June 17, 2012
Supporting Dads Who Have Children with Special Needs
Last week at the Father of the Year gala sponsored by the American Diabetes Association, Dr. Francine Kaufman of Medtronic/Children’s Hospital shared an important research finding. When she and her colleagues looked back at the records of children with diabetes, a key indicator of achieving control of blood sugar levels was the involvement of the Dad.“When Dads were actively involved in the medical care of their children, it really made a difference,” she said.
Further evidence of this comes from the Mormons. When I was helping to start a support group for Dads of kids with special needs at the LA Jewish Federation, we did some digging around to see which other groups were best supporting the Dads, and found ourselves looking way beyond the Jewish community, which unfortunately has very little in terms of formal support for fathers of children with special needs.
Turns out that the largest body of literature on this topic came from the Mormon church that doesn’t have paid full-time clergy at the local levels. Male members in particular are expected to perform their ecclesiastical duties on top of career and family responsibilities.
As a result of the need to keep all Dads actively engaged, the Mormon Church has a webpage on Dads and children with disabilities, filled with both commonsense and LDS specific advice: “Remember, learning how to raise a child with a disability is a process, not an event. You may need time to understand the demands and challenges of raising a child with a disability. At first you may have difficulty accepting that your child’s life may be different from what you planned and expected. “
In the secular world, there’s some great groups working on supporting special Dads, such as the Fathers Network, and Exceptional Parent magazine.In Los Angeles, there’s an excellent local group called DADA at http://dadadads.org/dada/.
With the Moms often more involved in the day-to-day logistics and details of their children and teens with special needs, the Dads involvement is often overlooked, but it may be just the critical factor needed for children reaching their maximum potential.
As the Fatherwork website says
“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).”