With sufficient preparation and support, students can participate in their IEP process in various ways. The extent of participation will depend on their abilities and interests--for example, some students direct their own meeting, while others take a specific part to direct. Teachers experienced in involving their students in the IEP process have made the following suggestions (ERIC/OSEP Special Project, 2000):
Begin instruction as early as possible. Some areas of study, such as self-determination skills, can begin in the elementary school.
Be prepared to support students with sensitive issues. Some students may never have seen their IEP and some may not even know what it means. Even if a student knows about IEPs, reading about one's disability can be unsettling. Teachers need to work through all issues and questions with students. It may help to talk individually with students before sharing the IEP.
Ensure that students understand what their disability means. It is important that students know about their disability and can talk about it to others. Encourage students to become comfortable stating what they need and what they do not need.
Make sure you feel comfortable with the process. Students will know if adults are uncomfortable talking about a topic or allowing the student to lead the IEP.
Schedule time for students to develop skills related to IEP participation on a regular basis. It is very easy to let other subjects--particularly academics--take priority. Teachers must believe that self-determination, planning, and self-advocacy skills are priorities.
Teach IEP participation skills. Students need sufficient time to master the skills. Although students can be taught skills once a week or in a day-long course, if you really want students to take an active role, you must allow sufficient time.
Use motivational techniques to interest students. Before you begin training, invite an individual with a disability to talk to students. It helps to have role-alike models as speakers (e.g., an individual who is a college graduate, an individual who has gone to a vocational education center, an individual who works in supported employment, a person who owns a business).
Communicate with families. Let parents know your intentions. It helps to invite families to a meeting where you can explain the approach and answer their questions.
These teachers believe that with sufficient preparation and support, students at all levels can actively participate in the IEP process. Teachers also have found that without preparation, students may not understand the language or the IEP process, and may feel as if other IEP team members have not listened to them. Teachers who have included students successfully note that they feel good about their participation, and they have a sense of accomplishment and empowerment as a result of their participation in the process.