Sometimes a child’s learning issues aren’t uncovered until the teen years. Some kids are able to work around their weaknesses until they face more challenging work in high school. Others may have always struggled, but no one realized it was due to learning or attention issues.
No matter what your teen’s journey has been, he’s eligible to request an IEP through the public school district. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students who are found eligible can start an Individualized Education Program—and the special education services that come with it—until high school graduation (or a maximum age of 22).
If you or your teen are reluctant to pursue an IEP, thinking it’s too late, consider the benefits:
- An IEP can help teens learn to understand and manage learning and attention issues while still in high school.
- An IEP must include a transition plan to help prepare teens for life after high school. (IEPs don’t exist after high school.)
Teens and the IEP Meeting
IDEA requires that high school students be included in IEP team meetings. Teens are encouraged to take part in and even lead their IEP meetings. Many learn how to advocate for their needs and goals—an important skill for young adults as they head out into the world.
The IEP Transition Plan
With an IEP, your teen will be entitled to a transition plan. Developed by the IEP team with the student, the plan outlines steps needed to prepare for young adulthood.
Transition services can be included as early as age 14 and must be included by the time a student turns 16. Whether your teen wants to attend college or vocational school or go to work right after finishing high school, the transition plan can pave the way. It will specify what courses and other educational experiences he’ll need while in high school so he can pursue his goals after graduation.
The transition plan also addresses the functional skills he’ll need to live independently: managing money and paying bills, using public transportation, staying healthy, and balancing work, study and leisure time.
“Make the most of the resources and opportunities available to your child now.”
The IEP team sets clear goals and decides who will assist him in his efforts. This is a unique opportunity to invite members of the community, such as vocational counselors and other mentors, to participate in your child’s transition.
If your child still has an IEP when he officially becomes an adult (age 18 in most states), he becomes legally responsible for consenting to and making requests about his IEP. You’ll pass the baton to him but can continue to give advice and encouragement.
Summary of Performance
Every teen with an IEP leaves high school with a document that lists what he needs to thrive in the future. This is called a Summary of Performance (SOP), and it’s provided by the IEP team. It includes:
- A summary of the student’s academic achievement.
- A summary of the functional skills (such as navigating public transportation) he has or will need to learn to live independently.
- Recommendations to help the student meet his goals.
Some states have additional requirements for what an SOP should contain.
If Your Child Doesn’t Graduate From High School by Age 22
Special education services for a student with an IEP end when he graduates with a regular high school diploma or when he reaches the maximum age for receiving special education services. In most states, the maximum age is 22.
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.
Up until that age, your child is allowed to take high school classes. Some older students prefer to take courses at a community college. Your child must receive permission from the school district in this case.
Make the Most of the Resources an IEP Provides
An IEP provides important benefits to teenagers. It can help you and the school district work with your child to meet his current and future needs. 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 his future.