IEPs are created for all qualified students beginning at age three. Professionals are encouraged to include students once transition services come into play. Studies have shown that students who participate in the transition planning process experience increased success post secondary education — such as higher education and employment. However, studies have also shown that less than 30% of qualified students are included in transition planning. Furthermore, most students are not included in the IEP process until transition planning is needed.
If inclusion is so important for individuals with disabilities, then why are we still seeing low participation numbers in IEP meetings? Some parents and educators claim that the student in question won’t behave in meeting, or the student won’t understand what is being discussed. Others argue that the student would not be able to participate effectively or contribute significantly to warrant inclusion in the meeting. Whatever the given reasons may be to not include a student in the IEP planning process, the underlying message is the same; laziness, or the lack of desire to make real progress.
Not all students with a developmental disability are going to offer significant insights and helpful strategies when participating in the IEP planning process. However, that is not the main reason to include students in the first place. The primary reason for inclusion is that it offers the students choices. In a world where so much control is often lost due to the limitations developmental disabilities bring, given choices and the opportunity to have a voice in decision making greatly improves the quality of life for those who have a developmental disability. Being included in the IEP planning process teaches students with developmental disabilities important self-advocacy and self-determination skills–not to mention possible confidence and enthusiasm in working on the goals that lay ahead.
Complaints and Answers
“But this student won’t behave!” Then teach the student how to behave. Teaching new behaviors takes time, patience, and ample opportunities to practice. Practicing in the classroom is great, but there comes a point where you must take the student to non-classroom settings to test whether generalization of the new target behaviors is working or not. Recess, cafeteria, and even IEP meetings are great scenarios for teaching appropriate behaviors in order to meet generalization. You will not have immediate success with every student. Problem behaviors might still happen during an IEP meeting. However, those incidences might be beneficial to those making the plans, as it might demonstrate weak points in the goals and teaching strategies found in the previous or current draft of the IEP.
“This student won’t understand anything that happens or discussed in the meeting!” Actually, the student might understand much more than you realize. As a society, we tend to view those who cannot adequately express themselves as being less intelligent. Eloquent speaking skills have been signs of wealth, power, and intellect for centuries. However, in reality, the ability to express your wants and needs to a predetermined proficiency level is not an accurate measure of intelligence. Many individuals with developmental disabilities have written memoirs on what it is like to live with their disability–with varying degrees of assistance from other individuals and/or technology. In each example, these individuals have demonstrated a level of understanding and competence that exceeds the expectation of most people living without a developmental disability.
“It’s too much work. It is just easier to leave the student out of the meeting.” Nonsense. You are professional charged–and paid–with the duty to provide excellent services to students with disabilities. No matter how challenging a task or goal may be, it is your job to improve the quality of life for each student, not to do whatever is easiest or most convenient for yourself. As a parent, it is your job to do the same. Yes, it may be extra work. However, it is far better to deal with it now then deal with it in the future. Just like any child, it is far better to teach them when they are young.
The most important point to be made in the case for IEP inclusion is that of civil rights. Each student has the right to attend their own IEP meeting. Choosing for the student should never be an option. Research has repeatedly shown the benefits of providing special education students choices. If the student cannot adequately respond to choices, or freely give an opinion or preference, then that is something that needs to be addressed in the IEP–with the student present. If you feel that your child or student does not possess the communication skills to say whether or not he or she wants to participate in the IEP, ask anyway. If an answer is not given, then include the child in the planning process.
No harm can be found in including a student in the process; yet, there may be harm in exclusion. The only way to test the hypothesis is to include all students in the IEP planning process and measure the results.