Creating an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for Students with Asperger’s Syndrome and High Functioning Autism

Children with delayed skills or other disabilities might be eligible for special services that provide individualized education programs in public schools, free of charge to families. Understanding how to access these services can help moms and dads to be effective advocates for their Aspergers and high-functioning autistic children.

The passage of the updated version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) made mothers/fathers of children with special needs even more crucial members of their youngster's education team. Moms and dads can now work with teachers to develop a plan — the individualized education program (IEP) — to help children succeed in school. The IEP describes the goals the team sets for a youngster during the school year, as well as any special support needed to help achieve them.

A youngster who has difficulty learning and functioning and has been identified as a special needs child is the perfect candidate for an IEP. Children struggling in school may qualify for support services, allowing them to be taught in a special way, for reasons such as:
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • autism spectrum disorders
  • cognitive challenges
  • developmental delay
  • emotional disorders
  • hearing impairment
  • learning disabilities
  • speech or language impairment
  • visual impairment 

How Services Are Delivered—
    In most cases, the services and goals outlined in an IEP can be provided in a standard school environment. This can be done in the regular classroom (e.g., a reading teacher helping a small group of kids who need extra assistance while the other children in the class work on reading with the regular teacher) or in a special resource room in the regular school. The resource room can serve a group of children with similar needs who are brought together for help. However, children who need intense intervention may be taught in a special school environment. These classes have fewer children per teacher, allowing for more individualized attention.

    In addition, the teacher usually has specific training in helping children with special educational needs. The kids spend most of their day in a special classroom and join the regular classes for nonacademic activities (like music and gym) or in academic activities in which they don't need extra help.

    Because the goal of IDEA is to ensure that each youngster is educated in the least restrictive environment possible, effort is made to help children stay in a regular classroom. However, when needs are best met in a special class, then children might be placed in one.

    Referral and Evaluation—

    The referral process generally begins when a teacher, mother or father, or doctor is concerned that a youngster may be having trouble in the classroom, and the teacher notifies the school counselor or psychologist. The first step is to gather specific data regarding the child's progress or academic problems. This may be done through:
    • conference with moms and dads
    • conference with the child
    • analysis of the child's performance (e.g., attention, behavior, work completion, tests, class work, homework, etc.)
    • observation of the child

    This information helps school personnel determine the next step. At this point, strategies specific to the child could be used to help the youngster become more successful in school. If this doesn't work, the youngster would be tested for a specific learning disability or other impairment to help determine qualification for special services.

    It's important to note, though, that the presence of a disability doesn't automatically guarantee a youngster will receive services. To be eligible, the disability must affect functioning at school.

    To determine eligibility, a multidisciplinary team of professionals will evaluate the youngster based on their observations; the youngster's performance on standardized tests; and daily work such as tests, quizzes, class work, and homework.

    Professionals on the Team—

    The professionals on the evaluation team can include:
    • physical therapist
    • psychologist
    • special educator
    • speech therapist
    • vision or hearing specialist
    • occupational therapist

    As a mother or father, you can decide whether to have your youngster assessed. If you choose to do so, you'll be asked to sign a permission form that will detail who is involved in the process and the types of tests they use. These tests might include measures of specific school skills, such as reading or math, as well as more general developmental skills, such as speech and language. Testing does not necessarily mean that a youngster will receive services.

    Once the team members complete their individual assessments, they develop a comprehensive evaluation report (CER) that compiles their findings, offers an educational classification, and outlines the skills and support the youngster will need.

    The moms and dads then have a chance to review the report before the IEP is developed. Some moms and dads will disagree with the report, and they will have the opportunity to work together with the school to come up with a plan that best meets the youngster's needs.

    IEP Development—

    The next step is an IEP meeting at which the team and moms and dads decide what will go into the plan. In addition to the evaluation team, a regular teacher should be present to offer suggestions about how the plan can help the youngster's progress in the standard education curriculum.

