parents. What this means is that your child can have access to the support and services needed in the learning environment between until he or she completes high school.

Moreover, the extra services and support are in addition to the regular services and support that non-special needs students get. So regardless of your income — limited or otherwise — you won’t have to foot the costs associated with meeting the in-school needs of your children.

According to the California Legislature’s Nonpartisan Fiscal and Policy Advisor, approximately 10% of students in California get special education services, which translates into around 686,000 students who have disabilities ranging from dyslexia to language and speech impediments to autism to other conditions.

Read on to learn more about how to handle an individualized education program that is the right fit for your child.

Individualized Education Program Requirements

An individualized education program takes into account several required considerations that you should know about. They include the following:

  • Current Status: This refers to your child’s current stage of academic accomplishment and functional performance.
  • Goals: This refers to measurable yearly goals for your child’s performance both academically and functionally.
  • Progress Measures: This relates to how progress towards achieving yearly objectives will be measured.
  • Services to be Offered: This relates to special education to be offered, including any program modifications needed for your child’s benefit. Information must include the anticipated start date, frequency, place of instruction and length of time the services will be offered.
  • Inclusion in Mainstream Environment: This refers to the extent to which your child either will or won’t take part in the regular class environment with non-special needs children.
  • Assessment Strategy: This refers to accommodations made to ensure that your child can take part in state and regional assessments needed to measure academic and functional abilities.
  • Additional Considerations (as appropriate): This area refers to work or career objectives, alternatives for completing requirements to graduate from high school, strategy for moving from general education to college or university, specialized equipment or transportation requirements, strategy for learning English and/or extending school-year services.

Individualized Education Plan Team Members

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the law mandates that certain individuals need to be involved in developing a child’s individualized education program. The individualized education program members need to include your child, you as the parent, the regular education teacher, the school system representative, the transition services agency representative, people with special knowledge about your child, someone who can assess evaluation results and a special education teacher. This team is required to work towards developing an individualized education plan that is the right fit for your child.

individualized education programs


If you don’t approve of the individualized education program, you have the right pursuant to the law to challenge it. For instance, you can take a stand for issues pertaining to your child’s eligibility and the services that your child’s school provides. You can, specifically, discuss the matter with school officials to see if something can be done, request mediation with third-party involvement, request due process hearing and file a complaint with the education agency.

As you can see the individualized education program is available, but it requires effort on your part to ensure that you child gets one that meets his or her unique needs. The more you know going in, the better equipped you will be to find the best option for your child.

How Special Needs Students Can Get Involved with Peers

special needs student

When special needs kids want to get involved with others their own age, it can be one of the hardest things to do. So many children, not just special needs, can feel isolated or alienated from their peers. Special needs children, especially, may have difficulty relating to their age group.

Fortunately, there are some ways to bring these two groups together, and history has shown that most students in regular courses are quite accepting of special needs students once the initial barriers are broken down. Here are some good options:

Participate in After School Activities  

One of the best ways to break the ice is to start with an afterschool activity of some kind, like a play date, volunteering for a club, community service, or going to see a sports game. This takes children outside of the rigid school environment and gives them an opportunity to relax in a more casual setting.

The ideal activity is one where a special needs child can take charge and demonstrate some kind of expertise. That could include explaining the rules of a game, showing how to properly care for animals, or otherwise taking charge and giving directions. This is a critical step in overcoming a common belief children have: that special needs students are stupid. Is there an activity your child especially enjoys that they could share with their peers? Start with that!

Learning disabilities–which are one of the most common special needs–are not the same thing as having a low IQ. Though, this is a mistake many children make. The real problem is usually one of expression, and allowing children with special needs to demonstrate their expertise can shatter the false beliefs. Children with special needs will always be seen as ‘different’, but different doesn’t have to be bad.

Join a Support Group

Children with special needs can also do well in support groups, especially if they have an opportunity to do some of the supporting. Meeting other children who face similar challenges, especially if those children have overcome challenges, can help your child feel optimistic. Having a special need is not an automatic failure in life. Many children can and do grow up to be successful, but only if they’re kept motivated and believe that they can succeed.

special needs student

In other words, don’t focus on what the child can’t do, focus on what they can. When children find support from their peers

Get the School Involved

The law requires schools to put children with special needs in the least restrictive environment. In the practical sense, this means that they should be learning with their peers unless they genuinely need to be kept separated from others. However, just being in the classroom doesn’t necessarily mean inclusion will happen. Teachers should also be asked to support these efforts and find a way of getting children with special needs into groups.

If your child’s school is failing to provide the least restrictive environment, the California Special Needs Law Group may be able to help you fix this problem.

