There’s no denying that co-parenting can be challenging for a wide range of different family dynamics. But what if you’re looking to develop a co-parenting arrangement that caters for a child with special needs?
Children with special needs typically often require a unique approach to co-parenting, and one that involves the highest level of cooperation and understanding between two parents. Understandably, this can be difficult to ensure in the midst of navigating a separation or divorce. However, the good news is that successful co-parenting for a child with special needs doesn’t have to be an impossible challenge.
Here are 5 helpful tips to help you get started on your journey.
Get Your Parenting Plan In Order
The first and most important step in your journey towards developing a successful co-parenting arrangement is to simply prepare a parenting plan that caters to both parents as well as the child or children. Your parenting plan should outline key elements like your child’s daily schedule, medicine and medication requirements, schooling and homework requirements, and other important considerations surrounding the child’s ongoing care. Ensuring that both parents have all these resources on-hand can help ensure that your child is comfortable no matter which guardian they may be with.
If you’re feeling uncertain about the process of preparing a parenting plan, then we highly recommend you consult a family lawyer. These professional and experienced third parties can help provide a little extra direction and guidance wherever it may be needed. Most family lawyers will likely also have plenty of prior experience with preparing or reading over parenting plans, so you can ensure that your own parenting plan adheres to a high standard and covers all bases surrounding the care and wellbeing of your child with special needs.
Align Your Schedules
It’s also imperative for parents who are looking to co-parent a child with special needs to ensure that their schedules are as aligned as possible. In other words, your own personal working hours and other commitments should be scheduled to occur outside of fixed appointments in your child’s own schedule (i.e. the school run, doctors appointments, extracurricular activities, etc.) For a child with special needs, having the consistency and structure of both their parents being available when they’re most likely to need them, can help that child feel infinitely more secure.
Alongside aligning your own schedules as parents, you should also ensure that your child’s schedule is as consistent as possible. This is particularly important for children with autism and other forms of neurodivergence, as they are likely to rely heavily on the consistency of their routines.
Prioritise Open & Honest Communication
Effective co-parenting begins with open and honest communication between parents. This is fundamental to ensuring that you can both maintain strong relationships not only with each other as co-parents, but also with your child. After all, co-parents who are able to communicate effectively amongst one another will naturally be less reliant on their children for information. This uncommunicative dynamic isn’t likely to be supportive for children with special needs in particular.
A good start when it comes to establishing open and honest communication between parents would be to develop a shared language and mutual respect that allows both parents to share information freely, with both parties being able to expect a respectful dialogue with every interaction. Co-parents are also encouraged to communicate regularly so that they can discuss any concerns or insights they may have regarding their child’s progress academically or socially.
By establishing this open floor for communication, parents can help improve their chances of staying ‘in the loop’ with regards to their child’s ongoing development and changing care requirements.
Enlist Help From Your Care Team
When caring for a special needs child, it’s important to keep in mind that you are never alone – even if you’re co-parenting. In fact, sometimes effective co-parenting involves enlisting help from your wider community or care team, whether this be in the form of asking the grandparents to babysit on a weekend day or seeking additional support from your child’s therapist, doctors, schoolteachers, or other professionals that may be involved in maintaining your child’s care plan.
Remember that both you and your other co-parent have the right to seek additional support if or whenever you feel you may need it. This is especially the case for co-parents who are preparing their child for a notable transition (i.e. the transition from elementary school to high school). In these periods of rapid change and growth, it’s simply natural to seek insights from other experts.
At the end of the day, harnessing the tailored expertise of your child’s wider care team and support network will allow you to maintain a more collaborative environment, where both your child and their co-parents can enjoy a strong sense of community.
Don’t Forget To Look After Your Own Wellbeing
Last but not least, don’t forget to look after your own wellbeing. Amidst the hustle and bustle of co-parenting for a child with special needs, it can be all too easy to neglect yourself. Remember that both you and your co-parent need to be at your best to provide the highest level of care for your child, so taking care of yourself is paramount.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist or counsellor who will be able to help you with the emotional aspects and challenges of co-parenting. You should also make time for self-care activities, whether it’s hitting the gym, indulging in a passion or hobby, or simply taking a few moments of the day for quiet reflection. By nurturing your own well-being, you’ll be better equipped to face the challenges of co-parenting, and in turn, be able to provide a healthier and more productive environment for your special needs child.
And there you have it — 5 helpful tips that are guaranteed to help you kickstart your co-parenting journey for a child with special needs on the right note. Remember, every step you take toward understanding and supporting your special needs child contributes to their future growth and happiness.