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Emotional/Psychological toll of IEP process on parents?

Francesca Sternfeld


Hi everyone,

I'm a Licensed Clinical Social worker at the Puerto Rican Family Institute in New York City, and I'm developing a training for psychotherapists around helping parents cope with the emotional and psychological toll of the IEP process. In order to ground the training in the lived experiences of parents who have been through it, I'm conducting interviews to learn directly about how it feels to navigate these systems, and in particular, what thoughts, feelings and emotions come up in IEP meetings themselves. I want therapists to be able to really "get" what a parent is going through, so that it's not on the parent to educate the therapist, which is often what ends up happening.  I'd be delighted for any replies on this topic, or if anyone is interested in being interviewed at greater length, you can reach me at fsternfeld@prfi.org. 

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My children are all high school graduates but my feeling at IEP meetings was that if the school did not see the need to remediate my child, it would fall on me and I have a lot less resources than a school district.  I have anxiety and would often take anti-anxiety medication in order to get through an IEP meeting.  I'm busy right now but will look at contacting you when things settle down.

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what thoughts, feelings and emotions come up in IEP meetings themselves"

Anxiety about my child's future as they fall further behind grade level.

Worry about my child's self esteem as they work harder and harder to fall further behind. Worry that one day they will just give up trying. 

Anger that my child's disability symptoms are discussed as though they are character flaws. 

Frustration about being lied to (about my child's grades being inflated to deny services, laws being misrepresented to deny services) and not being able to think quickly enough or have the necessary facts on hand to refute the lies. 

Anger at having to scrape together the money for an advocate so the iep team will do what the federal government has already mandated them to do. And close on the heels is despair over educational inequity since hiring an advocate seems to be more and more necessary.

A headache from the strain of remaining tactful and polite while monumental decisions are being made for my child by people who don't understand his condition or needs. 

Occasionally, relief and even cautious hopefulness when it seems like goals and supports are being put in place. This is usually short-lived as the supports don't manifest. 

And exhaustion because I rarely sleep well before an IEP meeting. 


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The entire meeting is set up as unbalanced and there’s not much luck to even the number of people at the table for both sides. The District always looks like it is ahead from a number of people at the table view. 
I’m tired of academic failure being the only path to an accommodation. By the time a kid gets there, there could be so much more “damage” done and now so much more work to do to right their path and support them. 
I’m tired of hearing staff go on about how well they know my kids when they don’t have a clue that they’ve brought them to tears multiple of times and they just used time at their locker or in the bathroom cry. 

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