Deciding whether to have your child attend the IEP can be a tough call. You’ll have to consider the age of your child, the disability, and how smoothly previous IEPs have been.
At some point parents need to discuss the disability with their child. For some disabilities or children this is easy but for others it may not happen until they are older, and still others may never quite be ready or capable of understanding.
It isn’t imperative that your child is present at all IEPs. But there are a few times when it is recommended. The very last IEP, or the Transition IEP, is probably the most important IEP that a student will attend. This will discuss past and present performance and what will happen as they exit school and transition to college, a technical school, a job that leads to a career, or other post-school path.
Many parents think the very first IEP is a good one to have their child present but I tend to disagree. The first IEP can be confusing and parents should pay full attention to what is going on and ask a lot of questions. Having the child present could add a layer of anxiety and inhibit getting through the necessary discussions and questions. Without having previous experience with an IEP or the IEP Team, there’s no way to know what might happen or how the meeting will progress. Many times the child is very young and won’t understand what is happening anyway.
If all goes well at the first IEP and the entire IEP Team communicates well and things stay calm, the second IEP might be a good one for the child to attend. This gives the team a chance to examine the previous year and get feedback from the student about what worked, what didn’t, and what might help moving forward. It also gives the team a chance to educate the child about the process and why they have an IEP.
If the IEP meetings are working and the team gels, it is probably okay for the student to attend part of any new meetings. But they shouldn’t be present for the entire meeting. Just as certain teachers are only present for their part of the meeting, the same is true of the student. Bring them in for a short time to contribute, then let them return to class.
On the contrary, if your IEPs are rooted in controversy, bickering and arguments, do NOT let your child attend. This should not give you the impression that IEPs are awful or that you will have problems, but it has happened before and some are a completely negative experience. It’s worth noting and should serve as a precaution to keep your child away from it. No matter what goes wrong at the IEP, try to keep things positive when discussing with your child.
Understand that children with disabilities often have difficulties articulating their feelings and can become quite emotional, especially at IEPs. Prepare for breakdowns. Let them have their moment and let them share their thoughts and feelings. The team has seen it before – they get it.
If your child goes through elementary school without ever attending an IEP, they should begin participating at some point in middle school and then more at the high school level. Many times, services change as the child gets older and as they mature they should learn to self-advocate. As they exit school and move out into the world, it’s important for them to understand how and why self-advocacy is crucial. An IEP is great place to begin the process.
When your child does attend the IEP, keep things focused and positive. Let them feel they are making good progress and everybody is looking out for their best interest.