A Father's PerspectiveFAMILY RESOURCE CENTER
A Father’s Perspective on Parenting a Child With Special Needs and Benefiting from Support of the Family Resource Center
Our Family’s Journey with AbilityPath
I first learned about AbilityPath in 2001 when our nine-month-old son, Liam, was diagnosed with Global Developmental Delays. At that point, we were referred to AbilityPath’s Early Intervention (EI) services and immediately realized it was the right place for us and Liam.
From the time he was nine months old until he was three, Liam attended AbilityPath’s EI services, which included speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and inclusive special education classes. These services made a significant difference in Liam’s developmental progress all the way around. We also attended a weekly parent training class with other parents in Liam’s class to talk about what works and doesn’t work for our kids, as well as other subjects related to raising a child with special needs. This became an important outlet for meeting parents who could tell us what to expect on our journey as we navigated the complex system of care for our child. We also had the opportunity to meet Teresa from AbilityPath’s Family Resource Center (FRC) who guided us through the process for transitioning to preschool and who has helped us ever since.
Before starting a family, my wife Lee and I decided that I would be the primary caregiver for our kids, because Lee’s job paid more and I had the better temperament for staying at home. Throughout my years as a stay-at-home dad, I have used the FRC as an important resource for meeting the everyday challenges of having a child with special needs. Talking to other parents with similar experiences has given me the tools to be a better parent.
About four years ago I had the opportunity to join the FRC as a parent coordinator, which has been incredibly fulfilling and informative. In this role, it’s been great to assist other parents, especially dads, by sharing my personal insight into what they can expect on their journey as a parent. It’s rewarding to pay it forward.
A Place for Families
At the FRC, we typically work with parents whose children range from birth to five years old (though we will assist anyone looking for resources and information). One of the most important things we do is to help parents empower themselves to be advocates for their child, because, as I’ve learned, and as every parent of a child with special needs has learned, nobody else is going to do it for them. The state’s not going to do it, neither is the federal government, the school districts, or the counties – it’s up to each parent to figure out how best to care for their child.
We work with parents to make sure they know how to get services, how to continue services, which questions to ask and to whom, etc. We also facilitate support groups, parent mentors, education training, and assistive technology support. One of the greatest things about the FRC is that each person on our staff is a parent of a child with special needs. We can truly relate to the parents who come to us for assistance.
When a parent contacts us, sometimes they just want to talk to someone who can understand the challenges they’re facing. One of the first things I say to a parent is, “I just want to let you know that I have a child with special needs. I’ve been through this. I’m here to help you.” I also try to remind them not to get stuck on “why” this happened, which is something that many people wonder about, but instead to focus on “what I have to do now to help my child.”
Parents Working Together as a Team
Statistics show that the divorce rate is considerably higher for families with a child with special needs. Navigating the maze of healthcare, schools, and financial systems related to raising a child with special needs, in addition to working full-time, is stressful and time-consuming. That’s why I focus on the importance of parents working together as a team. You won’t be successful if you don’t work together. Even in a case like mine where I’ve been a stay-at-home parent, my wife and I work together to share the pressure of parenting. I call it “keeping an eye on the prize.”
It tends to be difficult, in general, for men to talk about their experiences, but our FRC staff can make a difference. As mentioned, we aren’t just counselors; we’re also parents who have walked in their shoes. We’ve been through it. We have the best knowledge about resources. And we can relate to other parents looking for support for their child and for their entire family.
Father’s Day is coming up soon. For all of the dads out there raising a child with special needs, I wish you a “Happy Father’s Day.” I also encourage you to stay active in your child’s upbringing. As difficult as it can be at times, it’s highly rewarding for both the parent and the child when you play an active role in your child’s life. This is time you’ll never get back, so take advantage of it as much as possible.