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Should Kids Be Present at Their Own IEPs?

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Many parents know how hard IEP meetings can be. One of the many considerations is whether or not to bring our kids along.

Some people are proponents to include kids so they learn why certain supports are put in place and how to advocate for themselves, giving them an opportunity to speak up and have a part in their education. Others are proponents not to include kids, as these meetings can be emotionally devastating since the focus is typically on deficits.

So what is the right thing to do?

We reached out to parents of kids with disabilities and asked them why or why not they bring their children to the IEP meetings. We also reached out to disabled adults and asked them, based on their personal experiences having been kids with IEPs, if they participated or not, and how they felt about it.

You are not going to find a clear cut answer to this question because each child is unique. However, I believe we can all learn from listening to other people’s experiences to make the best informed decisions for our kids. At the end of the day, remember, you know your child best, and that is what should determine your choice to bring them or not to their next IEP meeting.

People who support bringing kids to IEPs:

“My son has had an IEP since early intervention. This year he is turning 14 and was invited for the first time. He was quite eager to attend the meeting. He explained, in his own way, that the IEP meeting has always been this secret gathering of important grown-ups, and he wanted to know what all the hoopla was about! At the meeting he was quite involved, enthusiastic even, in being able to share his own goals and perspective.” — Jessica B.

“I’m a young adult with spina bifida and not currently in school. When I had IEPs I learned what my future possibilities were as a person with a disability. It’s important for a chance at independence and for your child to be a part of the meetings that are about them. I think it’s also important for a child to know how they can get help. In my high school/continuation school IEPs, they told me about programs and services I might need in the future to help me succeed. Though a lot of the programs I wasn’t interested in and didn’t actually feel like I needed, I was glad I learned about them from my IEP meetings. IEP meetings are so much more than just what your child is struggling with. I was so glad to be treated like an adult and be a part of the meetings.” — Haley E.

“My daughter is 15 years old, and when she was in middle school I started to take her to parts of the IEP. Recently she stayed the entire meeting, but we prepared for it. She knew what was going to be discussed, and we practiced a few scenarios at home on what would be the most appropriate response. It is important the team hear from her and respect her opinion. It also keeps them in a better behavior when she is there, but most important I want her to learn to be her own advocate and recognize when school in not in compliance and how in her adult life she will need to use her advocacy skills on her own.” — Nicte M.

“My daughter has been coming since she started high school. It helps to have her input regarding what classes she wants to be in and why. Also, if there are behavior issues, I can hear her side of it. Sometimes it is just a communication issue that turns to behavior issues.” — Laurie F.

“My daughter has gone to the last two meetings. She is now 8. I want her to be comfortable voicing her concerns about school and establish open communication with her and the teachers and aides she encounters. I want her to know she can talk to these select people about her health issues and be at ease expressing herself. She is very advanced with the knowledge of her health issues and will have to deal with them for the rest of her life.” — Jennifer L.

“My son attend his first IEP meeting last year in eighth grade, age 14. We felt it was important for him to begin to understand the process. This is his education, he is his best advocate. He was nervous at first, but he had a good team and was able to contribute. Super proud mom moment.” — Dori G.

“Ideally, every child needs to be there. No one wants decisions made about them, without them.” — Lori N.

“He is in the sixth-grade and definitely has a say in the IEP process. Usually he is pulled in at the end before we sign just to go over things and get his thoughts.” — Nicole M.

“Mine is 13, and she’ll call them [educators] out when they lie. It’s pretty funny.” — Jeff E.

“I teach high school. Yes, I have my students come. Sometimes parents like the student to leave if we are talking about touchy subjects. If this is necessary we include the student as much as possible, regardless of their level of ‘functioning.’ It is the student’s life we are talking about. I like them included.” — Rhonda B.

“At 14, my daughter began coming and she had a voice in that meeting. She was given a checklist by her teacher of items to accomplish and address, and it made a huge difference! She has to know she is in charge of herself and what she wants from life, and a huge part of that is school.” — Sara H.

“I bring my daughter, who is 17. I feel they need to include her in the choices regarding her education. I watch the way they interact with her and how comfortable she may or may not be with these teachers. It helps me get a look at how they interact with her and their true personalities. I want to empower my daughter to speak up for herself and to be able to share her side. It is not always easy, but I feel it is best.” — Michaela V.

“Having my 5-year-old present at the IEP meeting is an effective, albeit at times daunting, way to get what he needs.” — Courtney H.

“I have two kids [who have IEPs], and I am a special needs advocate. I started including my kids in middle school. I told them I wanted their input because this document would determine how they would be able to function in school and be successful. A large struggle of being disabled is that so many choices are arbitrarily taken away. There is a loss of control, and disabled people have enough of that already. Now, I understand that many times, an IEP can get heated and emotions run high. If so, have the student come to the beginning of the meeting, go over goals, ask them what they want and what they don’t want, find out if the previous goals have been met and how that can be expanded. Do not ever allow a teacher or administrator to tell your child no. Always thank your child for his or her input, tell them you’ll do your best, with zero promises, and send them back to class. If there are no IEP issues, let them stay. They can benefit from the problem-solving techniques and lessons in compromise.” — Carol C.

