Should my child attend their IEP meeting? In a word? Ab-so-freaking-lutely!
Self advocacy and self determination is always the ultimate goal!
I am genuinely surprised at how many parents struggle with this question. I’ve written before about ‘at what age should your child start attending IEP meetings.’
There are many reasons you want your child to attend the IEP meeting. IDEA requires that they be invited beginning at age 14. However, I believe that as early as possible, to the maximum extent possible, they should participate in the meeting. It might just be a quick hello at the beginning of the meeting, but it helps the team remain child focused.
Reasons why your child should attend their IEP meeting
- So the team gets to see the child in person. There can be many people on the IEP team who have very limited contact with your child. Some evaluators only see your child every 2-3 years. The LEA may never come into contact with your child. Or, they may only see them in one environment. This is an opportunity for the team to see the child in person.
- Remind them about their decisions. Sometimes it’s easier to make decisions based upon what we see on paper, rather than what is in front of us.
- They need to learn to self-advocate. Children don’t just automatically develop self-advocacy skills when they turn 18 or 21. And living as a person with a disability, they need to have self-advocacy skills. At school, at college, in the workplace….they need to learn to speak up and speak out. When they are able, they should actually be running the meeting. Yes, really.
- May change the tone of the meeting. I had a mom ask, “Why would I take my son to the meeting where he’s just going to be berated and told about his faults for 3 hours?” Well, you wouldn’t. And, that is not what an IEP meeting is supposed to look like. So back to reason #2, it reminds them of who they are talking about, and it may create a more positive atmosphere for the meeting.
- It’s more difficult to say no in person. There’s a reason why in-person sales marketing still happens today. Because it’s much harder to say no to someone in person, than it is online or on the phone. Get your child to the point that when they are told no, they ask for it on a PWN. Seriously, you’d be surprised at what I’ve seen some kids do in IEP meetings.
- It can show you how the team really feels about your child. Do they welcome your child openly, because of course this meeting is all about them? Or do they stutter, stammer and find reasons and excuses why your child should not attend? Why in the world would you not want the child to attend, when this is about their education? You could really learn a lot about people by doing this.
The child is the end-all, be-all recipient of the result of the meeting….most important person there!
Other factors to consider + alternatives
Of course, nothing is 100% absolute. I am not stating that all children, all the time, should attend every IEP meeting. If your child has anxiety, social anxiety or some other condition that would make this extremely unpleasant or harmful to their well being, they shouldn’t go. They can also just go for the first 5-10 minutes, introduce themselves and read a pre-written statement about their strengths, desires, hopes, dreams and assistance that they need. You could prepare a video statement to play at the beginning of the meeting.
If you truly believe that staff members will still berate or talk to your child in an extremely negative manner, I would reconsider bringing them. Or, still bring them and tell the team you will be recording the meeting.
If your child is going to refuse needed services, or cause you headaches because of behaviors or a condition like ODD, I would reconsider bringing them. Even if they are not of the age of consent, the team will look at you like, “Well, look, he doesn’t want to do it….” and it might create headaches for you. We all have to do things sometimes that we don’t want to do, including school and school services.
Meetings are boring, especially to kids. Bring a video game, bring a book, or have arrangements for your child for when they get bored (return to class).
It’s not always an easy decision, and it’s not black and white. But, in order to keep the team focused on your child and help them develop self-advocacy skills, children to participate in their IEP meetings to the maximum extent possible.