Grief & The Special Ed Parent

grief cycleI am not a parent. I am an advocate, a voice for those students and parents who need a little help along their special education journey. Together, we sort out the nitty-gritty of the IEP. But in the process of all the meetings and the goals, I sometimes forget about the most obvious: the grief of a special needs parent.


The Parent Hat

When I come to an IEP meeting, I am wearing my provider hat. The administrators are wearing their district hats. The teachers are wearing their special education and general education hats. The OTs, PTs, and SLPs are wearing their therapists hats. The student is wearing their most studious hat. The parent is wearing their ‘this-is-my-child-and-I-want-the-best-for-them’ hat.

An IEP is a legal document and sometimes those of us at the round-table who do not have the parent hat on, forget that this meeting of providers should be parent-driven. They can say ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

Somewhere over the course of our 40+ year national IEP history, these meetings became more formal and less focused on helping the parents of our kiddos navigate the educational system with ease. Yes, the law is very clear: all children are entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and so “the best” cannot be legally binding. The most appropriate is what we are all seeking but, oftentimes, we forget that what is the most appropriate for the student, brings to the surface the parents feelings of guilt, denial, and anger.

It’s Not About Us

We providers have a tall order too, and I do not mean to cheapen our wanting-the-best for our kiddos either. Those of us who are in this job because we truly care, know that our hearts are in the right place.

But it is not about us.

When it comes to working with parents who have special needs kids, we must remember that those heated moments are not directed at us, those tears are not for us, those statements of disbelief are not about us.

They may be our kiddos for 30 hours a week and 184 days a year, but they are their parents’ kids forever. It’s hard for me to have to come to that conclusion because I feel so invested in my students’ achievements and challenges. I probably went through my own version of that grief when I realized no matter how much I genuinely care for my students, they are, in fact, not my children.

Coming to the Table Together

It is the job of both the parent and the provider to come to the IEP table together with a collaborative approach. To do so effectively means that we providers must meet the parents where they are in the process of their grief. We must honor those moments and take that extra minute or that extra hour to actively listen and offer guidance, if wanted. No matter what hat we are wearing, our goals are the same: to help their child, and our kiddo, get the services and supports to succeed in the classroom and beyond.

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at

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