“My son has been attending his IEP meetings since he was 4. He is 8 now and just participated in his last IEP meeting with a notebook and pencil, asked questions, wrote notes, etc. He’s learning to advocate for himself. So proud of that boy and all he’s accomplished.” — Mary S.

“My son says attending IEP meetings helped him learn self-advocacy.” — Robyn G.

“My mom made me start sitting in on my IEP meetings in middle school and then conducting them more or less entirely on my own in high school. I resented it at first, but now that I’m in college I’m really glad she made me do it because it helped me to become a self-advocate and know how to explain my condition and needs in terms of accommodations. ” — Lily C.

“I always went to mine so I could talk about what I felt like I needed and understand what they were supposed to be doing for me. It came in handy when teachers didn’t want to do what they were required to. I called them out on it and went above their heads when I needed to.” — Alicen S.

“I attended all of my IEP meetings so I had input on what my goals were while in school. This was from elementary school on. In some cases this was meet with backlash from the administration. Feeling heard helps. I still had to advocate for myself out of the meetings too if I felt that the guidelines weren’t met by my teachers or if I was feeling like I wasn’t progressing on the right track.” — Tina B.

“I like the philosophy ‘nothing about me, without me’… meaning people don’t get to sit in a room and discuss someone without that person being there.” — Shana K.

People who advise not to bring kids to IEPs: 

“IEPs are very deficit-based… instead of strengths, accomplishments and assets. College is a lot better because you have more freedom with accommodation forms. There’s no labels, deficits and ‘goals.’ Just everything that needs to be said. I am not the person my IEP said I was.” — Danielle H.

“We do not because our daughter — who has Down syndrome — is very sensitive about issues relating to her disability. At the last IEP she started the meeting introducing all the people in the room and she was excited everyone was there for her. As soon as introductions were done, she left the room.” — Ellen S.

“I’ve never allowed him with me because there are times when momma bear has to come out with his school district and I don’t ever want him feeling like he’s done something wrong.” — Jessica S.

“I didn’t attend my IEP meetings because IEPs tend to be very deficit-based and labeling. As far as whether parents should bring their child to their IEP meeting, it really depends on the child. Does the child accept themselves? What is their anxiety level? Those are important things to factor in as far as whether it’s a good idea to have your child attend those meetings.” — Danielle H.

“My son is 8 years old and has Down Syndrome. These meetings are long and would be difficult for him to sit through them.” — Cyndie P.

“In kindergarten she had a teacher who was not happy having her in her inclusive classroom. At the IEP for the next year, that teacher tried to tell us that our daughter had learned all she would ever learn already. I would not want my daughter to hear the untruths that are discussed in an IEP.” — Kevin M.

“I do not [bring my child]. Only because I had to fight and argue for four years to get my son’s school to realize that they and his IEP were failing him. Meetings would get very heated. Last March, my voice was finally heard. They did more testing and discovered I, as his mom, was right all along.” — Heather M.

“I do not bring my children to IEP meetings. While our meetings have positive notes, most are spent talking about shortfalls in the classroom. My kids are anxious enough without worrying about things they don’t fully understand.” — Rebecca B.

“My son is pretty sensitive about hearing certain things about himself. Some of the things hurt his feelings. To avoid behaviors/meltdowns, it’s better just to do the meetings childless.” — Alicia T.

“We took our daughter to an IEP meeting. At home she expressed she was devastated ‘all of you were talking about all the things I cannot do, I feel stupid and like I cannot do anything.’ That was the last IEP meeting we brought her to. She has no desire to attend another one.” — Andrew S.

“Most of the meetings were spent telling us how she fell short and how the gap between her and her peers would continue to grow. I didn’t think she needed to hear all of that. They spent some time telling us how wonderful she was to have in class, but it never outweighed the rest. I found each meeting to be discouraging.” — Jennifer T.

I never attended my IEP meetings because when I was younger, I would get upset. When I was in high school, I never attended them for that reason. It was just too much for me to handle because hearing about my weaknesses sets me off. I’ve read my IEP and they used ‘levels’ too much, a majority of it was dated and because I don’t do well on tests, it gives people the impression that I needed more help than necessary. I’m glad those days are over. I’m not the person that my IEP says I am.” — Brookelyn R.

“We don’t currently take our child to IEP meetings. He is 10 years old now and has had services since he was 10 months old. He has a rare disease called CDG type 1z. We feel the meetings tend to be overwhelming with a lot of adults talking so he would likely be unhappy if we tried to take him. We also do not want him to be present for the reports that state his deficits. He knows we meet to ‘make a plan’ with his school for him and that he is working hard and doing his best on his goals each day. As he gets older, if he wants to share his thoughts with his team we will reconsider. We want him to know he has a team at school and at home and we all work together to help him be the best version of himself.” — Barbara H.

“I don’t take my 7-year-old to IEP meetings, but I did take a video of him this last time, talking about how he feels at school, and it made a bigger impression than my telling the team how sad and anxious he was about school every day.” — Adrienne F.

I confess when I began writing this piece I had my mind made up about whether or not to bring children to IEP meetings. After all, I parent two kids with IEPs. Learning from both sides was eye opening, and it has challenged me to look more closely at how I approach the IEP process in a way that is empowering, yet still protective of my kids.

Do you bring your child to the IEP meeting? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

Getty image by Wavebreakmedia

Originally published: January 24, 2018
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