After several years of parenting a child with special needs, I am well aware of how easy it is for fathers to feel left out of the process. The family is much more than “mother and child” and needs to be considered as such.
Don’t Allow Yourself to be Sidelined by Others
Early childhood specialists at all levels have much more experience with, and may feel more comfortable with mothers. Have you – as a father – ever have been at a therapy session, parent conference or doctor’s visit and felt that no one was talking to you? If so, it’s time to take action!
Don’t allow yourself to be left out. Parenting any child is hard work; parenting a child with special needs is especially tough. Everyone who is in contact with your child on a regular basis must be pulling in the same direction – including you. We don’t need to be on the same rope, but we need to pull in the same direction.
Find Ways to Stay Involved and Lend a Hand
There are many things that we as fathers can do to remain involved in the complex parenting process. My son, Bryan, has diplegic cerebral palsy.
During the early days of diagnosis and treatment, it helped me to be the keeper of records. After each significant visit, we asked for a written report. By tending this file, I could keep track of what was going on-even during visits I couldn’t attend.
Staying involved means asking questions. At each doctor’s visit or parent conference, come prepared with a few questions of your own. Ask questions as early as possible during the meeting. This keeps service providers mindful of your involvement.
You may not be able to attend therapy sessions with regularity, but you can know all the people your child is seeing, and you can know what they do. It’s useful if you can dedicate a few of your vacation days each year to staying in touch with your child’s therapists.
Ask therapists to recommend specific things that you and your child can work on together – you can call them “father project” – and ask for occasional “after hours” sessions or meetings. Fathers often can provide a different approach toward solving the same problem that Mom is working on. This will give her some essential respite also.
Whatever you do, stay involved! It’s important for you as a parent. It’s important for your child with special needs. And it’s an important statement to professionals on behalf of all the fathers who will come after you.