IEP 101: Getting to the IEP

Confused by your rights as a parent when it comes to IEPs and assessments? This series will guide you through the process.


Every school does their IEP meetings differently, so this won’t exactly apply to every situation out there. You’ll have to modify this information to suit your unique needs. But if you’re already involved in the IEP process, you’re probably pretty good at dealing with modifications.

A quick note: I am based in California. I’ve worked in schools in the Silicon Valley area and the Monterey Bay and have experience with their systems. The information here will probably be most helpful to parents in the area, pretty helpful to parents in other parts of California, and only somewhat useful to parents in other states. Why? Because every state has their own ed code. Also, I am not a lawyer and my experience with California IEPs is not meant to replace legal advice. My interpretations of the law should not be taken as absolute truth.

Okay, that’s the boilerplate out of the way. This text will appear at the top of every post in the IEP series, so on future posts, you can just scroll past because you’ve already read our disclaimer!

Getting to the IEP

There are a few different ways your child might be referred to an IEP meeting. The schools are supposed to be the ones who find that a child needs additional accommodations in order to get an education. But let’s be real. The district has a few thousand students, each school administration has a few hundred, and each teacher has about thirty. It’s possible your child might fall through the cracks or be misdiagnosed as “trouble” or “aggressive” or “just shy.” Some disabilities are obvious, but many are not apparent to someone who doesn’t know your child.

Notice my language. I said disability on purpose. During an IEP it’s important to stress your child’s deficiencies and needs. This seems backwards because most of us approach parenting from a strengths-based orientation that focuses on the child’s abilities. The IEP is a time where you need to focus on the areas where your child needs support. You need to demonstrate that they are falling behind, not meeting benchmarks, or unable to keep up.

So how do you request an IEP? Each “special education local plan area” creates its own policy. Your school should be able to get you a copy of your policy, but many schools will refer you to the district office. Most schools are fairly cooperative, but some will try to keep you from the information. If your school is difficult at this stage, that’s a sign you might need a lawyer at some point during the process.

For bilingual children, it is important to note that the assessment should be conducted in their “native language,” so be specific and accurate on school forms where it asks about the student’s other languages spoken at home and their level of fluency. The assessor should use “the language and form most likely to yield accurate information on what the pupil knows and can do.”

After your child is referred for assessment, the school has 15 days to give you the proposed assessment plan. The plan should be in your preferred language using terminology you can understand. It will explain all the assessments that will be used. If you do not consent to the assessment, the school has the right to assess anyway, though they are not able to implement an IEP without your consent.

You should be called into a meeting within 60 days of signing the consent for the assessment (sometimes called the evaluation). The school will assess the student and use those findings to inform the IEP meeting goals. Some districts will accept information from an outside assessment, but many will not.

The ed code states that the student will only be moved to special education when they are unable to work in general education. If you know your child needs special education, this process can be slow and frustrating while your child falls farther and farther behind with insufficient accommodations in the general classroom. If you think your child needs additional help but could stay in the general education system, it can seem like the school is funneling students straight into special education without fully exploring the general education classroom options.

Look out for IEP 102: At the IEP here!

Kinetic Sand

Kinetic sand is a great addition to any play therapy room. We use it in every phase from assessment to saying goodbye.

Kinetic sand is one of my favorite things to have in a play therapy room. It’s so much more versatile than regular play sand and is easier to clean up. It sticks to itself (and sometimes your hands) but not to surfaces or sand toys. Store bought kinetic sand is made of regular sand mixed with silicone oil to get the unique texture.

You can also make your own kinetic sand for use in the office or at home with sand, cornstarch, dish soap, and water. Other recipes call for vegetable oil and plain flour, and I would recommend this recipe for therapeutic use because of potential problems with cornstarch and dish soap. Dried out kinetic sand can be refreshed with soapy water.

Kinetic sand tips:

  1. Don’t buy or make sand with glitter unless you’re prepared to have a glittery room… and clothes… and hands
  2. Because it sticks to itself but not other surfaces, you can clean up spills easily by gathering a packed ball of sand and running it over the spill.
  3. Make sure to get a container that’s large enough to hold all the sand plus plenty of room for playing.
  4. Get lots of toys! Play therapy works best when there are options to choose from!