These days, all families with children are facing a ton of challenges– looking for online summer camps or alternative daycare options, as well as safe activities to keep them engaged, all while wondering what the fall will look like for everyone. Now imagine how much more difficult this entire situation must be for families with special needs children, who need considerably more attention and access to special services.

Unfortunately, families with special needs children have a significantly higher rate of divorce due to the additional pressures and stress they must handle. And while many might naively believe that the public services we have available will just swoop in to help, the fact is it’s mainly incumbent on the parents to advocate for their children to get them the services they deserve. For those that find the system frustrating or the process overwhelming, the best option often is to hire a special needs advocate to ensure that the right goals are established and proper accommodations are made to help the child thrive, particularly in school with the development of either an individual education plan (IEP) or 504 plan for those students with learning differences or medical disabilities.

Many parents do not realize that IEPs do not automatically transfer over to colleges, and for those whose children are not on a college track, there is still a lot of preparation needed to transition a special needs child to adulthood. Therefore, it is key that parents consult with a professional as soon as they suspect that their children’s needs are not being properly met.

In a divorce situation, these families in particular need to look at developing a Parenting Plan, which includes a time-sharing schedule that minimizes transitions and focuses on the child’s best interest.  When developing a custody schedule with special needs children, we often seek the input of the medical and education providers to ensure that the child’s needs are addressed.  These cases, will also require the parents to check-in more frequently and be flexible with each other.  If they cannot do this on their own, then we encourage them to seek professional assistance, utilizing Parent Coaches or Parent Coordinators, so that the family can avoid the need to return to court.

Teri Roe is an experienced special needs advocate in Maryland and the founder of MCSNAC. Here is a 10 minute video, where she shares some timely tips for families with special needs children, particularly during this COVID-19 pandemic: