Inside: Learn the child’s role at an IEP meeting, and why they should work toward full participation and even running their IEP meeting.

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.

The student is the main subject of any IEP meeting–their future is on the line. So yes, they should attend and have input. Running their own IEP meeting is a lofty goal, but it is something certainly worth working toward.

child's role in IEP meeting

There are many reasons you want your child to attend the IEP meeting. IDEA requires that they are invited beginning at age 14.

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1. Child’s Role in an IEP Meeting

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. After all, the meeting is about the child and helps shape their future.

2. Reasons why your child should attend their IEP meeting

The child’s role in the IEP meeting is this: They are the MAIN DISCUSSION POINT. If there is a group of people gathered in a room to discuss the future of one student, that student needs to be present and leading that discussion.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. It 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.
  5. It can be 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Yes! I have had clients who were in high school who ran their own IEP meetings. And why shouldn’t they? The student is the end-all, be-all recipient of the result of the meeting; the most important person there!

3. When must a child participate in their IEP?

Never. IDEA says they must be invited starting at age 16. Some states have lowered that to 14. But it just states invited. They can decline the invitation.

IDEA also states ‘that the public agency must include the child with a disability at the IEP meeting whenever appropriate.’ But still not requiring the LEA to invite the child until they are transition age.

4. When should a child attend and participate in their own IEP meeting?

Here is the answer I give to clients and friends when they ask. “A child should participate in their IEP at the earliest age possible, to the maximum extent possible.”

It’s never too early for a child to be a part of the process. My own child has been attending his meetings since he was a toddler and I started bringing him regularly last year.

Even though he doesn’t actively participate in the meetings, his presence alone is participation. Sometimes we have an LEA who has never even met my son in person, so it’s important for them to see him.

If attending the meeting just isn’t a good idea, there are other options. Just because I recommend having any aged child participate, that doesn’t mean I expect all kids with IEPs to sit through 2 or 3-hour meetings.

There are other options, besides attending the meeting. They can still have meaningful participation.

  • Write a letter stating a few things that they want the team to know.
  • Have them dictate what they want the team to know to a parent.
  • The parent can be the scribe, or you can use a phone to record it.
  • Attend the first five minutes of the meeting. Say hello, read a prepared statement, then leave.
  • Walk the child through the proposed IEP-just the parent and a teacher, make notes as child digests the information.

5. Can a Child Request an IEP Meeting?

Yes, they can!

At any age, if your child tells you that their needs are not being met, you can request a meeting on their behalf.

To encourage self-advocacy, I would emphasize to the team that your child initiated this.

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6. Child’s Participation at the IEP Meeting

A child’s role in an IEP meeting can and will look different. Just like all of our kids are different, their skills are different…their participation in the IEP meeting will look different.

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.

But, they should also have an IEP goal related to this, and should be taught the skills that will get them to the point of IEP meeting participation.

Right now at age 8 or 14, it might seem unnecessary.

But, we can’t live forever. And, at some point as an adult, they will be in a room full of doctors, or coworkers, or some other group. So they need to learn these skills.

For a child going to an IEP meeting, they can start by going 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.

If that is still too much for them, you could prepare a video statement to play at the beginning of the meeting.

Still, they should be participating at the earliest age possible to the maximum extent possible. What this looks like will be different for every family.

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 IEP meeting.

As with anything, this is a family decision and one that should be discussed with your child. If your child is going to be belligerent and defiant and refuse services, you may want to rethink how they can have meaningful participation.

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.

Bottom line is this. I’m not going to live forever. Neither are you. Self-advocacy skills don’t just appear at age 14 or 16 or even 25. Our kids take longer to learn things.

Presumably, this would include self-advocating. The earlier you start, the better. The key is, just like the parent, the child needs to have meaningful participation in the process.

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