Accepting Children with Special Needs

September 7, 2011 under Syllabus 2011-2012


Fathers all react differently when they learn about a child with special needs. We, as protectors and providers, can learn about the tolerance, acceptance and greater love that happens every day in our community and, sometimes, in our own family.



Conservatively speaking, around 15 percent of preschool and school-age children in the US have one or more “chronic conditions.” These could be anything from asthma and autism to cancer and cerebral palsy.

That basically means that any given Friday morning, approximately 7 or more dads in attendance are included in this statistic. In other words, either our own family is affected; or we know one that is.

These families have extra layers of stress: mentally, physically, emotionally & financially. As fathers, we want to act as a pillar of strength for the rest of our family by fulfilling our duties as protector and provider.

Having a child with a chronic condition-whether it’s a physical or mental one-puts a lot of stress on the entire family. Fathers and mothers have very different ways of reacting to this stress. Mothers typically worry more about the emotional strain of caring for a child and how the child will do socially. Fathers are concerned with more practical things, such as how to talk about the issue with family and friends, how the child will function in school, whether he’ll eventually become self-sufficient. Many dads also experience a heightened sense of responsibility and protectiveness.
Although mothers are generally more involved in day-to-day caring of kids with chronic conditions, fathers are affected just as deeply by the emotional strain and often have an especially hard time coping. Part of the problem is a series of vicious circles:
Some of dads’ biggest worries have to do with finances: can they afford to pay for treatments, tutors, and special medical attention, is their insurance coverage adequate, and so on. To combat those worries, dads may spend more time at work. That makes them feel better because they’re easing their financial concerns. Plus, for many men, their jobs are a source of satisfaction, a place where they feel in control. But the more time they spend at work, the less available they are to spend with their children and the less they’re able to be involved in treatment plans and meetings with professionals. As a result, they don’t get information first-hand and feel out of the loop. It’s a tough merry-go-round to get off of.

Being around children with disabilities can be a great teaching moment for our children. Learning about tolerance and acceptance are natural topics. However, gratefulness and humility are easy to interject, as well.

Bible Readings

1. 1 Corinthians 12:22, 23

Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor

2. Matthew 19:13-14

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

3. Matthew 25:42-46

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’

Small Group Questions

1. How has your family or a family you know faced a “chronic” condition with a child?

2. Do you feel like need help or could offer help?

3. Are you getting (or fighting for) all the resources your child needs?

Recommended Resources



1. With respect to your children’s health and care, are you and your wife a team on the same mission?

2. Reach out to a family in need.


Anthony Your, Reid Rooney

Included Resources

  1. Teaching Your Child about Peers with Special Needs

Disabilities cover a wide range. Some are obvious — such as a child with a physical disability who uses a wheelchair or a child with a visual impairment who uses a cane to navigate when walking. Other disabilities may be more “hidden” — for example, children who have learning disabilities or autism spectrum disorder.

Chances are that at some point your child will have a classmate with a disability. Just as you guided your very young child when he or she began to befriend others, you can encourage your child to learn about and be a friend to children who have disabilities.

Basic ideas to share with your child

· No two people are the same — some differences are just more noticeable.

· A disability is only one characteristic of a person. People have many facets: likes and dislikes, strengths and challenges.

· Children with disabilities are like all children in that they want friends, respect and to be included.

· Children can be born disabled or become disabled from an accident or illness. You can’t “catch” a disability from someone else.

· Just because someone has a physical disability (when a part or parts of the body do not work well) does not mean they necessarily have a cognitive (or thinking) disability.

· Children with disabilities can do many of the things your child does, but it might take them longer. They may need assistance or adaptive equipment to help them.

Try to use clear, respectful language when talking about someone with disabilities. For a younger child, keep explanations simple, such as, “She uses a wheelchair because a part of her body does not work as well as it could.”

Reinforce with your child that name calling — even if meant as a joke — is always unacceptable as it hurts people’s feelings.

  1. CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS (continued from “Objective”)

Not surprisingly, conflict, tension, and even divorce are more common in families with a disabled child. But fortunately, there are some ways of reducing the strain.

· Join a support group. Researchers have found that men who get involved with other fathers who are facing the same issues (in a guy-only environment) feel less sadness, fatigue, pessimism, guilt, and stress, and have more feelings of satisfaction and success, fewer problems, and better decision-making abilities than dads who don’t join groups. These benefits will rub off on your relationship with your partner as well.

· Explore every possible resource for help. If your friends are able to step in, that’ll help. But also check with your local school district to see what kinds of resources they have. In addition, ( has a good collection of resources, and Exceptional Parent magazine ( provides info, support, and resources for parents and families of children with disabilities. Also, be sure to check out The Fathers Network (, a site specifically devoted to helping fathers of children with disabilities.

· Play and communicate with your child. Researchers at the University of Florida did a study where they taught dads to use everyday activities like building blocks, puppets, cars and trucks, and bubbles to connect with their autistic children. But there was a twist. The fathers were instructed to follow the child’s lead, wait for the child’s response before continuing, and not give into the temptation to direct the play. The results were wonderful. “Fathers were more likely to initiate play in an animated way and responded more to their children during playtime,” said Jennifer Elder, the lead researcher. “Children also became more vocal and were more than twice as likely to initiate play with their fathers. With the proper training at an early age, we feel that these techniques can help autistic children be more socially interactive and pick up language more easily.”

One particularly interesting result that the researchers hadn’t expected was that a lot of the fathers trained the mothers and siblings to do the same thing. Elder and her colleagues had done similar studies training mothers and have very much the same successes. The only difference was that mothers weren’t as likely to teach the dads what they’d learned.

  1. Fathering Special Needs Children

FatherWork with special-needs children should and can be as wonderful and varied as special-needs kids themselves are. Fathers of special-needs children are ordinary men doing both ordinary and extraordinary things since parents of special-needs kids do the same things other parents do but usually have added burdens (and, often, added joys). Fatherwork with special-needs kids can be like the Special Olympics. Fathers can coach children to develop skills and confidence, provide opportunities for accomplishment, give encouragement and supportive cheering along the way, and present them with rewards for effort and accomplishment.

Every special-needs child deserves a father that runs and jumps with her through the challenges of life, one that enthusiastically hugs him at the end of each little success, one that hangs medals on his neck with pride and love in his eyes, and one that, through his constant encouragement and love, places a continual stream of flowers in her hands. Your child (and all special-needs children) needs the coaching, cheering, encouraging, and assisting that you uniquely can give.

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