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Can I Go to the IEP Meeting?

By: Kathleen Ross Kidder

Laws now say that students should be asked to the IEP meeting. This is especially important if you are fourteen or older. Why would I want to go? What is an IEP meeting? What can I add?

Let's start by first learning what the IEP meeting is. If you are having a really difficult time in school in some subjects you may be in a program for students with learning disabilities. This means that your school program should be adjusted to help you learn better. School should help you develop your strengths. This may mean you get extra time on assignments. It could also mean that rather than reading a story you might listen to it on a tape. You might use graph paper when adding math problems or you might get classroom notes from the teacher after each class. These changes are often called accommodations. Your parents, teachers and other learning specialists help figure out what the best type of classroom experience is for you. This is called an individualized education program or the IEP. It is a big term but is really means the plan that all think will help you enjoy school more since you will be able to show what you really know.

But who knows what works best for you in the classroom. You do. It is important that you let others know what works. You know that not even the "experts" know you as well as you do. That is why the law has been changed to encourage you to be part of the IEP process. If you are 14 or over, the law says you must be invited to be part of the process since important decisions are being made that relate to your transition to college or work. A transition is a change from one stage of life to another.

By going to the IEP meeting you can also develop skills that will help you later in life. You learn how to know your strengths and weaknesses. You can develop goals that will help you for the rest of your life. You learn how to speak for yourself and you learn more about your disability.

What are the first steps should you follow before going to the IEP meeting?

Talk with your parents. Learn what they know about the reason for the meeting and why you are in a special education program. Really this means knowing the name for your "disability" and knowing how this makes school work more difficult for you. You may watch Just Deal on NBC on Saturday mornings. One of the characters has a learning disability. Do you know which one? Not by looking at him. Not by listening to him talk. But if you look at his written work and hear the struggles he experiences in school you begin to get some clues. If he could use a word processor, rather than write assignments, he would be better able to get his work done. Ask you parents to explain your disability. Look your disability up on the Internet or in books to find more about it. Learn all you can about it. Think about how it makes school more difficult for you. Ask you parents how they think you learn best.

Make a chart that answers these questions:

What I know about myself
What I do best  
What problems does my learning disability cause me?  
What classes do I like best at school? Why?  
I am most successful in school when...  
What accommodations have worked?  
What things do not really work in the classroom? Maybe a teacher only lectures and you cannot follow his class. Think about what makes it hard to learn in a class.  
I am really interest in... For example a person who has difficulty reading may really find that she soars in music.  

What would I like to do when I am done with school?

 
I get along best with my friends when...  
Sometimes I have trouble with other students because....  

You may also want to develop a personal inventory for each subject area. Here is a sample inventory.

What happens at the IEP meeting?

At the meeting the special education teacher, the school psychologist, your classroom teacher, the school principal or a designated administrator will be present. You can be there and your parents may also decide to bring an advocate to help with the process. An advocate might be a psychologist you work with outside of school who can help the school develop your educational program.

At the meeting each person will discuss you. They will have information about your class work, test scores and how well you seem to be getting along in school. Sometimes it may be hard to listen to this part of what they are saying. Don't worry. They often have a different way of looking at things. If you do not know what something means, wait and you can ask about it when it is your turn to talk. If you really do not like what they are saying you can also talk about that when it is your turn to talk. Remember everyone at the meeting is trying to help you succeed in school.

Some students have periods where they get really nervous in an IEP meeting. No problem. This is a new experience and it is a very important meeting. You can set up a cue before hand with your parents to let them know that you need them to talk for you or that you really need to leave the room. You can leave at any point. If your parents do not catch your signal you can still leave and wait until you feel better.

Most times this does not happen but if you get really angry with what you hear avoid demonstrating the anger to the people on the committee. You can tell them how you are feeling, for example, "I am really angry with what you are saying. I think I do really well in class and I think you are wrong when you say I goof off." If you think you are going to get really mad and want to start yelling...again excuse yourself from the room. There is nothing wrong with saying "What I am hearing is making me very angry. I need to leave the meeting because my yelling will not help complete my IEP."

When it is your turn to talk you may want to give people a copy of the chart that you completed. Let them know more about you. You can also tell them what works and what does not. This is a time when you can also tell them how you feel about things in the program. You are your own best advocate.

What you should do

  1. Be ready to tell the committee about yourself and how you learn best.
  2. Listen to their suggestions to see if they seem like they will work.
  3. Offer ways that may help even more.
  4. Sign the form that says you were at the meeting. Your parents will also sign. Everyone who attends the meeting should sign.
  5. Thank the committee members for helping explore ways to help you achieve in school.

What you want to avoid doing

  1. Don't get so angry that your message gets lost in an argument.
  2. Don't focus on telling the committee how bad you think one teacher is. Talk in terms of teaching styles not a person.
  3. Don't refuse to give the IEP a try. It can always be modified if it does not help.

Self-advocacy

Remember that you have the ability to be successful in school. A person with a learning disability learns in a different way. The IEP tries to make certain the school teaches in a way that uses your strengths. It helps accommodate for areas of weakness so that the learning playing field is leveled. That means that you will be able to learn like the other kids in your class. You will just be learning differently. It may take you longer to complete your homework than some but you probably are better at a lot of other things than they are. For example, Einstein did not really like school. He struggled. But he could really see things in a very different, special ways. We know he was a genius. He knew that sometimes it took a lot of failures before he could really be successful.

Each of us has to work to find out what we do best and then work to make certain we can do that. Each of us, whether we have a learning disability, or not, will fail many times. Remember that you know yourself best. Tell your teachers and parents how learning works best for you.

Kathleen Ross-Kidder, Ph.D. The George Washington University, Washington, D.C.