Getting an IEP for your teen

IEPs are not just for young students. Teens can get IEPs up until graduation. Learn more about the benefits of getting an IEP for your teen in high school.

Sometimes a child’s learning differences aren’t uncovered until the teen years. Some kids are able to work around their challenges until things get tougher in high school. Others may not realize that the struggles they’ve had all along are due to learning or thinking differences. No matter your teen’s journey, teens can request an .

Under the (IDEA), eligible students can start an up until high school graduation or the cutoff age of 22. Even if your teen gets a late start to getting an IEP, there are benefits during high school and beyond.

IEP meetings and teens

One of the IDEA requirements is that high school students be a part of IEP team meetings. The IDEA also encourages teens to lead their IEP team meetings.

The meetings can help teens learn how to advocate for their needs and goals. These are important skills for young adults as they head out into the world.

That may sound scary if your teen isn’t very assertive or hasn’t yet built self-advocacy skills. But it’s usually less stressful to build these skills in a setting your teen knows well. Learn more about how IEP meetings can help teens build these skills.

The IEP transition plan

The IEP entitles your teen to a . The plan, created by the IEP team and the student, outlines steps to prepare for young adulthood. Transition services can start as early as age 14. They’re mandatory by age 16.

The transition plan paves the way for your teen’s future after high school. It outlines the required courses and learning needed in high school to support their goals — whether that’s college, vocational school, or finding a job.

The plan also covers teens need to live independently: managing money, paying bills, using public transportation, staying healthy, and balancing work, study, and leisure time. It’s usually easier for kids to build these skills during high school, with support from adults, rather than having to figure it all out on their own after high school.

The IEP team sets clear goals and decides who will help your teen with this plan. This is a unique opportunity to invite members of the community, such as vocational counselors and other mentors, to participate in your teen’s transition.

In most states, teens who have an IEP and turn 18 become legally responsible for consenting to and asking for changes to their IEP.

Summary of performance

Every teen with an IEP receives a summary of performance (SOP) upon leaving high school. This document, provided by the IEP team, outlines their future needs. It includes a summary of:

  • The student’s academic achievement

  • All functional skills needed for independent living

  • Recommendations to help the student meet their goals

Some states have additional requirements for what the SOP should contain.

IEPs and teens who don’t graduate by age 22

Special education services for students with an IEP end either when a teen has earned a regular high school diploma or has reached the cutoff age. In most states, the cutoff age for an IEP is 22.

Until 22, your child can take high school classes. Some older students may opt for community college courses. To do this, they’ll need permission from the school district.

If the student reaches age 22 and still hasn’t graduated from high school, the school district must provide the SOP letter. But the student is no longer eligible for special education services.

Benefits of an IEP for teens

An IEP offers key benefits to teenagers. It can help families and the school district work with teens to meet current and future needs.

If you or your teen are reluctant to pursue an IEP, thinking it’s too late, consider these benefits:

  • An IEP can help teens learn to understand and manage learning and thinking differences while still in high school.

  • An IEP must include a transition plan to help prepare teens for life after high school.

  • An IEP isn’t available after high school. But having an IEP in high school can help your child get accommodations in future studies.

Make the most of the resources and opportunities available to your child now. You may see your child make tremendous progress in academics, self-confidence, and planning the future.

Learn about transition planning. Read how self-advocacy helped one student with dyscalculia fight for her rights in college. Also, better understand your parental rights once your child turns 18.

Key takeaways

  • Most states allow students to have an IEP until age 22 if they need extra time to graduate.

  • Teens with IEPs can benefit from learning how to advocate for themselves.

  • An IEP with a transition plan can make it easier for a teen to succeed after high school.


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