You Can Invite Additional Members to Your Team
As parents you have the right to invite individuals to your child's IEP meetings. Individuals you might consider could include a friend or family member; a specialist on special education, called an Educational Advocate; or an outside service provider for your child who's experience and expertise may be relevant for the team.
When considering who to invite some rules of thumb to consider:
Does the person bring special knowledge or expertise in relation to your child that can help create a better IEP?
Does the person bring experience and knowledge of the special education process?
Does the person provide emotional support or other help to you?
If the answer to all of these questions is no then you should likely recconsider whether that person is a good fit for your child's IEP team. If questions 1 and 2 are no and the answer to question 3 is yes, then you should consider discussing with the person how much time they can spend preparing for the meeting, such as learning more about special education, reading reports provided by the school and so forth. If the person you are considering bringing isn't experienced with special education and doesn't have time to prepare, you might consider whether you can set ground rules, such as asking your friend or family member to listen only, so you can discuss after.
Ultimately, what you want to weigh is the benefit the person brings against any potential for undermining your hard work preparing for the meeting or leading the team into counter-productive discussions. A friend or family member can be a great addition to your team, offering you much needed support, but you know the person best.
Bringing Outside Specialists
In our experience some of the best individuals to bring to an IEP meeting are outside specialists, who have experience with your child. For example, if your child recently had a neuropsychological evaluation, it can be very productive to invite the neuropsychologist to your IEP meeting. Some other examples of specialists might include a BCBA therapist providing home ABA services if your child has autism, an outside speech and language or OT therapist, executive functioning coach, specialized tutor, or psychologist or counselor.
The value that specialists working with your child can bring is that they offer perspective outside the school setting and expertise beyond what you can offer as a parent. Specialists can typically engage expert-to-expert with the school's specialists speaking the same language, which can be tremendously helpful in determining the right level of services.
Sometimes these specialists might join for a single meeting - for example a neuropsychologist might join an IEP meeting shortly after completing an neuropsychological evaluation, but unless they work regularly with your child would not feel qualified to participate on a recurring basis. Other times specialists might be open to participation on a more or less ongoing basis.
Your first step here should be asking the service provider what their policies are on IEP participation as these vary considerably from provider to provider. Some specialists might be willing to join IEP meetings as a matter of course while others might have a policy of never joining IEP meetings. Still others might require a separate fee, not typically covered through insurance. This might also be a question you'll want to consider as a criteria when selecting a specialist.
Advocates might be known by a variety of terms including parent, educational, child, student, or independent advocate. In essence these are non-legal specialsts with experience in special education who assist parents navigating the special education system. They can offer parent's advice and participate on parents' behalf in an IEP meeting. For more information see What Are Advocates?
Preparing to Bring Guests to an IEP Meeting
There are no requirements on parents to inform the school up-front when they plan to bring someone to an IEP meeting but its recommended that you do so from a courtesy standpoint. This can be a simple email to your team chair explaining who you plan to bring and what you expect their role will be.
When bringing friends or family who may not have prior experience with IEP meetings its also a good idea to prepare them to introduce themselves and say a word or two about why they are there. For example, "Hi my name is Susan and I am a friend of the family here to offer emotional support and keep notes."