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Step parenting Children with Special Needs

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 18 Aug 2021 | comments*Discuss
Children Disabled Special Needs Help

Step-parenting can be a difficult endeavour and with special needs children who require additional help and support, the job can be even more challenging. But as all parents and stepparents know, loving a child and having that child love you back is one of life’s sweetest experiences, so making the effort to be the best stepparent possible is well worth the work and worry.

Learning about the Needs of Your Special Needs Stepchild

All children, regardless of their health, need some of the same basic things; beyond food and shelter, they need to feel safe and loved, and they need to know that no matter what life holds for them, there are people who will always be on hand to offer help and support. Some kids, though, require more than their peers due to a physical, mental, or emotional condition, so the significant adults in their lives need to educate themselves in order to provide the best possible care.

Whether a stepchild is physically disabled, intellectually challenged, or has a behavioural disorder, one of the best places to seek information is from the child’s doctor. Children with special needs may require professional assistance, such as physical therapy, speech therapy, counselling, or other treatments, so stepparents must first understand the child’s condition in order to get them the help that they need. Natural parents can be a great source of information as well, as they’ve likely been dealing with the child’s condition for longer than the stepparents.

Understanding the Physical, Emotional, and Financial Aspects of Care

Providing help to a disabled or special needs children can be physically and emotionally exhausting, especially if the children require constant care and attention. In addition to the difficulties of providing hands-on help, ongoing care can become financially burdensome, but in some cases, financial assistance is available for families with special needs children. Social workers can provide information and direct parents to agencies that may be able to help. Hiring outside helpers, even if it is only for an occasional break, can be beneficial to parents and stepparents who may sometimes feel overwhelmed by their caregiving responsibilities.

Following Your Spouse’s Lead in Caring for their Child

Parenting can be stressful, whether the children have special needs or are perfectly healthy. Stepparents can have an especially difficult time because their ideas may be different than those of that natural parents, yet when opinions vary, the natural parents have the right to make the final decisions. Often, stepparents provide a great deal of the day-to-day care of their stepchildren, so it can be hard for them to sit back and keep quiet when they feel that their opinions could benefit the children. The input of stepparents can be quite valuable, though, so they may want to discuss their ideas first with their spouse and then let them bring it up to the ex.

Exerting Patience with Your Special Needs Stepchild

Caring for children with special needs can require a great deal of patience and when carers are stressed and sleep deprived, patience can be hard to come by. It’s important for all caregivers, even those who are family members, to take time for themselves in order to rest and relax. In order to give their kids the help and support that they need to grow and develop well, parents need to take some time away to pursue hobbies, socialise with friends, and spend one-on-one time with their spouse and other children. While it can be hard to break away from children with special needs, parents need to remember that they’ll be better able to provide care for others when they take good care of themselves.

