Question: My fifth grader has known for a few years about getting extra help at school for reading and math issues. When should I start to encourage my child to go to IEP meetings?
This is a great question. There’s no hard-and-fast rule on when kids are old enough or mature enough to attend an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting. By law, students can be part of the IEP team “whenever appropriate.”
In my experience, parents tend to wait until middle school before they begin to consider having their child attend IEP meetings. This doesn’t mean you can’t consider bringing your grade-schooler. Here are a few questions to help you decide whether you think your child is ready.
Does your child know what an IEP is? If you decide to invite your child to the meeting, it’s important to have an honest discussion beforehand about what an IEP is and how you and the school develop it. The meeting shouldn’t be the first time your child learns about needing an IEP or extra help.
Explaining the process is key. The more your child knows about it, the more comfortable the meeting will feel. The goal is to make the meeting a positive experience, where your child recognizes that you and the school are working together to help.
Does your child want to attend the meeting? One way the IEP process can be empowering is to give your child the choice to attend. If your child is reluctant, it may be better to wait until the idea of attending the meeting doesn’t make your child anxious or nervous.
Your child doesn’t have to be present for the whole meeting. It’s very common at IEP meetings for parents and staff to discuss issues that could be upsetting or embarrassing before the child joins the meeting. It’s great to include your child when the team is planning the IEP’s annual goals. Kids can have very helpful input in this area.
Planning and discussing annual goals has other benefits for kids, too. It gives them practice articulating their strengths and weaknesses. It also allows them to discuss how their goals will be measured. This knowledge can empower kids and make them feel confident because it gives them a better understanding of what is expected of them.
Another part of the meeting you may want your child to attend is the discussion about accommodations. This section of the IEP is designed to provide supports to allow your child to be successful on tests and other school assignments. Examples include extra time to complete tests or having the directions read aloud.
Kids can add valuable insight here. Your child’s input could help steer the IEP team toward alternative or additional accommodations.
Does your child seem ready to self-advocate? It’s OK for your child to sit at the table and listen in. But the meeting is also a great opportunity for your child to begin to practice self-advocacy. As kids get older, it becomes more and more important for them to be able to speak up for themselves and tell others what they need to thrive. IEP meetings are a wonderful time to begin to hone these skills.
Schools know how important self-advocacy will be to your child after high school. That’s one reason why high school students must be invited to the IEP meeting if the purpose is to consider postsecondary goals and transition services. Transition planning for postsecondary goals and transitions has to begin by the time your child is 16 years old. But many IEP teams start these discussions earlier if the child is ready to attend the meeting.
All children are capable of bringing knowledge and a fresh perspective to an IEP meeting. Your child’s maturity level and willingness to participate are the two big factors to consider when deciding which part or parts of the IEP meeting to invite your child to attend. The choice is yours—and your child’s!