With students beginning to again start another school year, some parents may already be dreading the potential behavioral and academic problems their child is likely to face in the classroom. Getting notes from the teacher describing their child as “defiant”, “oppositional” or “behaving poorly” are nothing any parent wants to receive. Being told their child is lying, stealing, fighting, refusing to do their work, destroying property, antagonizing other children, or being a disruption to the class are behaviors that make most parents cringe. Suspension or expulsion is a constant fear. Seeing your child become ostracized by his or her peers due to negative behaviors and an inability to function in a socially acceptable manner is difficult to accept. And what about the consequences to his or her academic development?  Will your child ever be able to pass to the next grade or even graduate?  All these problems may be able to be addressed using an Individualized Education Program or IEP for your child.

The federal 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) states that if a child’s disability prevents him or her from learning the general education curriculum, he is entitled to an Individualized Education Program. The IEP will customize the supports, services, modifications, accommodations, therapies, and counseling needed for him so that he can successfully learn the same material and meet the same expectations as his classmates. Children as young as 3 years old can participate in pre-school services and students 14 and older will also have a transition plan in place to help them navigate success in adulthood. Services are generally free to students and families through federal funding.

Oftentimes, reliance on discipline to change the child’s behavior is the first step. However, this may not be your child’s true underlying problem. So, when your child is disciplined and punished, he responds by escalating and going out of control and your relationship with him begins to rapidly deteriorate. It is important for parents, especially adoptive parents, to recognize that there are likely other issues causing such negative behaviors and such behaviors cannot be treated or be mitigated using discipline alone. These can include trauma caused by early exposure to abuse or neglect; undiagnosed emotional, cognitive or learning disabilities; mental health problems that have been undiagnosed and gone untreated like depression;  learning disabilities such as Dyslexia which were never addressed in the child’s previous environment; an inability to comprehend English especially if the child is from another country; or severe anxiety which has developed from losing one’s cultural, familial and country identity and moving to a new home in America. These are all disabilities that can cause your child to simply be unable to comply with the rigors of the classroom and they will subsequently demonstrate their frustration via misbehavior, non-compliance, defiance, and destruction. An IEP can help with this.

An IEP or Individualized Education Program is a written statement of the educational program designed to meet a child’s individual needs. Every child who receives Special Education Services must have an IEP. The IEP does two things. First, it sets reasonable learning goals for your child and second, it states the specific services that your school district will provide for your child.

Your child must first qualify for participation by having one primary disability from the following list: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Blind or Low Vision, Cognitive Disability, Deaf or Hard of Hearing, Deaf-Blind, Developmental Delay, Emotional Disability, Language Impairment, Multiple Disabilities, Other Health Impairment, Orthopedic Impairment, Specific Learning Disability, Speech Impairment, or Traumatic Brain Injury. Additionally, areas of Special Consideration may also be addressed in the IEP which include Limited English Proficiency, Communication Needs or Behaviors which Impede Learning. Qualification for an IEP is determined only after an extensive evaluation of your child has occurred and the Special Education team (including the parent) determines that the child is eligible for Special Education Services. The educational and cognitive evaluation is generally conducted by a trained and licensed mental health clinician and some tests may be administered as a part of the evaluation.

IEPs, when successful, can help improve a child’s problematic behaviors, increase his self-esteem, help him successfully integrate with his peer group, increase his motivation and academic performance, and propel his desire to learn. Parents will work with teachers and administrators on the team to monitor the success of the IEP and their child’s ability to meet his goals. If necessary, additional revisions can occur to better meet your child’s needs by scheduling a Case Review.

The first step in beginning the IEP process is for the parent to submit a request, preferably written, to your school requesting a comprehensive educational evaluation for your child and giving consent for such an evaluation. The school has 10 instructional days to review the request and provide written notice to the parent. They can deny the request or propose to do the evaluation. The procedure to contest their decision will be provided if they refuse your request. The school district has 50 instructional days from receiving the parental consent to complete the evaluation and hold a meeting to discuss the results. Ten days after this meeting, if Special Education services are determined to be in order, an IEP will be developed to address your child’s unique needs. You, as the parent, will be a part of the team to help determine what services and modifications are needed.  The IEP will be implemented for your child 11 days after the IEP meeting or sooner.  Then, annually, a review is held or parents can request an earlier meeting if the IEP does not appear to be effectively addressing the child’s needs. All Special Education students with an IEP are re-evaluated every three years.

Sometimes getting approval for your child to meet the requirements of Special Education can be difficult. It is expensive to deliver individual services and most school districts guard their funding tightly.  There are Special Education Advocates who can be hired to assist parents with an appeals process but they can be expensive. Also, parents can disagree with the school’s comprehensive evaluation and offer to pay for one by an independent mental health clinician to obtain a different opinion.  In most states, special education advocacy agencies can be located to help you with an appeal or guide you in navigating the school system.  You may be able locate one at  or .  

MLJ Adoptions International wants you and your adopted child to experience a productive and positive school year. If your child is experiencing problems, consider requesting an IEP and Special Education services for your child.  The first move to help achieve academic success for your adopted child  is yours.

Karlene Edgemon works as MLJ Adoptions’ Director of Social Services. Throughout her 25 year social services career, Karlene has been able to watch adoption transform the lives of children and she is always brainstorming new ways to support adoptive families before, during and after their adoption.