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I have an 8yo s-kid with DS. Every other weekend is miserable. If you are dating someone with a disabled kid think long and hard before you commit or move in together. It's so much harder than you think it's going to be. I started being a "disengaged step parent" and it helps A LOT. His kid = his problem. I don't care if people think I'm selfish, I'm not putting up with a spoiled, infantilized brat or either of the enabling bio-parent's garbage any more. Unless you are truly doing everything necessary to give your child with DS what they need to reach their highest potential, no one in the world should have to pick up your slack or your kid's slack. Kids with DS are perfectly capable of learning, it just takes time and opportunities to PRACTICE their skills. If you are doing everything for them how are they supposed to learn?
HumbleP - 18-Aug-21 @ 7:41 PM
Hello. I’d like some advice. My husband and I got married 8m ago and have been dating for a few years. Because my home was set up for my daughter already, he moved into our home. I have 2 daughters a 12yr old daughter with severe Cerebral palsy and a normal 10yr daughter. He does great with her but because I am mommy I primarily do what needs to be done for her. The issue is we are living in a COVID world now and my immediate family and friends are very aware of how I do things at home to keep her safe like if they aren’t feeling well or been around someone they will let me know and stay away. So I trust them to know that they won’t jeopardize her health. However my husband 3 kids that don’t live with us is still living like there is no COVID in their home. They still go to friends home and hang out. When they want to come overand spend time with their father it’s ALWAYS an issue because I don’t feel comfortable with them coming to our home where Im keeping it a safe environment and the other household does not. My husband feels like I don’t make his kids feel welcome and he can’t control what they do in the other home. I don’t feel like that’s my fault nor my concern. I can only control what goes on in my home. I don’t want to make him feel like his children are loved or welcome in our home but the safety and health of my daughter comes first for me. I don’t know how we can successfully continue this marriage with this being a constant struggle.
Toya - 31-May-21 @ 4:54 AM
I have a special needs stepdaughter who is 29 years old (very low IQ). She still lives with her Mother and stepfather.We have her every other week.My husband and I have been married almost 5 years.I really need your advice.When my stepdaugther - I will call her Haley comes the first day is fine and then my husband starts belittling me in front of her.I have spoken to him about it and he says I'm not being nice to her.I teach elementary children and I've never been accused of being mean. I ask Haley to help with things( like helping me clear the table afterdinner)and she will look at her father first and to see what he will say.( her parents don't engage her with chores) He says Haley has disdain for me.Her mother bashes me whenever she can.if i do something with haley ( she loves to shop) and take her to lunch - she will say she is having a great time and then come home and say the stores smelled and lunch was awful.I have an abundance of patience dealing with young children. I just don't know what to do.The marriage is strained to the point of separation.
kate - 10-Jul-20 @ 12:44 AM
I know how you fell I have a stepdaughter who has Down syndrome and it’s very overwhelming her dad brought her home from a group home she was very defiant there now she lives with us. It’s a nightmare she takes up all out time she where’s diapers and she poops her self at least six times a day it’s so much work taking care of her am so sick she yells and cussing and don’t want to do anything for herself am so drained and her father is sick and she yells and kicks at him it’s very nerve wrecking and unfair am so drained
Ginger - 28-Feb-20 @ 3:57 AM
My husband and I have been together roughly 20 years and he has helped me raise my children from my ex. They were 5 and 14 at the time we met. Shortly after we met we found out my daughter has bipolar borderline personality disorder and add. It has been a very hard road. My husband now and I have been married 15 years. So he has basically raised my children with me. My daughter who is 24 now has been living at home with is on and off now since she was 20. She will live with a guy and then break up and move home . She is a great kid but her reality isn't always what really is and she isn't able to hold down a full time job. Bit I am very stressed at this point my husband is now telling me it's either daughter moves out or he does. He says he can't take it anymore and she is never going to change. He flipped out because she was eating on the couch yesterday even tho he has told her a thousand times not to eat in livingroom . My children bio dad wasn't in their life for many years, his choice . And now is alittle. But their bio dad still lives with his mom so our daughter can't stay with him. I am just so torn and heart broken
Sammysue - 3-Dec-19 @ 6:17 PM
I just made a major mistake. My stepdaughter is mostly non verbal and wheelchair bound , she has a form of AMC in one of its severest forms. I’ve been in her life for 3 years and try everything to make her feel loved and like she is any other 9 year old. I look up activists and try to research what’s the best toys for her development and really have been putting my all into it. My husband and I have an 8mo old together too so it’s been so important to make sure that they know they are sisters , not “half” no other titles just true sisters.Because I’ve been trying so hard I’ve been feeling more confident in my role in my SD’s life. My husband and I were eating dinner and talking about theme parks and I made a comment like “if we get to bring StepDaughter than we won’t need to worry about fast passes” it was meant to be light hearted but my husband stormed off upstairs to our room. I tried to go up there to truly apologize and admit it was a stupid thing to say but there was no malice behind it. He refuses to talk to me and only said “make another comment like that and we’re done”. I understand I said the wrong thing but I don’t know if I deserve this treatment exactly. It just feels like all the progress I’ve made means nothing , like I’m still an outsider who can’t say the wrong thing even once. I feel awful all around.
Cali2texas - 19-Aug-19 @ 1:58 AM
I am in a similar situation with a 5 year old stepson with severe autism. My husband and I have him with us every Friday-Monday. I feel the exact same way you do. I am overwhelmed, worn out, and frustrated. I am a nurse, so I would have thought I could handle the situation better. We also have his 3 year old daughter those same days as well as my 8 year old and 2 year old daughters 100% of the time. I’m not sure what the answer is or if there is one. It is extremely difficult ??.
Sarah - 15-Jul-19 @ 11:37 PM
