The emotional toll of IEP meetings is real to parents. Educator Kimberly Drew learned that after her daughter with special needs began school. Over the years she’s learned several strategies to deal with the emotional toll of IEP meetings, and she shares them in this post.
Having been in an IEP meeting as an educator before I had our daughter with special needs, I can tell you that I cared deeply about my student. I went into that meeting prepared and ready to collaborate with the team and parents on how we could best help our student with special needs. I left feeling fantastic about the plan we had in place. It never occurred to me that the parents might have felt differently, that they left feeling exhausted, concerned, and maybe even sad.
I understand now what it feels like to sit on the other side of the table. As a parent, I have left IEP meetings feeling all those emotions at one time or another. I would like to give you some tips on how to handle the emotional toll of IEP meetings.
- Most teachers do not get into the field of special education for the money. (What money!?) They do it because they care about these kids and because they want to make a difference in their lives. Go into your meeting knowing that teachers are for your child, not against them or you.
- It is the responsibility of each team member to come to the table with a report. They’ve spent a lot of time observing your child in an educational setting very different than a home or family environment. While your child might be able to hold it together at home, school challenges their minds both educationally and socially. The report makes it feel like your child has been under a microscope, and to some extent this is true. However, its details are meant to form a complete picture of your child’s strengths and weaknesses to gauge where they need the most help and what the team can do about it. Try not to listen on the defensive, but remember that you are part of the team. Come with your own notes and thoughts to present, and embrace that you are all working toward the same goal.
- As the meeting goes on, it is normal to feel discouraged and tired. It is very taxing to listen to four or more people (six at our last meeting) talk about your child in detail. Try to plan ahead for the fatigue that comes after these meetings. I usually have a plan for dinner that includes either a crock pot or eating out! I also try to come home with nothing else on the planner. It’s important to be able to crash and recover.
- Understand that it’s okay to be sad. It’s very hard to hear how your child is struggling. At our last meeting, our daughter was transitioning to a new school. I had to answer the questions about whether or not our daughter could read. The answer was no. Can she recognize letters? A few. Can she count? No. Does she now any numbers? Only one to three. Then we all sat there staring at each other for a few awkward moments. I felt my heart sink. I was sad. It was okay to be sad. I kept the tears in until I got home and then gave myself a moment to let them out.
- If you leave the meeting feeling unsure if everything was covered or if you forgot things, you can e-mail the team afterwards. You have time to review the IEP once it’s printed and nothing is set in stone without your signature.
Always remember that you are all doing your best to help your child reach their fullest potential. Be grateful for a team who wants to help your child, let yourself grieve if you feel the sadness rising up again, and look for the positives in the meeting and try to focus on those.
How do you deal with the emotional toll of IEP meetings? Leave your comments below!
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