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Understanding your child’s IPP

Receiving an Individualized Program Plan (IPP) from your child’s teachers can be overwhelming. However, it’s worth putting in the effort to understand as the document offers a treasure trove of valuable strategies created specifically for your child by a team of experts. IPPs are not just a school document that helps a child’s education team. They can also be used as a guide for how you can align with that approach and implement the effective tactics in your home to help your kiddo succeed in every facet of life.

What is an IPP?

According to, an IPP is a written commitment of intent by education teams to ensure appropriate planning for individual students with special needs. The working document is an instructional guide for teachers to help children reach predetermined goals, as well as a record of a student’s programs and progress.

During the meeting when your child’s educational team lays out the IPP, your head may be spinning with terms like ‘priorities,’ ‘accommodations,’ and ‘objectives’ but buried within all of that jargon is a gold mine of helpful hints that can be reinvented for use in your home.

When I received my four-year-old son’s IPP from the team that works with him in his preschool, it was a daunting eight-page document that made little sense without context. However, after meeting with his team, it became clear that it was as simple as determining my son’s strengths and needs, setting goals (short-term and long-term), and creating a plan to help him reach his goals.

How the IPP can help at home

My son’s IPP allowed me to see him from a different perspective and realize the importance of aligning the things his education team is doing with him in class to what we do at home. Often, children with special needs require consistency to help them feel safe and balanced, so having his parents’ priorities and tactics in line with those of his teachers is key.

This means implementing things like:

  • Positive praise (children with special needs often hear more about what they are doing wrong than what they are doing right).
  • Ample warnings for transitions to prepare him for what comes next.
  • Literal language to set him up for success. (“Please put your toy in the toy box and close the lid” rather than “Please put your toy away.”)
  • Using books and games to help teach concepts such as Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg and I Can Handle It by Laurie Wright.
  • Identifying and labeling feelings so he is able to communicate them to you rather than getting overwhelmed.

 Implementing the plan

Another thing the IPP taught us is to use our son’s strengths to help him with the areas he finds challenging. As an example, he is a visual learner, so we have taken the information from the IPP and transformed it into something concrete by creating ‘Pearson’s Corner.’

This small space in a corner of our kitchen includes a visual schedule to show him exactly what to do in a difficult situation:

If he is feeling frustrated, he can go to his corner and see the visual that shows him he can Stop, Walk Away, Ask for Help, and/or Try a New Activity.

It provides a visual list of those activities and a space that he feels safe to do them in. Activities can include playing with fidget toys, bouncing on a bouncy ball, Seek and Find books, jumping on a trampoline, drawing on a white board, etc.

This helps him by giving him one solution to a number of problems. Instead of being overwhelmed by a frustrating or difficult situation, he knows he can go to his corner and follow his images to feel better.

Involving your child

We have taken care of our children and made sure that their needs were met since they were born and unable to do anything for themselves. This can make it easy for us to forget that now they are older and are capable of coming up with solutions themselves. The biggest component of my family’s success at home since receiving our IPP has been involving our son in coming up with a solution to the problem.

During the ‘Ask for Help’ portion of his visual schedule, we ask him what he thinks we can do to make the situation better. This helps him to switch from being emotionally overwhelmed by the problem to implementing the ‘thinking’ part of his brain. It also ensures that he will be on board with the solution and more often than not, he comes up with great and practical ideas that we would never have thought of.

Although it may seem daunting at first, digging into your child’s IPP can be more valuable than you think. The strategies and tactics recommended by the team of professionals that you trust to help your child at school are an incredible resource for how to help them in everyday life.

As with most things in life, the most crucial part of making the plan succeed is communication.

You are your child’s advocate so ask for contact information for your child’s team (if it hasn’t been provided) and stay in touch with the team throughout the school year. Ask any questions you may have, provide input, and give them positive feedback on how their suggested techniques are helping at home. After all, the biggest goal of the IPP and the team behind it is your child’s success. 

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