Reprinted permission granted from The Autism Notebook Magazine

JKP author Vaughn Lauer, PhD shares expert insight on dealing with your IEP and securing services for your child.


Silly question? Perhaps.  Reflect on your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) along with the services that are in that IEP. Now, ask yourself which of those you would be willing to give up. Seriously, what kind of a question is that, right? You’re not willing to give up anything.  Okay, which would you give up for something else?  Farfetched questions? Not so much if you enter an IEP meeting thinking IEPs should be negotiated. For example, if you have ever thought of something similar to “If I don’t get adapted PE, I will go for more hours of speech therapy.” you are thinking in terms of negotiating away some of your child’s services. Why would you be willing to do that to your child? Look at how an IEP meeting might proceed.

Assuming Best Case Scenarios

Let’s assume that the IEP team—including you, of course—has agreed to your child’s present levels of academic and functional performance based on a review of all available and current information. The team has also identified and agreed that each of your child’s needs are to be addressed in the IEP. So where is the twist? It’s coming.

Assume that the goals are then written with near perfection.  That is, the team identified those behaviors (e.g., social or academic, motoric, etc.) to be affected through implementation of the IEP.  The goals included clearly stated conditions under which the behaviors are to be observed (e.g., when given a fifth grade text of 225 words, within 13 minutes, etc.). Lastly, the goals were stated in easy to understand measurable terms (e.g., with no more than 2 word errors, 70% of requests, with 80% accuracy, etc.). So what’s the big deal? Almost there.

The next steps are to determine the services to be provided, the time and frequency of each, and where they are to be delivered.  Thinking about your child’s present (and past) needs and rate of progress, you conclude your child requires more speech and language services than in the past. Staff, however, feel it is not necessary. You insist that services be increased, but staff say it isn’t possible to do.  You, nevertheless, counter that there has been limited progress made over the course of the year in the area of language development. A review of the data support your position and staff offers additional time, but, state a need to reduce the time of adapted PE.  You think, “I got the extra SLP time!” and accept the counter offer.

Realization Sets In

An hour after the meeting ends you realize—yes, here it is—you gave away a service previously determined to be necessary to meet one of your child’s goals.  You had negotiated away one of your child’s needs.  In case you’re thinking this does not happen, it does.  But, this can be circumvented, by throwing out the idea that IEP meetings are built on the premise that you and the school are meeting to negotiate the development of the IEP and services your child requires.

What Should Be Done?

What should be implemented is called the structured collaborative IEP process. This process poses six key questions to the team that will facilitate collaboration through group problem solving and lead to the development of the IEP>

The questions are:

  • What do we know? Where are we?
  • Where do we want to go? What is it we want to accomplish?
  • How will we get there? What do we need to get there?
  • How will we know that we are getting there?
  • How do we know when we have arrived?
  • How do we keep what we have?

By following the structure put in place by the IEP document itself, a plan can be devised that includes all that a child’s needs require. For example, the Present Levels of Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) should be written in such a way that the challenges and strengths of the child are clearly documented. Goals are then developed in line with those documented needs and subsequently, services given that will allow those goals to become a reality. Accommodations and supplementary aids no longer become such a challenge to obtain when the needs that support them are documented in the PLAAFP.

The practice of negotiating is unnecessary, as the evidence from which to base the decision (i.e., what services are to be provided, answering the question: How will we get there?) has already been established and agreed upon when the full IEP team identified your child’s needs (Answering the question What do we know?) and wrote goals (Answering the question: Where do we want to go?) addressing those needs.

What happens if the school insists on reducing services as a part of a “bargain?”

If you have an IEP that truly describes your child’s needs, and goals written to target those needs, you have become an advocate’s dream. Why? Because you have the documentation to support the services required, based on available data and measurable goals (How will we know we are getting there? and How do we know even we have arrived?) that require certain services in order to be fully implemented (How do we keep what we have?). The decision made by any third party reviewer would be to hold the school responsible for the provision of all services needed by your child. Exactly as it should be.

Reprint from The Autism Notebook Magazine, “Back to School” Aug/Sept 2013 issue. Link:,

Vaughn Lauer, PhD, is an educator with years of experience in the field of special education. He is the author of the forthcoming book,  When the School Says No…How to Get the Yes!: Securing Special Education Services for Your Child published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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