This is Part 2 in a two-part blog post that provides guidance and resources for youth on how to get involved and take a lead in their own Individualized Education Program (IEP). Today’s blog written by guest blogger Emalie Fogg looks at why it’s important for youth to take a lead in their IEP process and what it means to become a self advocate. If you missed Part 1, read it now.
Why is it important to be a leader and self advocate in my IEP process?
When we’re growing up, our families, teachers, and adults make most of the decisions about our lives. As we become teenagers it’s important to start participating in the decision-making so that as we near adulthood, we’re ready to decide things for ourselves. No one knows better than you do what you want for your life today and in the future (your goals), what you’re good at doing, what things are challenging for you, and what helps you do your best every day. So, when it comes to discussing your goals, needs, and plans, you absolutely should be a leader in the discussion and decision making.
When you don’t participate or speak up for yourself in the IEP process, you risk having a plan for your education that doesn’t match your goals or provide what is best for you. Taking a lead in decisions about your life can be scary and takes some practice. That’s why it’s so important to start participating in the IEP meetings as early as possible. With each IEP meeting, you will become more confident and skilled at self advocacy.
My IEP meetings weren’t always easy. Some meetings went well, meaning my parents didn’t need to raise their voices to secure for me the therapies and accommodations that would help me reach my full potential during the school day. But I also remember many times when the meetings became heated disagreements and consensus was hard to find. At these times it literally became a fight between my parents, who only cared about what was best for me, and a school district that sometimes had other priorities in mind for my education.
But my parents didn’t shy away from disagreements and always won these fights. One of the greatest gifts they gave me was the message that I could fight for what I needed too, which is an important part of becoming a self advocate. Being a self advocate involves understanding your strengths and goals as well as your weaknesses and needs. A self advocate clearly communicates what she or he knows about him or herself to get what she or he needs as an individual. For me, being a self advocate in my IEP process involved always knowing what my IEP said and never hesitating to tell a teacher to read it if I saw there was a need for that.
The bottom line is the IEP is yours, just as your life now and your future life is yours. You need to play a central role in defining the terms and creating the plan that will help you achieve your goals.
So how do I get involved in my IEP process if I’m not already?
There are several things you can do to become involved in your IEP process and be a self advocate to ensure you get what you need for success. The first step is to let your family, teachers, and other people who participate in your IEP meeting know that you want to be included and that you want to take a leadership role.
Make sure you know what’s in your current IEP. Request a copy from your school and read through the current goals, services, and accommodations described in the plan. Ask questions about your current plan before your meeting to help you understand what it says.
You should be involved to whatever extent you can in developing goals for your IEP. These goals should reflect your long-term plans for postsecondary education or work. The “Navigating Your IEP” guide suggests that you take a lead in discussing past goals and developing new ones by making a list of your strengths and weaknesses and preparing to talk about the progress you’ve made on goals in your current plan. You also want to think about and prepare what you want to say about new goals you think should be included in your IEP.
Get to know the members of your support team at school. These are the people who will help you to articulate your goals and needs when it comes time to formulate your next IEP. Getting to know them better can make it easier to communicate with them before, during, and after your IEP meeting.
As you prepare to participate in your IEP meeting, use the “Navigating Your IEP” guide to learn more about the process and what to expect. Remember that this is your education. No matter how many good advocates you have in your educational life and family, you need to become your own best advocate – a self advocate. It’s a skill you will use for the rest of your life to achieve your goals.
Learn more about how to take a lead and be a self advocate in your own IEP process by using the following online resources:
- Navigating Your IEP – This guide for youth was developed by youth and young adults who are members of the Florida Youth Council.
- Transition Planning for Your Future – This section of the Talent Knows No Limits Youth Transition Toolkit walks you through steps to thinking about your education and future goals and how to incorporate these into your IEP or 504 plan.
- Tips for Teens: Using Your IEP Meetings to Learn how to Advocate for Yourself – This is a brief by the PACER Center.
- Preparing for Your IEP Meeting – This section of the My Individualized Education Program web page at Youthhood.org explains steps to being involved in your IEP meetings.
- Students Determined to Take Control of Their Education and Their Lives – This web page of the Virginia Department of Education Self-Determination Project provides videos, tools, and guidance that youth, families, and schools can use to involve youth in the IEP process.
Have a question to ask or personal experience to share? Please leave us a comment.
Written by guest blogger Emalie Fogg, a past Patricia Morrissey Disability Policy Fellow at the Institute for Educational Leadership. Emalie currently works as an administrative assistant at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of External Affairs in Washington, D. C.