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4 Documents Every Special Needs Child Should Have...

By Jonathan Peyton
March 07, 2017
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Innocence is a precious trait.  Found in young children untainted by the world's influence, childhood innocence is a reminder of ambitions, life goals, and imagination.  When we age and interact with the world, we form opinions and make decisions based on observed actions of others around us.  Our decisions shape who we will become, the mark we make on society, and the legacy we leave to those after us.

Today, some individuals with special needs will grow up never having the opportunity to experience certain milestones in life (i.e. driving a car, attending college, child rearing, unimpeded travel, or simply living alone).  Moreover, while this group of individuals will face their own set of challenges, they will make their mark on the world in a unique way affecting and influencing many people around them.

While many individuals with special needs will be able to completely integrate into society, others will require additional support services that may vary in degree depending on their needs.  Many of these support services are provided by those closest to them such as family and friends.  However in some situations they require additional support from their community such as schools, non-profit advocacy groups, and potentially even from the government.

As individuals with special needs grow up the following are some documents used to help family, friends, guardians, and advocates ensure their support services are being provided:

  1. IFSP - Individual Family Service Plan (for ages 0 to 3 years old)
  2. IEP - Individualized Education Plan (for ages 3 to 21 years old)
  3. ITP - Individualized Transition Plan (required to be included in an IEP before the child is age 16)
  4. Life Plan

Each of these documents is important in their own right.  However, the combination of these documents tells a story of who this individual is, what support they need, and their intentions, desires, and/or goals.  To understand these documents let’s dig deeper into each one.

Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP)

Created for infants and toddlers, and centered around the family support structure, the Individual Family Service Plan assists families with developmentally delayed children from birth to three years of age.  The goal is to assess the child’s current abilities, outline a set of goals, and determining which support services will be used to achieve those goals. Then an outline of specialized support services are designed that will focus on enhancing the child’s development.

Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

Designed for children from age three to twenty-one years of age, this document is a continuation of the Individual Family Service Plan.  However some of the primary differences between the two documents, and included in the IEP, are:

  1. Every child has the opportunity to learn in the least restrictive learning environment to support integration with all students.
  2. The IEP includes a list of services and modifications that help the child to learn the same curriculum as their peers.
  3. To be consistent and provide ongoing support, this document provides a list of team members, in and out of the school system, who support the child’s learning and development.

Each of these difference were designed to promote a team approach for every special needs child.  The intention of bringing professionals and family members together, with the child’s interest top of mind, is to foster a positive environment that allows the child to excel in a fully integrated support structure.

Individualized Transition Plan (ITP)

One of the requirements included in an IEP, before the child turns 16 years of age, is a Transition Plan.  This Transition plan is designed to aid a child in transitioning from secondary schools into the real world.  Included in this plan could be examples of where to receive support services in the community, field trips to the grocery store to learn how to purchase groceries, or even a list of resources dedicated to helping those with special needs transition from home to another living environment.  It is important for those supporting individuals with special needs to understand the needs of the individual in order to maximize the available resources after the person graduates secondary school.  Furthermore, to promote independence and happiness it will become increasingly important to help these individuals find opportunities to integrate into their community as best they can.  It is strongly encouraged to work with the special needs educator, the guidance counselor, and any other members of the support team at the start of secondary school in order to prepare yourself and your child for transition from their home into their next phase of life.

Life Plan

Life is constantly changing and our views, or opinions, of the world continue to evolve.  The information we learn, both observed and experienced, influence everyone’s daily needs and wants.  Each “need” or “want” becomes the basis for the decisions we make and the actions we take.  Most of the world takes basic needs or mundane tasks, like eating or toileting, for granted.  What may be basic to many can be a chore for those with special needs.  Their interests, preferences, desires, or wants can be lost if not recorded in a centralized place for their future caregivers to read.  Enter a Life Plan.

Life planning is a way to capture someone’s goals, desires, concerns, and more in a place for others to refer to when decisions become difficult to make.  Creating a ‘life plan’ allows children, or adult children, and parents to record some of the most basic, to most complex, decisions in granular detail which allows those around them, life future caregivers, to understand their wishes at all times.  Just like someone should have a financial plan to map their financial future, everyone with an impairment should have a life plan.  A life plan can include one’s preferences, dietary restrictions, personal interests, religious views, who they want to spend time with, where they want to travel to, the type of care they want to receive in different scenarios, who will act as their advocate, who will be their guardian, what support services they receive today and where they receive them from.  The list of what can be included in a life plan is almost endless.

As families work with special needs individuals to develop their life's plan it is important to create specific, written, goals to aid in supporting them at different stages of life.  Just like an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for school, the life plan for these individuals needs to include distinct, measurable, and attainable goals that strategically outlines when and how milestones will be achieved along with how financial support will be attained.


Everyone is entitled to live a life that promotes health, well-being, and happiness.  The aforementioned documents help those with special needs by outlining the resources, specialized services, and the individuals in their life who will support their needs as they grow, learn, and live the best life they can.  Failure to understand these documents and how they can help your child could be a mistake which leaves unfortunate repercussions for many years to come.  Take the time to speak with your special needs team and make sure each member of that team understands your child’s needs and wants throughout all stages of their life.