Remember: Different children have different needs! The suggestions here are good for most children with special needs, but there is no advice that’s appropriate for every child. Don’t hesitate to adjust any of the plans here to suit your child’s individual needs.

Questions to Ask Child Care Providers for Special Needs Families

Child Care providers

Child care providers can be an amazing help when you need to take some time for yourself, but not all child care providers are qualified to help special needs families. Here are some questions to ask a provider before you put your child into their care.

Have you worked with special needs children before?

Some providers prefer to work with children who don’t have special needs, while others specialize in children who need extra help. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but in general, it’s best to stick with child care providers who have a lot of experience helping children with special needs.

Note that child care providers cannot refuse to provide services just because they’d rather not do it. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires them to make a reasonable effort to accommodate your child, but facilities who are both willing and experienced are likely to provide a higher level of care. The only exception to this requirement is child care centers operated by a religious organization. All other child care centers, including small home-based care centers, are covered by title III of the ADA unless the child’s presence would pose a direct threat to others or fundamentally alter the care program.

Have you worked with my child’s needs before?

The more complex your child’s needs are, the more important it is to find a care provider who really knows what they’re doing. Almost any facility can accommodate children in wheelchairs, for example, but they may not be appropriate for children with particularly fragile bones, complex medicine plans, or severe emotional instability. Try to get a feel for what the provider is actually capable of handling, and whether or not they can learn to meet your child’s needs.

When would you call emergency services?

Some child care providers try to handle everything themselves, usually in the hopes that their facility will continue to look safe (i.e. profitable). However, as many parents have already realized, there are times when they can’t handle a situation and need to call emergency services. In general, a child care provider who’s willing to call 911 if they don’t know how to help your child will be safer.

How many adults will be in the building?

Some child care providers are solo facilities run by a single worker, while others may have five or even ten employees on staff. The actual number isn’t very important. What matters is whether or not there are enough adults to properly supervise all the children. Ideally, any facility caring for a special needs child will have at least two adults in the building. If one child needs personal attention for a while, the second adult can keep an eye on everyone else.

Child Care providers

What activities can my child participate in?

Most child care providers offer a variety of different activities for children, from watching television and drawing to running around and playing sports outside. Your child should be able to participate in at least some of these activities, and have alternative options if everyone else is playing something they can’t.

Get more information

The California Department of Education offers a number of guidelines for finding and receiving child care, and you should thoroughly review this information prior to hiring any kind of care provider. If you feel that a provider has unjustly refused your child care or failed to provide adequate care after accepting them into the program, the California Special Needs Law Group can review the situation and help you find a resolution.

The Connection Between Special Education and School Spending

school spending

Education Week recently released a report that found the number of students in special education has been ticking upward… and even small changes in this number can have a major impact on school spending. Here’s what’s going on.

According to the National Education Association, the average cost per-year for a student with special needs is about $17,000 and has likely gone over that amount since this analysis was conducted. Some students need less help, while others need more. A very small percent of students need over $100,000 in help each year, and just a slightly-above-average number of these in any district can wreak havoc on budgets.

What special needs are being identified?

Children with autism or something classified as ‘other health impairment’ have seen some of the highest rates of identification in the last few years, while traditionally common issues (including specific learning disorders like dyslexia) have been on the decline. This change has been driven by two major factors: Better identification of disabilities and reclassification of children whose problems had not been properly noted the first time around.

It’s important to note that this does not mean there is an increase in the number of children with special needs, just how many we’ve been able to find. It’s also worth noting that this increase has also followed several years of steady declines, which means that schools had gotten used to spending less on special education and had reallocated their resources accordingly.

The effects on school spending

Most schools don’t have a lot of money to spare in their budgets, so a single new student with special needs can be a significant burden to them. If they have several students above their average, paying for their services (as they are required by law to do) can actually be a serious challenge and require cuts in other areas.

Even when schools don’t want to admit it, the price of educating students is something they have to keep in mind… and, unfortunately, some schools elect to offer fewer services than a child needs as a way of saving money. When we look at the numbers, it’s not hard to see why they feel this way, but a lack of services can have real consequences for the rest of a child’s life.

If you’re worried that your child won’t be getting the services they need, a special education advocate can help you through the IEP process (where schools determine which services a child will actually receive).

school spending

What about the big picture?

Unfortunately, we don’t know as much as we’d like about how well schools are spending the money set aside for special education. The last major report was finished around the year 2000, making it woefully out-of-date in today’s rapidly-changing environment, and few serious studies have been conducted by investigators in the years since.

Efforts to correct this are being made, but may not be finished for several years – and if your child is in school, they need help now. The best thing you can do is get involved and make sure schools are allocating funds in the right way. Don’t be shy about approaching them with cost-saving ideas–if your child’s school is strapped for cash, chances are they’ll be more than willing to listen.