Dads of Children with Special Needs

Work With Dads

Dads of Children with Special Needs

“Children with special health care needs are those children who have or are at risk for chronic physical, developmental, behavioral or emotional conditions and who also require health and related services of a type or amount beyond that required by children generally.” 1

“Each father confronted with his child’s diagnosis responds in his own unique way, often displaying a range of emotions including lack of understanding and fear ... one thing fathers need to hear is that they are not in this alone ... there are other fathers facing similar issues and there are coping strategies and resources that can help.”
W.C. Hoecke, Family Connection of South Carolina


“It is inevitable there will be dads in your programs having disabilities themselves, and also some having children with disabilities … Preparing effectively to meet, interact with, and support dads having special needs or children with special needs will take some planning.”
Greg Schell, Washington State Fathers Network


“We make the journey with dads because no man should be alone.”
Ray Morris, Dads 4 Special Kids

Many families face the challenges associated with raising a child with special needs, a term that covers a broad range of conditions or chronic illnesses such as cerebral palsy, developmental delay, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, autism, Down syndrome, depression, asthma, sickle cell anemia, and cystic fibrosis. According to the 2009-10 National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs, approximately 15 percent of children in the United States are estimated to have special health needs and 23 percent of households with children include a child with special health needs.2 Special health needs exist across a wide spectrum and may involve medical, behavioral, developmental, learning, or mental health issues. But all involve worries and concerns that often lead to feelings of isolation and helplessness for parents. Although special health needs may not be the first issue that many fatherhood programs focus on, practitioners should be aware of the issue to fully meet the needs of their program participants.

Making sure that fatherhood program staff are aware of special needs issues and are prepared to assist fathers with support and resources can greatly strengthen services, particularly in programs that work with fathers of infants and young children. For example, most fatherhood curricula include handouts that illustrate the range of behaviors that generally can be expected at different stages of child development. By raising staff awareness, and while acknowledging that children move through these stages differently, a program can encourage fathers to ask for a second opinion if they think that their child is experiencing a developmental delay.