Navigating Exceptional Children’s Services

IEP, EC, AU, FBA, BIP, LRE, FAPE … is your head spinning yet? Walking into an IEP meeting can be like walking into a room full of people who speak another language. Your child requires specially designed instruction to be successful in school, but trying to navigate the world of special education can be confusing and overwhelming. What does it really mean for your child to have an IEP? Here is a quick guide to help you better understand the mystifying world of special education services.


What are EC services?

Special education services in North Carolina are referred to as “Exceptional Children’s Services” (EC Services). Different states have differing names for special education services.


Accessing EC services

For a child to receive EC services, he or she will have to qualify for specially designed instruction under one of 14 disability categories: Autism, Deaf-Blindness, Deafness, Developmental Delay, Emotional Disturbance, Hearing Impairment, Intellectual Disability, Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impairment, Specific Learning Disability, Speech or Language Impairment, Visual Impairment including Blindness, or Traumatic Brain Injury.

If your child does not have an IEP but you would like them to be considered for EC services, you can request that your child be evaluated for services by putting your request in writing to your child’s school.

Your child will then undergo a full evaluation to determine whether he or she requires specially designed instruction. If your child qualifies for services, the team will then design an IEP.

Keep in mind, just because your child might have a medical diagnosis of autism, it does not mean that they will qualify for an IEP. Your child’s evaluation results and their level of performance must demonstrate the need for specially designed instruction.


What is an IEP?

An IEP is an Individualized Education Program. An IEP is highly specific to your child and their needs and must be reviewed annually (at the very least). You may request a review of your child’s IEP at any time by contacting their EC teacher.

Every three years, the school must also consider whether your child requires updated evaluation information; this is called a re-evaluation.


What is included in an IEP?

  • Your child’s strengths and needs
  • Present levels of academic and functional performance
  • Goals and objectives to target specific skill deficits
  • Accommodations and modifications that will be made for your child in each school setting
  • Amount of time your child will receive special education services throughout the school day
  • Placement: The percent of time your child will be removed from their nondisabled peers
  • Related Services: Any additional services your child may receive, such as speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, hearing impaired services.


Who is included in your child’s IEP team?

  • An IEP team must be convened at each meeting. The following must be included: LEA (Local Education Agency, or school, usually represented by an administrator), an EC teacher, a regular education teacher, and a parent. From the age of 16 on, your child must also be invited to the IEP meeting. When appropriate, to cultivate important self-advocacy skills, they can participate before this age as well.
  • You as a parent are the most important IEP team member, so be sure to attend the IEP meeting each year. If the school sends home a conference letter setting an IEP meeting date that you are not able to attend, you have the right to request a time that you are able to attend. You can also participate by phone if you cannot make the meeting in person.
  • If your child receives related services, the related service provider should also attend the meeting.
  • You are welcome to bring anyone you wish to your child’s IEP meeting.


Levels of Service and Placement

  • Your child’s placement (regular, resource, separate setting, separate school) will depend on the amount of time they is removed from their nondisabled peers.
  • Regular Level of Service: 70-100% of the day spent with general education peers
  • Resource Level of Service: 40-69% of the day spent with general education peers
  • Separate Level of Service: 39% or less of the day spent with general education peers
  • Separate School: The child attends a school with no access to general education peers. Access must be gained through community participation.
  • Hospital/Homebound: An EC teacher will come to the home or hospital setting to provide education services.


What is “Specially Designed Instruction” anyway?

Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) means organized and planned instructional activities provided by an EC teacher that modify the content or delivery of instruction. This specially designed instruction will be link to your child’s IEP goals and objectives.

SDI is designed to ensure access to the general curriculum through modifications so that the student can meet the same academic standards as their nondisabled peers and to ensure progress toward IEP goals and objectives.


Accommodation vs. modification

Modification means that knowledge and skills being taught to the student with a disability are different from what is being taught to typically developing peers of the same age. Both students are working toward the same standard; however, a child with an IEP might be targeting a prerequisite skill. For example, a student with an IEP may be working on increasing the number of words that he can spell correctly while typically developing peers are being taught to write short stories with complete paragraphs.

Accommodations are strategies that teachers provide to support access to the general curriculum. Accommodations do not change what is taught, but change the strategies used to teach the content or change how instruction is delivered. For example, a student with an IEP might require that the teacher accompany reading activities with a visual support to enhance understanding. Another example of an accommodation might be multiple testing sessions to complete an exam.


Remember: You are your child’s best advocate and the expert on your child! So be sure to keep open lines of communication with your child’s school team and attend IEP meetings.


Learn more

See the ASNC toolkits on IEPs.

Find upcoming workshops and webinars on school issues, and watch our archived webinars on IEPs.

The ASNC Bookstore has lots of helpful resources. Here are some of our favorites:


Alana Iannello, MAT, BCBA, works in ASNC’s Charlotte region and can be reached at 704-577-6724 at

ASNC’s Clinical Department staff is composed of PhD and master’s-level licensed psychologists, Board Certified Behavior Analysts, and former special education teachers. We provide individualized intensive consultation using evidence-based practices to support children and adults across the spectrum in home, school, employment, residential and other community-based contexts. We also deliver workshops to professionals on a wide range of topics including but not limited to, strategies to prevent and respond to challenging behaviors, best practices in early intervention, functional communication training, and evidence-based practices in instruction for K-12 students with autism.

To find out more, contact us at 919-390-7242 or


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