5 Reasons Special Needs Dads are Awesome
by Shannon Aronin on June 21st, 2015

The special needs community often seems to be driven by moms. Us moms, we have support groups, both online and off. We seem to be at the center of advocacy and we’re the ones always talking about it. But in honor of Father’s Day, I would like to give a hand to the dads, and specifically my other half. Parenting a special needs child is both harder and more rewarding than anyone expects when they find out they are expecting. I am so grateful to have a husband who is truly a partner, in fact sometimes I think he is better than me at everything (not that I would admit it!).

1. Patience X 2: All children require patience as they learn. But parents of neurotypical (NT) children have no idea what patience really means. I’m talking gift of the spirit, I can deliberately use some behavior modification technique when right this minute I am trying to remember that I don’t hit my kid level of patience. Patience to listen to conversations about Minecraft until the end of time. Patience for how much longer it takes to do things we once took for granted as simple, like leaving the house. Patience for ourselves as we constantly over or under-estimate what our son can do. 

The reason it takes two people to make a baby is that it really requires two people to raise a baby. Single parents amaze me because they seem to be able to do it all, but the rest of us mere mortals benefit our children a great deal by having the ability to tap out. I don’t expend MY patience if my husband is already handling an issue. In five minutes he may have expended his patience and it will be my turn again. This is a common approach for many families, it’s just that special needs parents need to tap out a lot more often and jump back in more quickly. Tapping out of NT parenting is a little like a baseball pitcher. You threw a good six innings, now go sit down. Tapping out with a special needs child is more like the organized chaos of hockey – on the fly substitutions happening at break-neck speed. 
2. Understanding: My husband can personally relate to some aspects of my son’s challenges better than I can. Being more tuned in to what makes Boo tick can not only makes him kinder, he helps me to understand which makes me kinder too. It’s hard for all of us to understand how this child can code a computer but has difficulty with basic life skills. We’ve recently learned more about why, and that helps, but the asynchrony of being able to code a computer but not bathe or dress himself without assistance and an endless loop of prompting is really frustrating and it feels like you need a PhD sometimes to figure out what IS a reasonable expectation for him. My husband is also able to use this understanding to pick his battles, and talk me out of having more than a few. For example, Boo has fine motor issues. He cannot even stand the idea of trying to learn to tie his shoes. There have been more than one shoe store meltdowns when asked if he wanted to consider laces. This drives me crazy. I have an almost eight year-old and I feel like a failure because I have not even begun to teach shoe tying. My husband on the other hand has pointed out that grown men in today’s world really don’t NEED to learn to tie any shoes. If velcro is a requirement, than Velcro is a requirement. Dress shoes can be slip-on. No big deal. 
3. Who Gives a Hoot? We have to spend so much time analyzing our children. Why did he act out that specific way at that specific moment in that specific place? What happened right before any incident? This all takes a lot of brain space. My husband is the one who realizes, that like picking our battles with our son, there are a very limited number of people’s opinions on which we should waste a single thought. He doesn’t care what other people think and is often less rattled by them as a result. In a world where I often feel the need to explain, he doesn’t. When I worry about what someone thinks of him or of us, he is the one to ask why do you care? Particularly because I’m not, I’m grateful for his laid back attitude about other people’s opinions. 
4. Commitment: Again, all parenting takes commitment. Some NT parents choose to commit bigger and better than everyone else, see Mommy Wars. But special needs parents aren’t giving and giving and giving so their special snowflake can be the best, this is literally what is required of us. If you have ever worried about whether your NT child’s pre-school will help or her get into the right college, well… you won’t find any sympathy here. Special needs parents have an endless number of doctor appointments and therapy appointments and IEP meetings and assessments and and and! With the exception of doctor appointments which we typically divide and conquer, my husband has never missed any of these things ever. I have never filled out a diagnostic questionnaire form without him sitting right next to me, making jokes about how ridiculous the questions are and pouring me a glass of wine. Ugh. I just realized one of our successful marriage “couple rituals” is how we approach filling out the damn paperwork! It is a commitment to my son to be there for all of those things, but it is also a commitment to me. We get through this together. Even if our genes collided to make this extraordinary little person, I  done good picking my baby daddy. 
5. Unity: We have mastered the art of good cop/bad cop. It starts with our son, and we take turns at it. He will even notice if I have had to play bad cop recently and offer me the good cop role. We do it with the school too. If I have been writing the emails and doing all the demanding, and I break because something happens and I just can’t do it anymore he is the one who will puff up his chest and go down to the school and tell the principal we are not sending our son back to school until this is fixed. The change in tone coming from the quieter one is often what is most heard. 
​Happy Fathers’ Day to the best husband a girl could ask for, and a happy fathers’ day to all the special needs dads out there who are determined to make their kids’ lives as good as they can be no matter what it takes or the sacrifices called for.

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Theresa - June 22nd, 2015 at 9:57 AM
Nicely written! Oh, and we buy locklaces for our kids' shoes. They tear the velcro almost immediately and can't tie shoes either (not a battle worth fighting, cuz, internet:http://www.locklaces.com/). Enjoy!
- June 22nd, 2015 at 11:21 AM
That is really cool! I almost think I should show a picture before even saying anything? For some reason the very idea of shoelaces scare the hell out of him. He finally explained to me one day how every kid who wore shoelaces was always tripping over them and being told to tie them. At which point I re-evaluated his perspective. Still, I just hate to think of tying shoelaces as a dying art!
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