    At the meeting, the team will discuss your youngster's educational needs — as described in the CER — and come up with specific, measurable short-term and annual goals for each of those needs. If you attend this meeting, you can take an active role in developing the goals and determining which skills or areas will receive the most attention.

    The cover page of the IEP outlines the support services your youngster will receive and how often they will be provided (e.g., occupational therapy twice a week). Support services might include special education, speech therapy, occupational or physical therapy, counseling, audiology, medical services, nursing, vision or hearing therapy, and many others.

    If the team recommends several services, the amount of time they take in the youngster's school schedule can seem overwhelming. To ease that load, some services may be provided on a consultative basis. In these cases, the professional consults with the teacher to come up with strategies to help the youngster but doesn't offer any hands-on instruction. For instance, an occupational therapist may suggest accommodations for a youngster with fine-motor problems that affect handwriting, and the classroom teacher would incorporate these suggestions into the handwriting lessons taught to the entire class.

    Other services can be delivered right in the classroom, so the youngster's day isn't interrupted by therapy. The youngster who has difficulty with handwriting might work one on one with an occupational therapist while everyone else practices their handwriting skills. When deciding how and where services are offered, the youngster's comfort and dignity should be a top priority.

    The IEP should be reviewed annually to update the goals and make sure the levels of service meet your youngster's needs. However, IEPs can be changed at any time on an as-needed basis. If you think your youngster needs more, fewer, or different services, you can request a meeting and bring the team together to discuss your concerns.

    Parents’ Legal Rights—

    Specific timelines ensure that the development of an IEP moves from referral to providing services as quickly as possible. Be sure to ask about this timeframe and get a copy of your parents’ rights when your youngster is referred. These guidelines (sometimes called procedural safeguards) outline your rights as a mother or father to control what happens to your youngster during each step of the process.

    The parents’ rights also describe how you can proceed if you disagree with any part of the CER or the IEP — mediation and hearings both are options. You can get information about low-cost or free legal representation from the school district or, if your youngster is in Early Intervention (for children ages 3 to 5), through that program.

    Attorneys and paid advocates familiar with the IEP process will provide representation if you need it. You also may invite anyone who knows or works with your youngster whose input you feel would be helpful to join the IEP team. 


    Moms and dads have the right to choose where their children will be educated. This choice includes public or private elementary schools and secondary schools, including religious schools. It also includes charter schools and home schools.

    However, it is important to understand that the rights of kids with disabilities who are placed by their moms and dads in private elementary schools and secondary schools are not the same as those of children with disabilities who are enrolled in public schools or placed by public agencies in private schools when the public school is unable to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

    Two major differences that moms and dads, educators, other school staff, private school representatives, and the children need to know about are:
    1. Not all children with disabilities placed by their moms and dads in private schools will receive services.
    2. Kids with disabilities who are placed by their moms and dads in private schools may not get the same services they would receive in a public school.

    The IEP process is complex, but it's also an effective way to address how your youngster learns and functions. If you have concerns, don't hesitate to ask questions about the evaluation findings or the goals recommended by the team. You know your youngster best and should play a central role in creating a learning plan tailored to his or her specific needs.

    More resources for parents of children and teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism:


    Anonymous said...

    Good article! Although I do have to mention although my son has Asperger's he was not eligible for services for an IEP bc he is also gifted. They deemed him "academically competent" so even though he has aspergers, sensory, and fine motor needs bc he is so smart he did not qualify. Now we are on the venture to try getting an IEP from the gift angle. Quite a conundrum.

    Anonymous said...

    REally? Are you in the states? We were told that our son qualified because Autism is one of the 12 disabilities that is federally recognized for an IEP. The school obviously wanted a 504, but we wanted the IEP and got one. Our son has deficits in math, but is several grades ahead in reading and language.

    Anonymous said...

