Coping With the Stresses of Single Parenting a Special Needs Child

By Melissa Chapman

Let’s face it, unless you’re a “celebrity” single Mom with a dozen hand servants; nannies, cook, chef, housekeeper, to tend to the basic needs of your kids the average working single Mother of “typically” developing children is usually exhausted–most of the time. Now, imagine parenting special needs children — a child that you cannot put down because in a split second he could scale the book cases in your living room or a child who has limited or no verbal skills that you need to monitor at all times for fear that he will bolt out the front door of your house when you’re not watching.

“Single Moms with special needs children often want to do everything they can for their child so when they’re not working they’re most likely spending their every waking minute fighting for schools, insurance coverage and experienced care providers for their special needs child,” says single Mom, Lori Schulman, and owner of the Phoenix, AZ-based Loden Group which develops programs for children with special needs like; autism, behavioral and developmental issues. “This situation presents the perfect set of circumstances to cause single Moms to completely burn out.”

According to Schulman, single Moms face a myriad of challenges in their journey to parent a special needs child. Most are simply working at a breakneck pace just so they can afford child care and their children’s therapies. Often times single Moms parenting a special needs child lose the support of their ex spouse who doesn’t have the capacity to withstand the emotional, physical and social pressures of caring for a special needs child. And if there are other “typically” developing children in the family, their needs often get pushed to the side, because the single Mom is so incredibly immersed in being an advocate for the child who can’t speak for himself.

“Single Moms often lose their friends, since they usually can’t partake in playdates with other families,” says Schulman. “It’s often hard to find baby sitters who will watch kids with special needs for regular rates. And if they are willing to watch them, you need to make sure they’re trained to handle your child’s specific issues and feel confident that this care person won’t call you in five minutes and tell you to come home.”

This scenario can only lead to one definite outcome; a single Mom who gets burned out at every level. Thankfully there ways that single Moms can create a far more pleasant lifestyle for themselves and their children.

Here are some of Schulman’s suggestions:

Network with other single parents who have kids with special needs.

“Join a babysitter club which is a new trend among single parents,” says Schulman. “Several Moms get together and trade off baby sitting duties. At least you know the Mom has an understanding of your special needs child, and is invested in her well-being. And the best part, you get to go out and have a great evening and it doesn’t cost a thing!”

Make a daily schedule and do your best to stick to it.

“Creating a schedule is so important,” says Schulman. “If your child knows the routine and knows what to expect, it can dramatically cut down on tantrum time. And if you’re not busy diffusing a three hour tantrum, that’s three hours of time that you’ve just freed up.”

Create a Family Goal.

“I always ask parents to create a family goal,” says Schulman. “If your family goal is to be able to go out to eat as a family and take your special needs child with you, it is possible.”

Schulman tells her clients to follow a strict protocol. Hook up with the local iHop and explain your unique situation to the manager. Let her know what you’re doing and why and she will very likely work with you. At first just go in and sit at table with your special needs child, set a timer and leave after two or three minutes. Continue this process over a month’s time. Each time you go into the restaurant, stay a few minutes longer. By doing this you are helping your special needs child develop a tolerance for being able to sit at a restaurant.

“You’re going to have to learn to be consistent and follow through and exercise your patience gene,” says Schulman. “You’re not going to get a kid to sit for a thirty minute dinner at 7 o’clock at night if you haven’t practiced. And the minute you break it you’ve taught that child that it’s okay to break it and you’ll have to start from scratch.”

Do not hide out in your house otherwise you will become a prisoner of your house.

“If you enact these routines, as early as possible as your child gets older it will become that much easier take part in “typically normal” family outings,” says Schulman.

Do your best to work with your ex spouse to parent your child.

“Obviously each parent has their own idea of how their child should be raised,” says Schulman. “However most of these kids need structure and routines. In order to achieve that in two separate houses both parties need to be on board, get over their anger at each other and realize that working together is really in the best interest of their child.”

Take advantage of counseling that is offered on a sliding scale.

“Counseling can really help parents work through their issues with each other, and help them deal with the reality of parenting a special needs child,” says Schulman. “It can be a great relief to be able to check in with a third party unbiased person who says ‘I hear you, I’m going to help you get past this.’”

Click here for more information about Lori Schulman and the Loden Group.

More Great Parenting Articles on SMW
Practical Answers for Single Moms Raising Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Troubled Relationships? Could It Be Asperger’s?

Ask Dr. Susan Bartell: My Child’s Acting Out!