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Designing and Implementing an IEP Using a Functional Curriculum

By Debbie Mills. To E-mail Debbie  CLICK HERE 


In spite of public awareness and the "free and appropriate education law," parents have difficulty in placing their severely handicapped child in proper educational or vocational programs. For Christians the problem is even more complex because they desire services that would not disagree with or negate their spiritual convictions and training. Home education becomes a viable solution to fulfilling the biblical mandate, "…thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." (Deut. 6:7)

The task of designing an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is to create a specialized curriculum for a particular child. To implement an IEP for home education, the plan must fit comfortably into the family’s lifestyle. The Bible tells us exactly how to develop and implement an IEP. The first step is to "[t]rust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." (Prov. 3:5-6)

Determine that spiritual growth for your child will be your primary goal. Select curriculum materials and projects that will teach to the spirit. Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to illuminate the heart of your child. The Word of God is powerful in all of us, including those of more limited mental capacity. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." (Ps. 19:7) The next step will be to determine which curriculum strategy to use.

Functional vs. Traditional Curriculum

A traditional curriculum produces a fixed sequence as outlined in a particular scope and sequence. A functional curriculum suggests actions that will identify major skills the student must acquire in order to function as independently and productively as possible. The following are characteristics of a child that would benefit from a functional curriculum:

1. A skill deficit that is severe enough to prohibit complete progress through a fixed sequential curriculum

2. Difficulties in skill generalization.

3. A need for instruction in age-appropriate skills.

Philosophy of a Functional Curriculum for Home Education

The basic philosophy of a functional curriculum for home education is full inclusion in all activities of family and community life, making adaptions where necessary. A biblical basis for mainstreaming is Matt. 19:14, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven."

Components of a Functional Curriculum

Functionality: refers to the usefulness of skills taught in the congruent setting of the child’s home and community.

Infusion of Basic Skills: The infused objective format is a useful way of ensuring that academic skills are functionally taught.

Interaction with Non-Handicapped People: refers to opportunities for comprehensive interaction with non-disabled people across ages and environments.

Partial Participation: inclusion in activities and environments from which the child is now excluded because of inability to participate fully.

Adaptations: refers to those changes in materials, skill sequences, or environments which allow partial participation.

Applied Behavior Instruction: By teaching the child to respond appropriately to naturally occurring cues, aberrant behavior can be managed.

How to Organize the Curriculum

"Let all things be done decently and in order." (I Cor. 14:40)

The life space domain strategy is the foundation of the functional curriculum. Content can be organized into at least four basic categories regarding all children with severe handicaps, regardless of functioning level. Additional categories such as family living and character development can be added.

The four basic life space domains are as follows:

1. Spiritual: the child needs a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ

2. Domestic: the child will always have to live somewhere

3. Vocational: the child will need to be productive.

4. Recreation or Leisure: the child will have free time.

Setting IEP Goals

In order to set goals for their child, the parent will need to determine individual family priorities for each domain. Of primary importance will be the spiritual development of the child. The severely handicapped have the same basic spiritual needs as all other individuals. Because of sin, they need the message of the gospel. They are aware of and can be taught the difference between right and wrong. They can learn spiritual truths when taught on a concrete level and within their mental functioning range.

Some examples of spiritual goals:

1. To accept Jesus Christ as his or her own personal Savior.

2. To know and understand that the Bible is God’s Word, and that it tells us how to obey, please and live for God.

3. To develop spiritually to full potential.

4. To relate Biblical truth to concrete life situations.

5. To learn to honor, respect, love, and serve God.

6. To participate in the programs of the local church.

7. To learn to be a vehicle of witness and ministry to others

8. To study and memorize God’s word.

Implementation of these goals would be delegated to specific domains.

In other life domains, the parents will need to assess current functioning levels, to establish a baseline. By comparing this baseline to chronological age-appropriate listings, the parent can assign goals for their child. Resources for this would include regular education scope and sequence and developmental listings.

Implementing the Plan

The pattern for teaching is described in Isaiah 28:10:

"For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little."

Skill infusion is the result of scheduling a task that involves many different skills. Sequence the activity to be taught into teachable components and write in goals. Reinforcement is a critical component to a successful IEP. Determine what natural reinforcers are available to the task that will motivate your child.

Generalization and Maintenance

The goal of an IEP is to affect new behaviors and skills. As with reinforcers, corrections will also be a natural consequence. The child will need repeated instructional cues and prompting until the skill is mastered. Once the skill is mastered it is critical that it is maintained over a long period of time so that it will be generalized into other life domains.


When you are tired of teaching the concept or skill your child has just be gun to learn, remember that you have a whole lifetime to work toward IEP goals. The Lord tells us,

"…comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient…" (I Thess. 5:14)

Be faithful in the little things and your child will be successful. Teach to the spirit of your child and be encouraged despite all the repetitious teaching and lack of feedback. Remember, you are doing it for the glory of God.

"Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." (Gal. 6:2)


Unto the Least of These: Special Education in the Church, by Andrew Wood.

Available from:

Regular Baptist Press
1300 North Meacham Rd.
P.O. Box 95500
Schaumburg, IL 60195

401 Ways to Get Your Kids to Work at Home, by Bonnie Runyan McCullough

Functional Curriculum Guide Pub. No. 111-A-88-6

Chronological age-appropriate activities for students with severe handicaps, a longitudinal listing. Available from:

San Diego City Schools
Special Ed. Department
Whitter Center
3401 Clairemont Dr.
San Diego, CA 92117
Attn: Diagnostic Resource Teachers