Considerations in IEP Development for Children Who are Deafblind

By: Mary R. Frey, M.Ed., Education consultant, Pennsylvania Deafblind Proj. 

The IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is a written plan that tells what special education program and services the child will receive. The IEP is written at a conference by a team which includes the child’s parents. An IEP must include all the programs and services necessary to meet the child’s individual needs as identified during the evaluation or re-evaluation process. (Mancuso, et. al., 1991, p. 13)

Before the IEP Meeting

Assessment is an on-going process of information gathering. When formal and informal evaluation results are review, they identify the child’s needs and strengths. The information is the base for future directions of the IEP goals and objectives.

With a younger child, the INSITE checklist or Callier-Azuza is helpful. A number of personal futures planning tools, such as the MAPS or PATH processes can also be used to gather information - history, likes/dislikes, skills/needs, etc. - about the child who is deafblind. Identification of how the child receives information, preferred learning style, and modes of communication are considered.

Parents need access to therapy reports and other evaluative information before the IEP meeting is held so they have time to read, absorb, and question. Holding a preplanning meeting or phone calls with the rest of the IEP team members may be ways for all to share equally in voicing their concerns about the child and answering questions about the child’s current status. Parents need to consider what the priorities for learning are for the child. Make note of the areas that evaluators found difficult for the child.

During the Meeting

Family participation is integral to the IEP process and parents are to be active members of the team.  Family members are the child’s primary teachers. The child should participate in the actual conference to the best of his/her abilities. When it is not feasible for the child to be present, having a photograph on the table can remind the team to stay child-centered during the planning process.

When the team meets to discuss and write an IEP for a child who is deafblind, the impact of the dual sensory impairments upon the child and upon the methods of communication and instruction must be recognized. Efforts to promote the use of existing hearing and vision while providing appropriate accommodations throughout the plan are important. The IEP is to be functional, relevant, and age appropriate to the child.

Based on the child’s needs while building upon the child’s strengths, the team drafts both annual goals and short term learning outcomes. While the educational team members may have brought along written goals and objectives that they would like to be included, these are just suggestions. Rather than asking parents if they agree or disagree with pre-written objectives, meaningful and appropriate outcomes are to be discussed while considering family concerns and priorities. The IEP process is to be a joint effort.

Developing language and communication skills is the overall theme, in many cases, in developing an IEP for a child who is deafblind. In the earlier years of a child’s program, time spent exploring and trying a number of communication options and establishing the foundation of a communication system is prevalent. In later years, the focus tends to be on expansion of the communication system and increasing interaction with friends and classmates. Environmental cues enhance the child’s full understanding of various situations, whatever the child’s preferred method of communication.

Parents can question staff about the teaching methods that work best for their child. The IEP addresses skills that promote both independence and interdependence. A multi-sensory approach in natural settings and environments is essential for successful achievement of integrated goals and objectives. Experiential learning strategies are employed since many incidental learning experiences are missed by the child who has dual sensory impairments. Opportunities for repetition and practice of skills across a number of daily activities is very important. 

Skills targeted in the IEP should be directly observable and measurable with specific criteria for success listed. Adaptations and accommodations are dictated by what the child needs to support participation in his/her program.

Supports (examples) to consider:

  • Personal needs (feeding, medical, personal hygiene, dressing)
  • Physical needs (special equipment, environmental modifications)
  • Sensory needs (accommodations for vision and haring needs)
  • Staff and peer education (how to communicate, what behaviors mean)
  • Provision of access and opportunities (extracurricular activities)

(Huebner, et. al, 1995, p. 117)

Once all the team members present at the meeting have shared information about the current functioning and skills of the child, drafted goals and learning outcomes, agreed upon related services and accommodations to support the child in his/her IEP program, they sign the IEP form indicating their participation in the development process.

After the IEP Meeting

The IEP is considered a working document. It is to be reviewed annually by the IEP team and changed when needed. Ongoing communication between families and school staff about what and how the child is learning is important.


  • Downing, J.E., (1996). Including students with severe and multiple disabilities in typical classrooms: Practical strategies for teachers. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brooks.
  • Huebner, K., Prickett, J.G., Welch, T.R., & Joffee, E. (Eds.). (1995). Hand in hand: Essentials of communication and orientation and mobility for your students who are deaf-blind. New York: AFB Press.
  • Mancuso, E., Rieser, L., & Stotland, J.F. (1991). The right to special education in Pennsylvania: A guide for parents. Philadelphia, PA: The Education Law Center.