Creating a Parenting Plan for a Special Needs Child
Developing a parenting plan for a special needs child requires careful consideration of the child’s individual needs.
The term “special needs child” includes children with a broad variety of disorders, illnesses and disabilities, including the following:
❏ autism spectrum disorders
❏ down syndrome
❏ cerebral palsy
❏ attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
❏ a broad variety of learning disabilities
❏ psychiatric disorders
❏ a variety of medical illnesses
❏ chronic developmental disorders
❏ physical disabilities
❏ profound cognitive impairment
❏ sensory impairment
Many special needs children require multiple and ongoing assessments, high levels of supervision, one-one-one care, close monitoring of medication and / or supplements and complex treatment delivered by a variety of professionals. Continuity of care as well as consistent and predictable routines are often the hallmarks of a Parenting Plan for a special needs child. What we commonly refer to as “developmental parenting plans” may not be suitable for a special needs child because many of these children function permanently well below their developmental ages.
A Parenting Plan for a special needs child may need to be reviewed and adapted to accommodate changes in the child’s capacity, overall health and day-to-day functioning. The decision-making and communication components of a Parenting Plan may need to include significant detail to ensure that the child’s cognitive, emotional and physical needs are met.
Some special needs children find it very challenging to live in two homes. The transitions may be stressful and even small differences in the structure and routine in each home may create anxiety and reduce functioning or negatively impact a child’s health. Each child’s individual diagnosis, recommended treatment plan, personality and capacity must be carefully considered so that the Parenting Plan meets the child’s day-to-day needs.
High conflict between parents may have a significant impact on a special needs child, making them more vulnerable to:
• remaining undiagnosed and / or untreated
• having symptoms escalate or be poorly managed
• increased severity of their illness or disorder
• reduced functioning
• increased risk to their physical safety
The following is a non-exhaustive list of issues that parents with a special needs child may wish to consider in the development of their Parenting Plan, perhaps in consultation with their child’s assessor(s), educators and treatment provider(s):
If your child has not yet been assessed, do you agree about what type of assessment is required and who will perform the assessment? Do you need a referral for an assessment? Who will you consult for the referral?
If your child has already been assessed, is there a clear diagnosis? Do you agree about the diagnosis and / or the recommended treatment plan? Do you need a second opinion about the diagnosis, the severity of the disorder / illness / disability, and / or the treatment plan?
Do both of you have the ability to manage your child’s symptoms, behaviour, medication, appointments and potential emergencies? Are the two of you able to notice subtle changes in your child’s behaviour or functioning and make quick decisions about urgent assessment and treatment?
Who is available to meet your child’s daily needs?
How often will you be required to make assessment and treatment decisions? How complex are these decisions? How time-sensitive might they be?
Is your child’s condition stable? How often and how quickly might it change? Will you need medical advice before you make decisions about assessment and treatment? Who will arrange the consultation? Who will attend your child’s appointments?
Has a treatment plan been recommended? What are the details of the treatment plan - including appointments, training for the parents, medication, supplements, diet and further assessment? Who will implement the treatment plan? Are both of you willing and able to do that? What will be the impact on your child if a parent is unwilling, unable or unavailable to implement the recommended treatment plan or administer medication?
Before separation, who was responsible for liaising with your child’s treatment providers, assessors and educators? Who will perform these functions now that you are separated? How will you minimize risks to your child?
Who should make decisions about your child’s ongoing assessment, treatment and overall care so that your child receives continuity of care and the best care possible?
Before separation, what information did you share about your child? What information will you need to share now that you are separated to ensure that your child is physically and emotionally safe, well cared for and assessed or treated as often as required? How and when will necessary information be shared?
If in-home treatment or care is recommended, who will arrange it? Will in-home treatment be delivered in one home or both homes? How will the associated cost be paid?
Is there insurance coverage available to your child for assessment and diagnosis, treatment, therapy, medication, supplements, equipment, supplies, respite care, etc.? Who will liaise with the insurance company? What costs will be covered?
Is there government funding available to your child.? Who will apply for and receive it? Will it be shared to cover costs incurred in both homes or will funding be accessed by only one parent?
How has each parent been involved in the child’s care before separation? How will each parent be involved in the child’s care after separation?
How similar are your parenting styles? Does your child need similar structure and routines in both homes in order to function well and be safe or is your child able to tolerate change?
Do you agree about the level of supervision that your special needs child requires? Are you both available to provide the necessary degree of supervision? Is there conflict between you about this issue?
Does your child have siblings? Will they follow the same parenting schedule?
Who are your backup support providers and caregivers?
Does your child adapt well to change? Is your child capable of living in two homes or will your child feel more stable living in only one home? Would your child be required to bring equipment back and forth between two homes? Who would be responsible for that?
If there is conflict about your child’s assessment, diagnosis, or treatment, is your child aware of it? How does the conflict impact your child? Has the conflict interfered with assessment, diagnosis or the delivery of treatment or services?
Do you have concerns about the other parent’s ability to assess your child’s well-being and functioning?
Do you have concerns about your child’s safety and supervision while in the other parent’s care?
Does your child have the capacity to express their own views and preferences about their day-to-day living arrangements, treatment or care?
How will future disputes about your special needs child’s assessment, diagnosis, treatment plan, medication, therapy, education, hospitalization, residential placement and, if required, end of life care be resolved?