Should I Bring My Child to Their IEP Meeting? by Catherine ToddApr 04, 2022
Spring is here! The flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, you have a pep in your step. Then the notice comes, it’s time for your child’s annual IEP meeting. I know the feeling because two of my children were on IEPs. So twice a year often in the spring I had the dreaded pit in my stomach. I also got really tired of that feeling and decided to take action.
I actually took pretty extreme action and decided to pivot my whole life, and leave my role as a stay-at-home mom to pursue a master's degree in special education. It was an extreme option to take but I felt it was the best way for me to gain the knowledge I needed to help my children.
One of the first things that dawned on me as I was in my first special education course, was that the individual behind the plan was the child. I felt like I needed to put my child at the center and it would turn our meeting around. It did exactly that!
Four helpful points for every parent prepping for an IEP meeting to consider before bringing their child to an IEP meeting.
1. What’s their age?
The most important thing to consider is the age of the child and what they understand about themselves. No one knows their child better than you. If your child is too young to sit still or does not have the skills to comprehend what is going on then don’t bring them.
However, if your child is old enough, normally upper middle school to high school then talk to them about the importance of them being there. Eventually, when they are 18 it’s pretty standard for them to be at the meeting as they are now a legal adult (this depends on the child). How will they be prepared if they don’t start coming before then?
Both of my children were very aware of their autism diagnosis and their IEP goals. If you have not shared this with your child then the information at the meeting could shock them. I always was very transparent which made their first IEP meeting comfortable for them, they knew exactly why we were there.
2. Could I prepare them?
It’s also very important to practice and model what the meeting will look like. I actually showed them the draft of the IEP. The areas the team would cover and why we were there. This took away the anxiety for both of them and made the meeting an emotionally sound experience.
3. Would this teach them life skills?
I also found that the IEP meeting reflected interactions that both of them would face in the future. My husband and I always discussed the importance of further education (college) and employment with all of our kids. The IEP meeting gave them a safe real-world opportunity to practice speaking to adults as they both would have to do in a job or during their college experience. My daughter has graduated college and works in a school setting, and my son is a freshman in college and they are actually using these skills
4. Will this help the team see the child in a different way?
Bringing the “Individual” behind the plan to the meeting actually personalizes the IEP. The child is not just the “profile” but a person. I have worked with many families and together we have created unique tools to allow the child to showcase who they are. At our meeting it was helpful for my daughter to inform the team what autism was like for her.
I think it’s easy as an educator to make assumptions about what the families struggle with, I can tell you as a special educator and as a parent of children on IEPs that it is very damaging to the child and the parent. I often felt so frustrated by statements team members would make which really at times showed a disregard for my family. However, when given the chance for the team to see the child or who they are then the whole team can collaborate and create “wins” for the student.
On the other hand, as a parent, I often made assumptions about team members at the IEP table because I did not know what they did or did not understand about their roles. Once I sat on the other side I felt very humbled. The bottom line and the easiest way to understand the IEP is this: the IEP is a great novel and your child is the “star.”
One of my amazing professors in my education program would always say “just do the next best thing.” As I have sat on all the sides of the IEP table, I think that rings true. No one ever sets out to hurt your child or you. Often they may not understand. By giving your child a seat at the table the team gets an inside view of who they are. In the words of the great Maya Angelou, ”Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better.”
About the Author:
Catherine Todd is a mother of 4 adult children, two that have autism. Catherine is a certified special education teacher, reading specialist, Master IEP Coach®, and owner of TeachBloomGrow. Catherine's book Hopeless to Hopeful: A Mom's Guide to Raising Children with Special Needs and Staying Inspired is available on Amazon.
If you liked this and want IEP strategies, then you’ll love these episodes of the Special Education Inner Circle podcast:
- #78 - Diagnosis Distaster and Self Advocacy Success
- #117 - Building Your IEP Community with Janice Fialka
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