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Intellectual Disabilities

Educational Supports and Individual Educational Plans (IEPs)

Tammy Reynolds, B.A., C.E. Zupanick, Psy.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

The United States constitution does not provide a right to education. This is left to individual states to decide. Funding for education relies heavily on real estate taxes. Therefore, affluent communities generally have more resources for education. This is because property values are higher, generating more tax dollars. Thus, the resources for education vary state to state. Here we discuss what is common and usual for most states. Specific information for each state is available from the state's office of education.

school buildingMost public schools make provisions for children with special educational needs. Children with IQ scores above or below the mean (average) by two standard deviations usually receive an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). The IEP establishes individualized, educational goals for each child. Children who score two standard deviations above the mean (roughly 2.5% of children) have exceptionally high IQ scores. Children who score two standard deviations below the mean (roughly 2.5% of children) have exceptionally low IQ scores. Both groups of children are eligible for specialized educational services. It is generally agreed that the educational needs of these unusual children cannot be met with traditional methods alone. Thus, children with intellectual disabilities will receive an IEP. It should be noted that an individualized educational plan (IEP) is not the same as an individualized support plan (ISP). The ISP is discussed another section. The IEP and ISP may be similar, particularly for school age children.

The IEP is developed collaboratively. It includes input from many sources. These sources include teachers, psychologists, the student, and the student's family. Each IEP outlines specific goals. Special educational curriculums are then adapted to help each child achieve their IEP goals. The curriculum is designed around each child's needs and abilities. The focus is to help the child develop age appropriate functional skills. These are the skills needed for everyday life.

The severity of each child's intellectual disability is taken into consideration. The learning environment is crucial for maximizing every child's success. Therefore, school placement decisions are very important. Placement decisions rest heavily on the child's overall functioning, as well as family input regarding their preferences. Some children with mild intellectual disabilities (roughly 75-85%) can attend a regular school with additional learning support. These children attend regular classes most of the day. They also attend a learning support classroom. Here, special education professionals work individually with students to meet the goals of the IEP.

For students with more severe disabilities, more support is often needed. The IEP goals may not be achieved unless the majority of time is devoted to specialized educational services. Traditional learning environments may not be the best choice for children with more severe forms of intellectual disability. These children may benefit from placement in a school that specializes in the education of children with intellectual disabilities. Such alternative schools are staffed by special education and learning support professionals. These schools are typically funded by local school districts. However, there are also private alternative schools that charge tuition.


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