The Emotional Toll of IEP Meetings

The emotional toll of an IEP meeting is not to be discounted. Guest blogger Kimberly Drew shares 5 strategies she uses to deal with the aftermath of IEP meetings.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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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8 Comments

  1. Carol Casserly, MA, CCC-SLP Carol Casserly, MA, CCC-SLP
    May 17, 2017    

    Well said, Kimberly. I too have sat on both sides of the IEP table. At many of those meetings we have shared victories of goals met or celebrated the fact that the child no longer needed special services. At some we have shared disappointments. At some we have shared tears. At a few, I have encountered parents who have had very unrealistic expectations for their child. Being the parent of a child and later a grandchild with special needs certainly increased my compassion for the parents. Therefore, I would add one more. Don’t go into the meeting expecting the school staff to “fix” or “cure” your child. Rather go in expecting the teachers and therapists to help your child reach his or her potential given their disabilities. They too want to see your child succeed and want you as a very valued member of the team.

  2. May 17, 2017    

    Hi Carol, Thank you so much for those wise words. As a former educator, I also encountered a few parents who wanted someone to “fix” their kids. (When our son was very young and had many surgeries, I wanted the docs to “fix” my son, too.) As parents we have to remember that our fellow humans can only do so much. As you said, we can expect professionals to help our kids reach their potential, but it’s not realistic to expect the impossible. Jolene

  3. Deborah Deborah
    May 20, 2017    

    I very much appreciated this blog. Having been on both sides of the IEP table, these comments represent teachers and administrators at their finest, however, as to point #1…it IS about the money to the school district and teachers and admin are under pressure to rein in the spending of scarce SpecEd moneys. Also, as a teacher/administrator, I can say, not all teachers and admin are interested in working with parents as they are worn, overwhelmed, do not have district support, or are candidly even lazy. At one school with our daughter, we experienced lack of support and accountability at the district level so that there was truly NO curriculum at the secondary SpedEd level and no plan NO plan on the classroom level to have curriculum…truly under serving the children and derailing a viable IEP discussion. Parents needs to approach IEPs as a realistic, collaborative experience but also realize the school district is ultimately not your friend and a SpecEd lawyer’s consult or letter or more, will be necessary at some point.

  4. Lisa McCarty Lisa McCarty
    May 20, 2017    

    I am also a teacher, having taught general education, and now special education, and have a child with special needs. I shared this link with my fellow special needs educators hoping they may read it. I realize that it is written from a parental side but I think it is an important reminder of just how parents feel when the IEP meeting is “done” we have a fantastic team where I work but there is no understanding quite like being on the parent side of the table…. it is such a sinking feeling to see those psych assessments with “severe delay” down the whole sheet!

  5. Rebecca Albjerg Rebecca Albjerg
    May 21, 2017    

    I always went with my husband. I don’t recommend going alone ever. Take a friend if hubby can’t go. Bring Kleenex. Take notes. It helped me to cope when I was tearing up. Teachers may like/love your child or they may not. YOU are ultimately responsible for your child’s life.

  6. May 22, 2017    

    Deborah, that’s wise advice. It’s important to remember to go into meetings with a cooperative, reasonable spirit. But, when proposed IEP goals don’t match a child’s needs and/or there’s no evidence of effort to help kids meet good goals, parents must advocate for their kids and insist the laws be followed. Jolene

  7. May 22, 2017    

    Lisa, it is so hard isn’t it? Thanks for passing the information along to other educators. I’m praying Kimberly’s words make a difference! Jolene

  8. May 22, 2017    

    Thanks for those words of wisdom, Rebecca!

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Meet Jolene

Jolene Philo is a published author, speaker, wife, and mother of a son with special needs.

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