What to Expect at Your Child's Initial IEP Meeting

What to Expect at Your Child’s Initial IEP Meeting. GettyImages

If you are preparing for your child’s initial IEP meeting, you probably have a lot of questions! You might be wondering what will happen in the meeting, what type of program or services your child may qualify for, and what that will mean for your (and everyone else’s) schedule.

Today I want to share a bulleted list of the events you can expect to occur in your child’s initial IEP meeting. This is based on what is legally required, as well as what I have experienced after participating in hundreds of IEP meetings as a school-based Occupational Therapist.

Though the six main parts of the IEP meeting should flow in the specific sequence outline below, the order in which the events within each category occur may vary slightly from meeting to meeting.

But first, before you dive right into the meeting outline below, you may find it helpful to take a look at my post, “10 Special Education Terms Every Parent MUST Know!” so you don’t feel lost amongst all the Special Education terminology and acronyms!

1. Introductions

  • All those in attendance “sign in” on the official IEP attendance form
  • Attendee introductions (the district should be notified of any guests you plan to bring to the meeting, typically at least 24 hours in advance)
  • Offering of Procedural Safeguards (a document that outlines “Parent Rights” in the special education process)
  • Purpose of the meeting
  • Signing an excusal form, if a member of the IEP team is not able to be present and the parent is comfortable continuing the meeting without them

    2. Discussion of Student’s “Present Levels

    • Parents: Student’s strengths and parent concerns relevant to student’s educational progress
    • Teacher: If the student is currently in school and his or her classroom teacher is present at the meeting, the teacher may share about present levels of performance in the classroom and in any other environments relevant to the student’s case (e.g., on the playground, at P.E., working with peers, etc.)
    • Evaluators: Review of assessments and written reports (for example, Speech Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, School Psychologist, School Nurse, Special Education Teacher, Behaviorist, Adapted Physical Education)

    3. Discussion of Eligibility

    • There are over a dozen categories of disability that can be considered, including the following: Autism, Deaf-blindness, Deafness, Developmental delay (is typically only applicable for preschoolers), Emotional disturbance, Hearing impairment, Intellectual disability, Multiple disabilities, Orthopedic impairment, Other health impairment, Specific learning disability, Speech or language impairment, Traumatic brain injury, Visual impairment (including blindness).
    • Discussion of whether the student meets eligibility criteria for at least one of these categories, and whether the student’s educational performance is adversely affected by their disability. This decision is made based on the assessment data (which can include both quantitative and qualitative information, depending on the eligibility category) and IEP team discussion.
    • If YES, then the team would move forward with identifying which eligibility category the student qualifies under, whether there is more than one category that needs to be considered, and what areas of educational need have been identified that need to be addressed by the school team.
    • If NO, then the team would discuss what alternatives or next steps need to occur in order to support student needs (such as developing a 504 plan or encouraging the family to see what community-based resources are available to support medical, developmental, or social needs).

    4. Discussion of Goals

    • Relevant IEP team members share proposed goals to support the areas of need identified during the assessment process (for example, articulation, language development, fine motor, gross motor, pre-academics, Math, Language Arts, executive function, etc.)

    5. Discussion of Services

    • This is known as the “Offer of FAPE” (Free Appropriate Public Education) and includes any specialized academic instruction, related services (such as Occupational Therapy), accommodations, modifications, or supplementary aids and services that may be required for the student to make progress on the IEP goals
    • Discussion of the amount (or percentage) of time the student would spend outside of the general education setting
    • Discussion of special factors that may influence the student’s ability to make educational progress, such as their behavior, limited English proficiency, blindness or visual impairment, communication needs/deafness, or their need for assistive technology
    • Discussion of Extended School Year services (ESY, or “summer school”), and what would make a student eligible for ESY services, if relevant
    • Discussion of statewide and district-wide testing, and what kinds of accommodations the student may need, if relevant

    6. Signing the IEP

    • Once the IEP document is signed, this authorizes the school team to implement the plan
    • A parent is not legally required to sign the IEP document before leaving the meeting
    • A parent can take some time to review a copy of the IEP and/or process all the information that was presented in the meeting
    • A parent can decide to agree to the entire IEP, or just to certain parts of it
    • It’s important to keep in mind that the IEP cannot be implemented and the student cannot receive the proposed services and supports until parent consent has been provided

    For more Special Education information and resources, visit the Center for Parent Information and Resources website, where you can scroll through easy-to-navigate topics related to education and disability.


    Causton, J. and Tracy-Bronson, C.P. (2014). The Occupational Therapist’s Handbook for Inclusive School Practices. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.: Baltimore, MD.

    Christie Kiley is a mama and occupational therapist, with experience working in early intervention (birth to 3), clinic-based, and school-based settings. Christie currently works as a pediatric OT for School Steps Inc., and she is also the author of MamaOT.com, whose mission is to encourage, educate, and empower those who care for children. 

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