At a glance
In most states, when children turn 18, they’re considered an adult.
As a legal adult, a child may assume some or all of the educational rights previously held by the parent.
The school may need to get an adult-age student’s consent to make any changes to their IEP.
You may always think of your son or daughter as a child. But in the eyes of the law, people are considered adults when they turn age 18 to 21 (it varies by state). When your child becomes an adult, the rights and responsibilities you had as a parent belong to your child.
What if your child isn’t ready for the responsibilities of managing their own education? Will you have any say? The transition into adulthood has a lot of implications. Here are some of the key points.
The age of adulthood varies by state
The age of majority — the age when an individual is considered an adult — is determined by state law. In most states, the age of majority is 18. But in a few states, it’s sometime between ages 18 and 21.
How rights transfer to your child with an IEP
At least a year before students with an Individual Educational Program (IEP) reach the age of majority, the school is supposed to notify students about which rights will transfer to them. How they tell them is left up to the states.
In most states, when a student turns 18, the student assumes all of the educational rights the parents had. This includes taking the main role in developing their . The school now:
The student takes over the right to give — or deny — informed consent to any action the school wants to take. This means that if the school wants to change the student’s services in any way, it needs the student’s permission, not the parent’s.
Keep in mind that a student’s right to special education has an age limit. Eligibility for an IEP ends when a student reaches the age of 22, or when a student graduates from high school with a regular diploma (whichever comes first). (Earning a Certificate of Attendance doesn’t end your child’s eligibility, but it may have other drawbacks.)
Exceptions to the age of majority
Some states have a legal process called “guardianship” to figure out if the student can handle these new responsibilities and rights. If the state finds that the student doesn’t have the capacity to make decisions, it may appoint someone to represent the student. This can be the parent or another person. To navigate this process, you may need to consult with an attorney.
Preparing your child for independence
There are things you can do to help ease your child into their adult role.
- Help your child develop a good relationship with the IEP team. Beginning in high school, students typically are invited to IEP meetings. They’re expected to play a major part, especially when it comes to transition planning (figuring out what to do after high school). Encourage your child to participate actively in those discussions with the team.
- Let your child do the talking. Rather than speaking for your child, let your teen assume center stage at IEP and other meetings. If your child gains experience advocating for themself, it will be easier for them to keep doing so as an adult.
- Stay involved. When your child reaches the age of majority, your participation isn’t required. But the school or your child can invite you to attend IEP meetings. After all, you’re deeply knowledgeable about your child’s needs and talents, so your input is valuable.
When your child becomes an adult, the rights you held as a parent typically transfer over to them.
If a child isn’t seen as capable of handling these rights and responsibilities, the state may appoint the parent or another individual to represent them.
Educating yourself and preparing your child for the age of majority can help make the transition into adulthood smoother for everyone.
About the author
About the author
Andrew M.I. Lee, JD is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.
Patricia H. Latham, JD is an attorney and mediator and the co-author of eight books on disability and the law.