Promoting self-advocacy by encouraging students’ IEP participation

Self-advocacy is an essential skill needed to function within a larger society. While in school, students with disabilities are offered several supports to help them succeed academically (e.g. access to a case manager, counselors, school psychologist, education specialists, and other resource supports). Their academic success is a priority for the team, but what happens when the team member who is the focus of the meeting and IEP does not contribute to the decision making? Although the program and services discussed are intended to benefit the student, and would be more successful with the student's involvement, the student can be the team member who participates the least during their IEP meeting. This lack of active involvement and self-advocating spills into other aspects of their lives such as healthcare and workforce. Since they are at greater risk for maltreatment, including neglect and abuse (Jones et al., 2012), special consideration is needed to ensure that students with disabilities receive self-advocacy training during their education to carry these skills into their adult lives. Various research studies regarding the lasting positive impact of deliberately teaching and encouraging self-advocacy to students with disabilities were reviewed and thus supported the development of this project. This project was designed with two components to be used in conjunction with each other to comprise an easily implemented strategy to encourage and promote increased student participation and self-advocacy in the IEP process. The first component is a presentation tailored for special education staff, specifically, case managers, introducing the rationale and importance of self-advocacy for students receiving special education services, and strategies for the promotion of students' active participation in their IEP meetings. The second component is a workbook for students to complete, designed to teach them the many skills needed to be able to self-advocate. The worksheets include brief explanations of the importance of self-advocacy as well as activities to help students learn information about themselves pertinent to their participation in their IEP meetings.