• Kristina Mulligan

The Toll of the IFSP

We’ve become pretty good friends here, right? I think we have, so I’m going to be honest with you. Ready? IFSP Meetings suck. Some people may not dread them, but I think that they are awful. When the reviews come around every six months, I have to prepare for several weeks beforehand. My head becomes cloudy. My heart feels heavy. Each day that passes is filled with anxiety. I feel like less of a parent and more like an associate preparing for a meeting that my life depends on.

Some of you may be reading this and wondering: What is an IFSP? An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is a plan for special services for young children with developmental delays. An IFSP solely applies to children from birth to three years of age. Once a child ages out of the Early Intervention Program, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is put into place. Reviews take place every six months.

In the days and weeks leading up to a meeting, I have to be my best self in a time where emotions are running high. I have to muster up all of the knowledge and courage that I can to be the greatest advocate for my child. I have to prepare myself for the very difficult conversations to come. The world outside of IFSP preparation doesn’t stop, obviously, so I become very overwhelmed, which affects me emotionally, mentally, and even physically.

As a parent, you own the title of your child’s “#1 Fan.” Sometimes though, as a special needs parent, you must lead a life of duality: you are your child’s biggest cheerleader except for during IFSP season. At least, that’s what it feels like, and may even look like from the outside looking in. That’s when you have to honestly look at the progress that your child has made with a microscope and point out, in front of a room full of people, where they are lacking. Doing this always hurts the deepest part of my heart, even though I tell myself, “You’re not rooting against him, you’re doing the best for him.” How would this not be difficult? As Flynn’s mother, I have seen the determination, the frustration, and his ability to overcome. I try to fill his world with positivity and encouragement, and there I stand pointing out where he falters. But, regardless, I do it anyway.

I do it to be an advocate. I do it to provide the best foundation for the rest of his life. I do it because sometimes being a parent means that you must do hard things. I do it hoping that someday, he will only remember that I stood up in front of a room of people and fought for him. I hope he remembers that his mom was on his team.

When the meeting is over and all is said and done, no matter the outcome, I remind myself that we are doing the best that we can. Flynn will achieve everything that he can achieve. No scoring, or diagnosis for that matter, will define him. As a family, we overcome.

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