    We too had the same problem not being eligible for services because he was deemed academically competent. I feel the testing utilized does not accurately reflect what the child actually is expected to do in a classroom setting and required projects and homework that are assigned. My child has great trouble with organizational skills and staying on task when expected to do self-initiated tasks, but performs wonderfully when given a test or is provided constant structure by a teacher/parent.

    Anonymous said...

    You could get a 504 instead of the IEP. My son is similar to that. I am a teacher also... the diagnosis of aspergers or ADD or ADHD would automatically get him special servies with the 504 which is considered regular ed but you still get accomodations. My son is allowed to write in the box, extended time, handwriting grace, etc .. because of the 504. you can put anything on it you would like him to receive.

    Anonymous said...

    I had a similar problem. My son was gifted but had other non-academic deficits which made school a struggle. He did get an IEP for being in the gifted program and we added accommodations onto that but, to be honest, they never "got" that his intelligence didn't necessrily make up for his challenges.

    Anonymous said...

    I did have the same issue, however being on the spectrum DOES qualify him. My son is gifted as well and it has taken years to get the schools attention. We have a 504 as well as an IEP. After we got the outside diagnosis, we were able to request testing by the state which is reguired by our SBOE. They did it at school.

    Anonymous said...

    I agree with CJ to keep trying. Just because he is able to compensate because of his giftedness does not mean that he does not have the challenges of being an Aspie (I feel like a one trick pony, but Bright but not Broken has a chapter or two on this problem as well). At a certain point, I imagine it might be worth the cost of bringing in a legal advocate. They can "tell" you that this is the case, but it is against the law.

    Anonymous said...

    I live in Australia and it is becoming a fight to get the support my son needs. He is very gifted in maths, but suffers highly with the social aspect of school life which in turn creates deep depression. I am only in the early stages of learning, understanding and finding support for my son and so far it has become a struggle to get anyone at school to help.

    Anonymous said...

    I had the same problem. We have a 504 but need an IEP for OT etc. Since insurance deferred coverage of ot to the school dist. But I gave up fighting when the new law in ca passed requiring companies to cover it. So now im just waiting for june when the law takes affect.

    Anonymous said...

    We just put our daughter (1st grade) into public school and keep getting the run around about having her evaluated through the school. They say that she doesn't need it, because they say that she is doing well in class. I however have doubts about how well she's doing. Ever since we put her in school, she's had more behavioral problems at home. She does not let it out when she's frustrated or having sensory problems, so I think she's holding it all in and letting go when she gets home. I also found out that she was telling me that she was playing with other kids on recess. I didn't find out that she's been playing alone every day until I went to observe her at recess. I think that we are going to have to formally request an evaluation so that they have to look into it. Sometimes I wish that she would just act out at school so that they can see how much it's effecting her!

    Anonymous said...

    Thanks for the help. I am going to have to look into an advocate. I took all of my sons paperwork and diagnosis to the director of the district and she said it didn't matter. :( she even went so far as to say that he could be extremely physically handicapped and if he was capable academically in the classroom they would not help him! I was shocked when she put it that way. She was the head so there was no one higher to fight with!!

    Anonymous said...

    She did however come back to me and say that if he got kicked out twice or more than she would reconsider....at that rate I decided he wouldn't even be put in her schools!! I'd rather keep him home!

    Anonymous said...

    Joe Whitehead M Ed - What state/country are you in crystal? If in the US, you can always file a grievance against her with the school board and with the state education board. I'm an advocate.

    Anonymous said...

    I have the exact issue with the school sharon. They didnt even notice him repeating 5 out of 10 spelling words for over 6 weeks untill I said something .. the next week same thing happened. Sometimes I wish I could film my son every afternoon after school and get his teacher to watch it every morning to try and get them to understand that even a simple thing like moving the desks in the class room has great repercussions as soon as he his home. It is such a relief that I am not the only one that finds my child holding it together during school time but letting it all out as soon as he is safe to be himself.

    Anonymous said...

