Should Students Attend IEP Meetings?

 ADHD Weekly, September 7, 2023

 ADHD Weekly, November 17, 2022

Should students be included in IEP and other meetings to plan their academic accommodations? High school students are already invited to attend the meetings regarding their academics, but what about elementary and middle school students?

Student attendance at meetings that determine services they will receive is part of teaching them self-advocacy. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that students age 14 or older must be invited to attend their IEP meetings, but does not require such attendance. Although each child is different, experts say that younger children (as early as fourth grade) can benefit from and contribute value to their IEP meeting. To be successful, however, the child must be prepared in advance. Parents clearly have an important role in preparing their child, but teachers can play a role as well.

Parents should talk with their children about how well things are going in school, their grades and lessons in class, and their social life—well in advance of the meeting and maybe in several short talks—in order to help children reflect on strengths, weaknesses, and needs. Questions can relate to curriculum as well as to physical environment and interpersonal activity.

Teachers can also help prepare students by explaining what the IEP meeting will be like, talking about how the student can contribute, and engaging the student in the same sorts of self-reflecting questions. Teachers need to reassure students that they are not in trouble and they won’t be scolded during the meeting, and that everyone is committed to their success.

Student involvement in the IEP process

How much a student can bring to the meeting will vary, based on the student’s age and needs. For a new IEP, the student may describe their disability—strengths, weaknesses, and what they need in order to be successful. When a current or prior IEP is being reviewed in order to plan for the next year, the student might describe what worked, what didn’t work, and what other services or accommodations they may need. The student can also help define goals to achieve with the IEP. For students in middle and high school, many experts advocate a student-led IEP process, which prepares them for the transition into adulthood.

Age-appropriate preparation

For elementary-age children, discuss questions such as:

  • What do you like about school?
  • What do you think you’re good at doing?
  • What is hard for you at school? What don’t you like?
  • What works for you in class?
  • What would you like to work on during the next year?

Parents and teachers should reassure the student that they will be at the meeting to help and support him or her. 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 input and comments.
  • If others in the meeting seem to be “grilling” the student, redirect their lines of questioning.
  • Allow the student to arrive later or leave earlier to help decrease the student’s stress.

Most middle school students should attend the entire meeting, but others may leave early. Teachers can provide materials to help prepare the student in collaboration with parents. The same positive principles and pre-discussion questions as above can be posed by parents and teachers, in addition to these:

  • What do you think is a barrier to your success?
  • Do you ask your teachers for the things that might help you?

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

Students can gain confidence and communication skills as a result of leading their own IEP meetings. Young adults who led their IEP meetings in high school report that practicing how to ask for accommodations and talking with others about their needs made it easier to self-advocate in college or at work.

What can be gained by student involvement in their IEP process

When students take an active part in the IEP process, they make gains in their functional performance, which includes social competence, communication, personal management, behavior, and self-determination. Furthermore, students who lead their IEP meetings are more likely to take ownership in their IEP goal implementation and their overall education.

Looking for more on how to support students?

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