When Students Attend IEP Meetings: What Parents Should Know

Many families meet with their children’s school or education teams at this point in the fall semester. Often they need to discuss a new or updated education plan, as a student’s needs change from year to year. And this year, with many students newly returned to campus after a school year learning from home, many families see the need to have those updates completed sooner rather than later.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that a student age 14 or older must be invited to attend his or her IEP meeting, but does not require such attendance. Although each child is different, experts say that younger children (as early as the fourth grade) can benefit from and contribute value to their IEP meetings. But in order to be successful, the child must be prepared in advance. Parents clearly have an important role in preparing their child, but teachers can play an important role as well.

Parents should engage their child in an exploratory conversation well in advance of the meeting—perhaps in a series of discussions—in order to help the child reflect on his strengths, weaknesses, and needs. Questions can relate to both curriculum as well as to physical environment and interpersonal activity.

Levels of student involvement in the IEP process

Student involvement in IEP planning differ, depending on whether current, prior, or no IEP exists. For new IEPs, the student may describe his disability—strengths, weaknesses, and what he needs in order to accommodate his disorder and be successful. When a current or prior IEP is being reviewed, especially after a year off campus, the student may describe what worked for him and what didn’t work in his learning situation. The student can also define goals the IEP will help him achieve. As the student advances to middle and high school, many experts advocate a student-led IEP process, which prepares him for the transition into adulthood.

Age-appropriate preparation

Parents should reassure the student that they will be at the meeting to help and support him. The entire process and experience must be positive for the child. During the meeting:

  • Inform the IEP team at the beginning how the student will participate.
  • Encourage and ask for the student’s thoughts.
  • If others in the meeting seem to be “grilling” him, redirect their line of questioning.
  • Allow the student to arrive later or leave earlier, so as to avoid tiring or stressing him.

High school students are expected to participate in their IEP meeting and discuss their plans for transition to post-graduation activities. Teachers should try to find the time to provide structured practice with the student in advance of the meeting.

Student-led IEP meetings

Students gain confidence and communication skills as a result of leading their own IEP process. Young adults have told researchers that by practicing asking for accommodations and talking with others about their disability, they have found it easier to apply self-advocacy skills in college or on the job.

The IEP meeting the student leads helps him develop and practice self-advocacy and important life skills:

  • Goal-setting and teamwork
  • Understanding the impact of his disability
  • How to ask for and accept help from others
  • Understanding and expressing his strengths, needs and concerns
  • How to negotiate and resolve differences with others

What can be gained by student involvement

When students are provided with opportunities for active engagement in the IEP process, they make gains in their functional performance, which includes social competence, communication, personal management, behavior, and self-determination.

Self-determination skills in turn include a much deeper understanding of self through awareness, observation, evaluation, and knowledge, leading to development of self-esteem, self-efficacy, self-advocacy, and assertiveness. These skills also promote executive function-related skills such as choice making, problem solving, decision making, goal setting, and self-regulation to attain goals. Students who lead their IEP meetings are more likely to take ownership in their IEP goal implementation and their overall education.

Empowering self-advocacy

Both parents and teachers have a role in empowering the child from an early age toward self-understanding, and learning how to leverage his own strengths and proactively seek accommodations for his weaknesses. Building on those learned and practiced processes can serve the child into a successful adulthood.

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Join the discussion: Does your child attend IEP or 504 Plan meetings with you?