A huge part of our job as special educators is empowering kids and young adults to make positive decisions in their own lives. One simple way to involve our students in some of those important decisions is getting them involved in their own IEP meetings. I always tell kids that they are the most important member of the IEP team, since the entire meeting is really all about them. So, it just makes sense to conference with them before the meeting, discuss their plan with them, invite them, encourage them to report on their own progress, and eventually even have them lead the whole meeting.
When kids and young adults are involved in their own IEP meetings, it helps them understand their own disability, strengths, areas to work on, goals, and modifications. Ultimately, this practice leads to greater confidence and increased self-advocacy skills for our students. Here are ten easy ways you can involve kids and young adults in their IEP meetings:
#1 Be transparent about the student’s disability and needs. Kids need to know and understand their disability in order to fully develop strategies to help them overcome their challenges. Contact families before and let them know you plan to discuss the student’s disability and needs with the child. Sometimes parents may want to address these topics at home first. Regardless of who discusses the topic first, it’s an important conversation to have. Remember to highlight the positive elements of their disability, too! For example, many kids with ADHD might struggle with focusing on a specific task at hand, but they are usually the best builders and hands-on workers of all. Similarly, kids with autism often struggle socially, but are the best to think of solutions outside of the box that no one else has thought of. Highlighting these elements can help kids come to terms with their disability in a positive way.
#2 Go over the student’s current IEP with them, explaining it as you go. Students need to understand their current plan and what it means. This will involve actually handing the student a copy of their own IEP to see the language and format of their plan. For a fun activity, kids can even learn about their IEP with an IEP Scavenger Hunt.
#3 Conference with students prior to their IEP meeting. Get feedback from the student to find out what is working for them and what could be improved. Use this time to talk with the student about how the IEP meeting will work and why their role is so important. So often, kids feel that adults make these plans for them. They sometimes feel that they have no control. This is now the time that they can have a voice! Many times, this can be very motivating for kids and young adults.
#4 Review the student’s goals and progress with them on a quarterly basis. The students should have a very clear understanding of the goals that are expected of them. So often we write goals for students and work on them in isolation. It makes so much more sense to involve our students in the process! A great way to do this is to add the student’s goals and objectives to an individual binder. Take time to check through the goals with the student and review progress on a regular basis. You can choose to review them quarterly or even more frequently is better. Discuss what’s working, what isn’t, and ways to make improvements. You can make your own binder with the student or use a Student Data Reflection Binder to start right away.
#5 Invite the student to the IEP meeting. Regardless of age, kids can always be part of their IEP meeting at least by attending. This gives them a greater understanding of what the meetings are all about. There may be topics and information the adults aren’t 100% comfortable sharing with the student, and that’s okay. Have the student wait in the office, a nearby classroom, or sitting in a chair right outside the room if sensitive information needs to be shared. Whenever possible, though, kids should be at the table listening and participating in their own meetings.
#6 Encourage students to complete a report or progress review to present at the IEP meeting. Have students themselves fill out this free self-assessment to help identify their growth, what went well, and what changes could be made for the future. If possible, have the student bring that form to the IEP meeting to report out on their own progress. This is a great way to get kids comfortable with attending and presenting at their IEP meetings. It also gives them a chance to have their voice heard. As an alternative to a written report, students can create their own PowerPoint presentation.
#7 Hold practice or mock IEP meetings in a resource room setting. Mock IEP meetings are a fun and interactive way to get kids comfortable with joining their IEP meetings. Sometimes we forget that a student joining a big meeting with several adults can be really scary! By practicing a meeting, kids can get a good idea of what will happen in the meeting and understand their role. Just run through what a meeting will be like. Best of all, you can do this in a resource room with other students who will need to participate in their IEP meetings at some point later on in the year.
#8 Use a script to help students read at the IEP meeting. Student-led IEP meetings are a practice that allows kids and young adults to actually lead their own meetings using a script that has been created with them. A script will help the student participate without feeling confused or anxious about what to say. The student can always go off script when they are feeling comfortable. You can write your own script for your students or you can use this Student-Led IEP Meetings guide that includes scripts for both fully and partially student-led meetings. The research is clear that student-led IEP meetings can be extremely beneficial for kids and young adults. When a student leads their own meeting, they learn more about their disability, rights, and accommodations. It also helps to build confidence, strengthens self-advocacy skills, and helps kids’ voices be heard.
#9 Listen to the student at the IEP meeting. Really give the student a chance to share their concerns and needs. Strongly consider their suggestions and input. Even if all of their requests can’t be met, the student needs to know that they do have a voice at the table. Consider ways to compromise or have a trial-period to give something a try. You can write these in the plan and can always change the IEP if those recommendations aren’t working. So often, young adults feel that they have no control over the plans that adults make for them. This is our chance to help those kids realize we are there to listen to them and hear them out.
#10 Reflect on the IEP meeting with the student. After the IEP meeting, discuss what went well and what could go better. Kids and young adults are going to need time to get comfortable with participating in their IEP meetings. Remember to celebrate the student’s success along the way as they learn how to be their own best advocate.
No matter how you choose to start, it’s important to give young adults an opportunity to be part of their own IEP team. If you’re not sure about it, just choose one students to do a “trial run” with! See how that one meeting goes with the student more involved and learn as you go. Whether it’s bringing a self-evaluation progress report or running the entire meeting, kids deserve to know and understand their IEPs and IEP meetings. After all, they truly are the most important member of the team!