Should Students Attend Their IEP Meeting?
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 4th grade) can benefit from and contribute value to their IEP meeting. 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.
Teachers can prepare the student by explaining in advance what the IEP meeting will be like, what the student’s participation will involve, and by engaging the child in the same sorts of self-reflecting questions. Teachers must also assure the student that the process is not judgmental or punitive, and that everyone is committed to his success.
Levels of student involvement in the IEP process
This will 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 in order to plan for the next year, the student may describe what worked for him, what didn’t work, and what more or different services or accommodations he may need. 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.
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, as well as the child’s teacher, 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 solicit the student’s inputs and comments.
- Compliment him on his views and his willingness to contribute.
- 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.
Most middle school students should attend the entire meeting, but others may leave early. Teachers can provide materials to help prepare the student; other materials may be provided that help the student prepare, in collaboration with his 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 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.
Research has shown that students gain confidence and communication skills as a result of leading their own IEP process. Anecdotes from graduated young adults have said 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—and particularly one that 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
Teachers can instruct and coach students in how to lead their IEP processes.
What can be gained by student involvement in their IEP process
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.
Furthermore, students who lead their IEP meetings are more likely to take ownership in their IEP goal implementation and their overall education.
Both parents and teachers have a role in empowering the child from an early age toward self-understanding, 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.
More resources for you:
The IDEA states that a child should attend his or her own IEP conference if appropriate. When is it appropriate, and what is gained by doing so? And how can parents and teachers prepare the child for effective participation in the process?