Dating When You Have a Child with Special Needs
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It really isn’t as hard as it sounds . . . most of the time!
When I took a position at a summer camp that hosted many children with special needs, I never imagined the training and experience I had there would prepare me for my own dating life. I’m a Solo Mom of four children, with one who is on the autism spectrum, and I met an amazing man whose child is also on the spectrum. Despite my experience, I still needed a mini crash course simply because our two children are very different, and I wanted as much information as possible so that his son could feel comfortable and secure around me as we all got to know one another. I learned a lot in those first weeks, and I hope that sharing my experience can be helpful, especially to those Solo Moms out there experiencing a new dating scenario of their own.
Every child is different. Parents with more than one child can agree that each child is unique and can be quite different from one another. When I met my boyfriend’s son, even though I had worked with children before, my mind was blown by how different our boys were, despite sharing some of the same diagnoses.
If you’re meeting your partner’s child with special needs for the first time, before jumping in, get some background information. Simply asking questions about the child shows you care enough to take an interest in what the child goes through on a daily basis, and researching the child’s condition and knowing the basics can be extremely helpful if you are ever caring for the child.
Some questions you might want to ask include the following:
- What does the child look like, and what are his or her dislikes?
- Does the child have any medical conditions or use any medical devices for assistance that I should know about before meeting the child?
- Is the child affected by any triggers, such as sounds or bright lights and colors?
- How does the child react to changes and new people?
On the flip side, if you are the parent of a child with special needs and you’ve just started dating someone new, be ready to answer questions and share resources that helped you along the way. Of course, you can wait to share in-depth information until you’re sure this person is invested and you’re ready to introduce him or her to your child.
Do your best to stay calm and be patient. One of the most important things I have learned while working with children with special needs is that when something major happens, such as a medical emergency, and your initial reaction is to freak out because you don’t instinctively know what to do, it’s imperative to stay calm in the child’s presence. Even with my own child with special needs, that is something I struggle with. If you find yourself in an emergency that has been intensified by emotions, if 911 must be called and other people are with you, ask one person to call while you or another person stays with the child. The worst thing you can shout in an emergency is, “Someone call 911!”
The child may have behavioral issues, and that can be true for any child. Again, when facing behavioral issues or defiance, it is extremely important for you to stay calm and not allow the child to see that he or she is getting under your skin, especially if you’re dealing with a teenager. Some children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other disorders simply may not understand the way you’re explaining something to them, and often their resulting frustration may come out in ways that will make you want to yell at them, which may lead to a full-blown meltdown.
Don’t let other children who are involved get lost in the mix. The biggest downside to having a large, blended family is that it is easy for a child to feel lost in the mix of controlled chaos. When you add one or more children who require more attention or medications and therapies, parents can often feel as if they’re being “spread thin,” and it’s easy for the other children to feel overlooked or become overwhelmed. It’s important for you and your partner to develop a team strategy, if possible, especially if you both have children, so one adult can focus extra attention on the child who needs it while the other adult offers a distraction to the other children, which can be as simple as playing a game, watching a movie together, or going to a playground, depending on their ages and interests.
Communication is key. Above all, you and your partner must communicate well, especially because children are involved. We often underestimate our children, and even my child on the spectrum has asked my partner to do or have things he knows he’s not supposed to; but after he was told that he’d still have to clear what he wanted with me, he stopped asking because he realized my partner and I were united on that front and he couldn’t pull one over on me.
If something makes you uneasy or bothers you, talk to your partner about it sooner rather than later to avoid any resentment creeping in early in the game. Communication is important here, as it can be easy to overlook our partner’s need to feel loved and appreciated. It is also important to make a solid effort to encourage your and your partner’s children to communicate well with you and among themselves, which can be easier said than done, as likely there will be some differences in your parenting styles.
As a Solo Mom of four children with one on the autism spectrum, I expected and accepted that I was going to be single for a long time, and the man I’ve been dating also felt the same way about his situation. I never realized how difficult it can be to date someone who also has a child with special needs, and the experience has helped me learn to appreciate his efforts to be a great male role model in my children’s lives.
What dating challenges have you faced? Check out our Dating Resource section for fun articles and great tips for Solo Moms who are dating.
Tara Glenn is a Solo Mom of four who currently resides in Pensacola, Florida. She has a background in public affairs, writing, and photography. Tara spent five years in the Navy and now volunteers with the Civil Air Patrol as a public affairs officer. She enjoys working with small businesses as a ghostwriter as well as encouraging her children’s love for aviation in her free time—the running joke being that she only creates pilots, as all of her children love to fly!
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