Over the past decade, I have increasingly worked with families that have special needs children. These are truly difficult cases because a child’s special issues have to be taken into account when creating a time-sharing schedule, and the extra-ordinary expenses can be astronomical and have to be addressed carefully in an agreement. Beyond the legal logistics, there are such complicated emotions involved for these parents. Often one parent has taken on the primary responsibility for dealing with doctors, therapists, school officials, and the process of obtaining an Independant Education Plan (“IEP”). That parent tends to feel overwhelmed and abandoned by the other parent, who for a variety of reasons may not have been available to participate fully in the challenges of obtaining all the right services for a special needs child.
Sadly, there is over an 80% chance that parents with special needs children will get divorced. If some of the child’s issues are genetic, you may be dealing with a parent in denial or grappling with tremendous guilt. Not everyone knows how to deal with the complexities of a divorce involving special needs children, so carefully selecting an attorney is critical for these families. Hopefully, they will pick someone who has the child’s best interest at heart and will guide the family through a dispute resolution process that preserves as much of the family’s wealth and resources as possible.
I have learned so much over the years from these families– many have incredibly gifted children, who have learning difficulties that just require special accomodations. There are plenty of great resources in the DC Area, including the Lab School. Many books have been written on this growing issue, and one of my favorites was one written by Sally Smith, who founded the Lab School of Washington. A great magazine that I found helpful is Attitude, and in this Winter’s issue there was a fantastic article written by Frank South called “Parachutes for Parents.” He encourages parents with children that have ADHD to try and remain calm, be patient about chores, let them experiment and goof off a bit. He confirms that these children have impulse control issues, are easily frustrated, and resent being controlled. These kids are not easy to parent, but he emphasizes the need to listen to them and show them unconditional love each and every day.
Last year, I had the honor of attending the Lab School’s Gala, and the keynote speaker shared a beautiful story about her own experience overcoming learning difficulties and becoming a successful adult. She explained that children with learning difficulties realize they are different, and what they crave most is simply acceptance and love. Interacting with many L.D. children over the past few years, I have learned to see the world quite differently. They have amazing insight and an incredible way to challenge your way of thinking. I have no doubt that these children will grow up to be wonderful adults given how bravely they face their early childhood challenges, and hopefully their parents will see this too.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.