Oftentimes the student's voice is never heard during IEP meetings. It's unfortunate, because letting students lead IEP meetings, or at least advocate for themselves, helps these kids feel more in control. If you are the parent of a child with ADHD, high-functioning autism, sensory processing disorder, dyslexia or other academic disorder, you can teach your child to advocate for himself and build confidence in IEP meetings by using the following strategies:
Enlist the Teacher's Help
Many teacher education programs now have lessons devoted to helping students advocate for themselves in IEP meetings. However, this does not always carry over into "real life." Teachers may become too busy to help or subconsciously don’t realize children have more abilities than they do.
The first step is to get in touch with your child’s teacher and explain what you envision. You could suggest that your child (instead of the teacher) lead the IEP meeting, or encourage a teacher-student brainstorm session to come up with unique strategies to help your child advocate for themselves. It helps to already come armed with several ideas and also be open to hearing the teacher's ideas.
Set the Tone With Your Child
The sad reality is that many children do not attend their own IEP meetings and have no say in their goals. Hopefully, your child has had some experience with the meetings. If not, explain what to expect or, if your child does have experience, remind them what the meetings are for. Say something like, “I know there are some things in school you’d like done differently or that some teachers have the wrong idea of what you can do. Let’s figure out how you can best communicate what’s going on.”
Explore a Few Strategies
One strategy is for the student to develop a PowerPoint presentation. Many children enjoy putting these together, and they can incorporate pictures, videos, graphics and text elements. The presentation could touch on topics such as:
- What I do well.
- What I might struggle with.
- What I wish my teachers knew about me.
- What I want to do to help myself.
- What goals I have.
- What my teachers can do to help me.
Another strategy, especially for very young children or those who do not want to attend, is to have the child go to only part of the meeting and answer questions such as, “How can we help you?” and “What makes you frustrated at school?” These students hopefully will develop a routine attending IEP meetings that enables them to start fully advocating for themselves in just a year or two.