“I’m New to All This…


… what’s an I.E.P.?!”

Basic Information

Even though we try very hard to define all the acronyms that are so commonly used in relation to special education (IEP, IFSP, ESE, etc.), it can still be very confusing for a newcomer to step feet-first into this segment of the world.

It’s likely that most of us didn’t even know this segment of the world existed — until we were plunged into it without warning when our own child was diagnosed as having a disability.


This page is intended to be a very brief introduction to special education.

woman worried
Where it starts.
  Some children are born with a disability that is identifiable right away, but most children are diagnosed sometime later in their development, and it usually starts with someone noticing that the child is having difficulty. Maybe as an infant (“He should be able to sit up by now”) or as a toddler (“She never interacts or plays with the other kids”) or perhaps much later in school years (“He’s having trouble reading”).


baby crawling

Early Intervention. If a developmental difficulty is suspected while the child is still an infant (from age zero to when they turn three), an evaluation process can determine whether or not the child would be eligible for services from Early Steps, the Early Intervention program here in Florida. If eligible, the family would participate in developing an Individualized Family Support Plan (IFSP) with the help of a Family Resource Specialist. This plan would identify services (such as physical therapy for example) and would be designed specifically for the child.

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Early Transition. If a child has an IFSP in place when they turn three, they may transition at that time from an Early Intervention program to receiving services from a Public School.



The Law. There are federal laws that serve as guidelines to the states on providing education to children who have disabilities and special education needs. One set of laws is called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act and is commonly known as IDEA. There are different sections of the law, for example, Part C of IDEA provides guidelines on the provision of services to infants and toddlers (Early Intervention) while Part B of IDEA is about the special education process once a child reaches age three.


woman with paperwork


Referral & Evaluation. If a child who is enrolled in public school is suspected of having a disability, an interested party can make a Referral, requesting that the child be Evaluated. The school must obtain a parent’s consent (signature) before initiating an evaluation process on a child. The evaluation process will determine whether the child is eligible to receive services under IDEA.


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The I.E.P. If the child is eligible for IDEA, an Individualized Education Program (or Plan), commonly known as an IEP is created specifically for the child. The IEP plan, according to the law, must be very detailed, so it is developed on a special (usually computerized) document so no one forgets to fill in any of the required information.

The IEP document is then finalized at an IEP meeting.


The I.E.P. Meeting.
Depending upon the circumstances, the number of people at an IEP Meeting might vary from as low as two to as high as ten or fifteen or even more. IEP Team Members might include teachers, therapists, and other school district personnel — and the parents of the child are always invited. IDEA makes it very clear that parent participation is crucial to the IEP process. As the people at the table who know the child best, the parents are extremely important members of the team. IEP Teams usually meet once a year, though they can meet more often if the team determines the necessity. A parent can request an IEP meeting at any time (request in writing).

 For information and resources, check out our searchable online Resource Database.