Tips for Single Parents of Children with Special Needs

Being a single parent is hard enough, but when your child has special needs, there's even more to handle. The challenges can be many, and if there is no support from the other parent, you’re on your own to handle the care of your child with special needs, and sometimes your other children as well. It’s a lot of work, and even though you want to do the best you can for your child, single parents face times that could cause them to "burn out" at a faster pace than households who share the day to day demands of special needs parenting. The challenges may be very hard, but there are ways that single parents can make a good life for themselves and their children. Here are some ideas:
  • Make a daily plan and try to keep it the same.
    • A daily schedule can help to lower stress. If your child knows what to expect, she will likely have fewer melt-downs, leaving you less stressed and with more time to handle other things.
  • If your child's other parent can be involved, work together to best meet the needs of your child.
    • Each of you will have ideas about how your child should be raised, but do your best to keep routines the same in both households. Sharing ideas and meeting somewhere in the middle, as long as things are focused on the child and family's needs, can help with a solid family setting and male your child feel more secure.
  • Connect with other single parents who have kids with special needs.
    • Talking with other people who know what you are going through can help you feel better about your own life. These days, there are so many ways to talk with other parents.
      • Try a web search for local special needs support groups, or even single parent support groups. See National Center for Family - Professional Partnerships (F2F HICs) for help finding support groups in each state.
      • Lots of parents are now using social media to gather and support each other online. To find online groups, you can search within your preferred social media outlet (Facebook, Instagram, etc.).
      • You may find some groups that are for a certain diagnosis, and some that are for the whole spectrum of disabilities. No matter how you choose to find support, other parents can be your best help. Groups are a great way to share your experiences with other parents, listen to theirs, and trade support and tips along the way.
  • Family time—even if you are busy, it is of great value to spend time together as a family.
    • Take a look at the calendar and choose a time each week to have time together and do something fun. Your child will enjoy having something to look forward to in his weekly routine.
  • Counseling can help with stress.
    • A therapist or counselor can offer an unbiased viewpoint, will listen to your thoughts and worries, and help you get through things.
    • There are many programs that offer counseling on a sliding scale, and sometimes it can be covered by health insurance.
  • If you have other children who are old enough to help, let them help, but not too much.
    • Sisters and brothers often take on the role of the "helper," and that is a normal and beautiful thing. But as we know, our kids with special needs require a lot of help sometimes, and we must be careful not to ask too much of our other children. They need time for themselves, for friends, activities, and time alone with their parent now and then.
  • Allow yourself to have help from family, friends, church, and neighbors.
    • Many parents feel the need to "do it all" and that can lead to stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. If you have offers from friends or family to help, let them help. When they say, "Let me know how I can help," they are expressing that they truly want to help you, but may not know how they can be useful. It is fine to say, "Really? I could use a hand with…"
  • If you need assistance with housing, food, healthcare, or childcare:
    • Ask for help from your local social services agencies. Sometimes things are tough when there is only one income in the household, and you may struggle to meet all of your needs. Many agencies have assistance programs that qualify households by looking at their earnings and needs.
  • Take some time for yourself.
    • As a single parent, this is the most vital thing, but also may seem like it is out of reach. Try to give yourself some time to do something just for you. This time can give you the fuel you need.
      • A good way to get in a few minutes for yourself here and there is by setting strict bedtimes for your children. Early bedtimes, around 7:30 or 8:00, are good for a child's routine and health, and give the parent time to wind down in the evening. Read a few chapters of a book, take a bath, or watch your favorite show. Of course, there will be changes to your routine, but for the most part, make that time yours.
Finding supports and having a plan are good for both you and your child. Do what works for you, and remember to seek support when you need it. You are not alone, there are many parents of children with special needs that enjoy caring for their child but are also looking at these same issues each day.

Authors & Reviewers

Last update/revision: September 2019
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Tina Persels
Contributing Authors: Shena McAuliffe, MFA
Gina Pola-Money
Reviewer: Tina Persels