Fathers of Children with Special Needs

When a child is ill, or has special health care needs, it is often mom who manages the child's care. However, fathers can provide comfort and can help calm and reassure a child in a way no one else can. Sometimes the father is the family member others rely for reassurance that, no matter what, everything will be okay. Many fathers might put on a strong front, when deep down they are unsure and afraid, like everyone else. Fathers are often the unsung heroes to children with special needs. Fathers give their children a gift that no one else can give, and they can offer strong and caring support for their child.
A father's role in a special needs family is vital. He is not only the one who provides security, but he can also "hold down the fort" when mom is managing the many needs of the child. Many dads take a huge role in the care of the child and make the care part of their daily routine. Each family will divide their roles differently, finding what works best for their personalities, strengths, and schedules.
One dad says: "We have an ongoing daily schedule of things to be done for our son – Meds, bathing, teaching, toileting, and more. I have my jobs, and my wife has hers, together we get them done so we can relax together at the end of the day."
When parents are divorced, many dads remain very involved with their children. Children with special needs are affected by divorce just as much as other children, and having their dad's attention and presence is still very significant.
Some dads are single parents of children with special needs. These fathers are invaluable, and most likely very tired. Although there are certainly days when they feel overwhelmed, they keep on caring for and loving their children.
There are dads who have chosen to adopt a child with special needs; some have assumed the role of stepdad to a child with special needs. All fathers who care for children with special needs are amazing. One thing to be considered with these fathers is that they, just like moms, need support. Moms of kids with special needs tend to discuss their children and collaborate with other parents through support groups or online. Fathers may be more reserved, but are still interested and invested in the care of their children. Some fathers enjoy meeting or chatting with other dads with whom they have things in common.
"It's not that I need support, but it would be nice to know there are other guys who feel the way I do. Having a child with special needs is not something that just comes up in conversation with a bunch of guys unless they have that in common," says Steve (dad of a son with Autism.)
For local parent support groups, contact your state National Center for Family - Professional Partnerships (F2F HICs). There are also support groups just for fathers.


Information & Support

For Parents and Patients


National Center for Family - Professional Partnerships (F2F HICs)
Family-to-Family Health Information Centers (F2F HICs) are nonprofit, family-staffed organizations that assist families of children and youth with special health care needs. State-based F2Fs provide support, information, resources, and training around health care funding. Staff is uniquely able to help with firsthand experience navigating the maze of health care services and programs.

Dads 4 Special Kids (D4SK)
Dads 4 Special Kids is an organization dedicated to helping men that have a child with special needs in their lives. We provide an array of on-line resources, coupled with group activities, that include real life personal experiences from other men.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: September 2013; last update/revision: September 2013
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Tina Persels
Contributing Authors: Shena McAuliffe, MFA
Gina Pola-Money