Resources for Special Needs Parents with Young Children

Father and son playing with paper airplaneLast week, I had the honor of attending and speaking at Postpartum Support International’s 25th Annual Conference in Seattle, WA. I was moved and inspired by the amazing work gestating and being born in the perinatal world by so many compassionate professionals. (Refresher: “perinatal” refers to the time from conception, through pregnancy, on through the first year after having a baby.)

My dear colleague Gabrielle Kaufman, BC-DMT, NCC and I presented a workshop on special needs parenting as relates to the family experiencing perinatal challenges. Both Gabrielle and I have found in our practices a large number of women and families who are impacted by the double whammy of a perinatal mood/anxiety disorder (PMAD), coupled with parenting a special needs child. We felt it was important to highlight this population of folks who are in great need of resources and support. Although this subject could be an entire week-long conference, we discussed the following highlights that are pertinent for special needs families and the people that support them.

It’s hard to define special needs, as we all are special and we all have challenges. We choose to define special needs as a child in a family system who is experiencing the challenge of a neurological, emotional, behavioral, developmental, or physical disability. This challenge affects the entire family system on several levels.

  1. One in 10 children have a disability (neurological, emotional, behavioral, developmental, physical)
  2. Parents of special needs children are more at risk for depression and anxiety
  3. Couples (parents) of special needs children benefit from support such as psychotherapy and regular date nights (50% or more of all special needs couples divorce)
  4. “Neurotypical” siblings benefit from support in the form of sibling support groups, one-on-one attention from parents, and open-ended discussion of feelings/solutions to concerns associated with being a special needs family (i.e., role-playing how to handle being in public with special needs sibling, preventing parentification, etc.)
  5. Stigma is real and exists, even in the 21st century. Therefore, family discussions need to happen to address this concern and to build social support networks.
  6. Family/couple/individual therapy and support groups were found to be helpful in buffering the effects of stress and lowering depression/anxiety in these family systems in several studies
  7. The special needs family is exposed to chronic stress and therefore requires an ongoing stress management program that will lower the effects of cortisol and adrenaline (the fight or flight response) that develop. For example, self-care, yoga, psychotherapy, respite care, support groups.

Below are some helpful resources we found to be beneficial.


Organizational Aids:


  • Baskin, A., & Fawcett, H. (2006). More than a mom: Living a full and balanced life when your child has special needs. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.
  • Celebi, J. (2008). Overwhelmed no more!: The complete system for balanced living for parents of children with special needs. Joan Celebi.
  • Domar, A. (2001). Self-nurture: Learning to care for yourself as effectively as you care for everyone else. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
  • Fogel Schneider, E. (2006). Massaging your baby. New York, NY: Square One.
  • Gil, B. (1998). Changed by a child: Companion notes for parents of a child with a disability. Pella, IA: Main Street Books.
  • Meyer, D. (1997). Views from our shoes. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.
  • Seligman, M. (2004). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York, NY: Free Press.
  • Seligman, M. (2006). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life. New York, NY: Vintage.

Parental Self-Care:

Other Materials:

This list of resources is far from comprehensive, as every day the Web has new sites on the special needs family. We chose to highlight a few websites and books which we found to be helpful for our clients and our practice, as perinatal psychotherapists.

© Copyright 2011 by Andrea Schneider, LCSW. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Kale

    September 20th, 2011 at 3:36 PM

    What makes me mad is that these are the monies that are being cut on a very regular basis.
    These are the families that depend on this money and their services and they are being cut and ignored right and left!
    Why are their needs any less important than others?

  • elizabeth

    September 20th, 2011 at 4:27 PM

    I’d like to remind everyone here of what special needs is. Please realize that special need covers a wide range of disabilities, it is not just a term for mentally challenged as many believe. Physical disabilities are also under the category of special needs.

    Your compilation of resources is top notch. While I will not have much use for them my sister (who is a special ed teacher) will. Should keep her busy for sometime. I’ve seen her reading “Overwhelmed No More!” so you and her have similar taste in books. If you have any recommendations meant for teachers it would be greatly appreciated.

  • Andrea Schneider, LCSW

    September 20th, 2011 at 9:57 PM

    I want to be sure to highlight Gabrielle Kaufman’s program at Jewish Family Services-Los Angeles/New Moms Connect. Please Google for more information about the wonderful programs at Gabrielle’s center, including a sibling special needs support group.

  • DAN

    September 21st, 2011 at 11:35 AM

    Its really sad how parents and even the family of a special needs child have to go through all these problems(and even more when it comes to the special needs child himself) although there was no mistake of theirs.Its like being punished for something that you had no role to play in!

    But,why is this punishment happening?Due to various reasons as the article has pointed out. Although we cannot prevent natural things, it sure is possible to get our society rid of the stigma associated and give these people some peace, right?!

    I’m just frustrated when such people are looked down upon by ‘normal’ people. If you’re doing that then you are not normal, you are the one with a problem!

  • pam Gowan

    September 21st, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    I have a child who is autistic, and let me tell you, withour our social workers and team that keeps us up to date and educated I really do not know what we would do!
    Our pediatrician is great, yes, but there is so much other valuable information that those in the know can help you get your hands on, and without that extra info I think that my husband and I would both feel a little lost at sea.
    They help us to sort through what is worthwhile and what is old news, and I am forever thankful for the services and the resources that we have been eligibe for over the years.
    I hope that it continues to be funded.

  • Dr.N A

    April 2nd, 2022 at 5:10 PM

    I teach special education and I really benefited from your comments about counseling parents of children with disabilities.
    Please send me more if possible

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