    We asked for testing for learning disabilities (suggested by our pediatrician) and the school won't do the testing until my husband and I have a meeting with the teacher and the two psychologists. They said we needed to "have a meeting FIRST". They also want a couple weeks worth of her papers. We meet tomorrow and I'm really nervous.

    Anonymous said...

    Help! I am so overwhelmed. My son is in 6th grade and was diagnosed with Aspergers in 1st grade. When he was first diagnosed our school district's "autism team" assessed him and did not "agree with the diagnosis" and because he had A and B grades and no real discipline problems (other than his odd quirks) they denied him an IEP or any services. Through the years he has maintained his A and B grades and good discipline until this year. His discipline is still not a problem unless he is not on his ADHD meds. His grades are now A, C and F. He received two F's on his report card this time, first time ever. They also placed him in PreAP classes at the beginning of the year even though we didn't fill out the forms to do so. They have continued talking us into keeping him in those classes until now, today I demanded they move him back to regular classes. It is time for him to have an IEP whether they like it or not. It has been so long I don't know what to do first, what kind of letter, what do I request, to whom do I send it? I have been staring at the internet since last night and still can't figure it out. I am in Texas if it makes any difference. It doesn't help that I am constantly told, even by my child's doctor's office, our school district is one of the worst to have a child with Aspergers or ADHD in. Can someone please help me? Thanks.

    Anonymous said...

    Unfortunately when it's recognize that the school as a whole doesn't address children with certain issues the answer is to change schools. That we had to do for our son when he was in 1st grade. It made a world of difference. If it's not an option for you find a local attorney or advocate who specializes in IEP process to help you work with the school. If the school district policies are that bad as been told to you the attorney/advocate is the best route.

    Anonymous said...

    We definitely can't afford an attorney and changing schools isn't an option this late in the year. He will begin junior high next year (scares me to death) so we need to get something set up now. I am all for them re-testing and assessing him if that's what it takes, I won't take no for an answer this time, I am going to fight. But, I just can't remember what letter to send, what I am requesting, and to whom. Do I request an ARD, IEP, etc.

    Anonymous said...

    After your schools done the ETR, you can write them requesting reevaluations. Have a paper trail!
    Give them a signed copy of yor letters and have them sign that they recieved it on yours(dated of course).
    They will have a list of specialists approved,get it.You can also check to see if they are able to approve others. All the reevals must be requested at once or you might miss out. Check local orgs. and parents of others suffering a yours does for Best test and doctors/test givers.
    Keep a paper trail of all communication with school and try to make time to document all special difficulties. when who where, how. address to school in letter if approppriate. Especially phone call and in person contact with them(e.g. On 12/27/12 we spoke about... What is being done...)
    I have a visual disorder,I hope you understand God Bless.
    Tracy Mom of son struggling in schools with Asperger's.

    Anonymous said...

    Who you address it to differs from State to State....In NJ All was Addressed to the Child study team worker he was assigned to or her boss if the first was slacking on the job....
    In Cleveland it has been the School Psychologist or Pricipal. Each school district and state have a board asigned in charge of special needs. You might have to hunt and peck with key words(School + 'Special education' +Board or Office +Town,State).
    A Facillitater from State Board has been coming to our last two meetings.
    Also,My sons OT people have always been of great help.

    Anonymous said...

    After your schools done the ETR, you can write them requesting reevaluations. Have a paper trail!
    Give them a signed copy of yor letters and have them sign that they recieved it on yours(dated of course).
    They will have a list of specialists approved,get it.You can also check to see if they are able to approve others. All the reevals must be requested at once or you might miss out. Check local orgs. and parents of others suffering a yours does for Best test and doctors/test givers.
    Keep a paper trail of all communication with school and try to make time to document all special difficulties. when who where, how. address to school in letter if approppriate. Especially phone call and in person contact with them(e.g. On 12/27/12 we spoke about... What is being done...)
    I have a visual disorder,I hope you understand God Bless.
    Tracy Mom of son struggling in schools with Asperger's.

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