I've been searching the net trying to find answers that are practical, and that will help me.After reading previous comments, this has been the closest and best forum I have found.I am 48 and widowed a few years back.My wonderful and loving husband died of cancer after 7 1/2 years of battling it together.I remarried a "sometimes" wonderful police officer.The rest of the time I just want to be done dealing with the selfish brat that he can be and kick him out....that's another story.His son is 22yrs old and has Down's Syndrome.We have his son every other weekend.My husband would have him more often, but his ex uses the boy for manipulative hate ammo.His son is severely overweight because neither his mom nor dad have ever been on a healthy diet.He sneaks into things like cokes in the refrigerator (which are mostly diet anyway), or beef jerky in the grocery store.He demands Pizza Hut or he will call his mama.I don't give into this unhealthy lifestyle and serve him a salad and tuna fish on a toasted English muffin with a thin slice of fresh goat cheese.Things like that that are healthy.So then I'm becoming the "bad guy" because I'm the one setting boundaries and limits and rules.He is allowed to not eat what I give him and instead be peppered by his daddy..."Do you want me to cook you same eggs and bacon with green chili and tortillas on the side?".Fattening and unhealthy!Then for dinner he will be hounding me to buy him and his son Pizza!!...That's his dad for you.His son also has to be told to go to the bathroom or he will go in his pants.And of course when I say Chris, go to the bathroom.He tells me to leave him alone!He can talk some, communicate some...not a lot.But he sure knows how to say "Leave me alone Jerk!"When he does take himself to the bathroom he needs help or the bathroom will be covered in his poop. I see his son also as a manipulative person.He is very jealous of his father's attention and constantly puts himself between us.I used to laugh it off and say, "Oh how sweet.He loves his Daddy."But you should see the way he reacts...it's like....Yeah, I'm getting what I want again.When his father leaves the room the young man acts defiant towards me.Of course in little childish ways, but constantly.I get it."That's my daddy, go away".OK, but it's my house!I am feeling resentful.I have feelings that really bother me.I used to think I was a wonderful, caring and loving person.Then why don't I love this person?It is not his fault that he acts this way, he has been allowed to live life like this.I don't understand this disability and I did not raise this child. But why can't I find love in my heart for this person?Can someone give me advice?I know I obviously need to grow as a person.But can someone please give me a nudge in the right direction?I don't want to be that kind of person.The kind that can't make things work, and the kind that c
Outsider - 8-Nov-18 @ 9:57 PM
@Doormat I really feel for you and can't imagine what it feels like to feel trapped in this way and feeling there is no way out. I hope you can find some kind of joy. Have you told your husband how you feel? Is your husband supportive? Do you have respite? Speaking to a doctor may help as it could be making you depressed.
Mum3 - 6-Mar-18 @ 11:17 AM
Thanks for all the suggestions. Unfortunately my husband has no time off work left to attend therapies due to all the meetings upon meetings upon meetings HE has to attend for my step son. We have tried for years to get someone to help out (and paid a fortune for numerous ads). Unfortunately, noone wants to work with disabled adults. If I left, he would have to quit his job. And of course claiming 50 per cent of zero is...zero. Feels hopeless.
Doormat - 5-Mar-18 @ 4:28 PM
@Doormat. It is your husband that should take his son to his therapies. Can't you say to your husband that you are getting a job so he will have to find someone else to take your SS to his therapies? If you are married and move out you will be able to claim half of your marital/husbands assets and savings. Maybe you should think of the longterm and plan your leave by trying to save some money. You are obviously a very selfless person - maybe you should start being a bit more selfish. But remember what's his is also yours.
Jacq74 - 1-Mar-18 @ 2:45 PM
Thanks Stella. I really wish I could. Maybe I will win the lottery.
Doormat - 28-Feb-18 @ 4:58 PM
@Doormat - take control of the situation - I'm sorry to say, but only you can do that.
Stella - 27-Feb-18 @ 2:50 PM
I do more for my step son than his parents. I have lost all my savings, pension, career because of this situation. Can't get a job as someone has to take him to his therapies. How do i stop myself resenting my husband and step son? I already despise his mother.
Doormat - 26-Feb-18 @ 9:24 PM
I have been with my partner for 6 years. Lived with him for 4. We have his 26yo Daughter on a thrusday and Friday week in week out regardless of holidays or Christmas, we are never allowed by the mother to deviate from this pattern. The mother has mental health issues, won’t speak to any of us about anything including daighter’s care. She has brain damage from a virus as a toddler (I don’t know the name of it) but she still has seizures when asleep. She looks about 15 and probably has the capabilities of a 4yo. I am a primary teacher so know child development, but have no children of my own (sadly). Recently, the daughters behaviour has got so bad that she spits screams and lashes out when you ask her to anything: got to the toilet, go to bed, eat, drink, put the iPad away, take her medication. We are at the end of our tether. She has a social worker but they have been taken in by the mothers lies that everything is ok and won’t listen to us. She really should be in resitndtial care, but the mother won’t hear of it. She says even respite care is evil. So daughter goes to a carer’s house on a Monday and Tuesday (mother’s house is hoarders paradise), her older sister has her on a weds, we have her thurs and fri and the mum supposedly has her sat and sun, but we hear of both her sisters being asked to have her regularly. Where the hell do we go for support? How do we get social service to listen, and how do I get this moving without looking like I’m trying to get shot of her? If I thought it wouldn’t come back to my partner I would make an anonymous disclosure to adult safeguarding but I fear it will come back on him..... any advice gratefully received. Last time I found a website for help it changed my life forever, and for the better. Here’s hoping. K
Kateykins - 14-Dec-17 @ 9:53 PM
@Another DS stepmother - wow. That's pretty selfless giving your life over to caring for your stepdaughter, as it must be full-time care. I can't comment on this as despite your husband being a terrific guy it's a massive undertaking, especially as she is difficult. I hope you get some sort of respite. I find it difficult with my stepson's autism, but in comparison I've got it easy. Thank you for drawing attention to this.
RuthAT - 5-Dec-17 @ 1:54 PM
When I submitted, it cut off the last of my post.Anyway, the gist of the last piece is that my husband is thrilled with the changes in his daughter, and your input might be a gift your husband needs to make changes in your stepson's life for the better.
Another DS stepmothe - 4-Dec-17 @ 11:04 PM
@workingtogether @stepmom - it's different horses for courses. You're both doing great jobs, and neither of you have an easy job. It is about working together and keeping talking things over and agreeing to differ sometimes. We're all just muddling along - we can only do the best we can with the situation we have. Good luck both of you - reading this I realise I don't have that much to grumble about with my own step-teenager.
Alice^ - 18-May-17 @ 12:26 PM
I have been the step parent to a profoundly autistic young man who also has learning difficulties for the last 6 years. I realise that this is a different diagnosis which comes with different challenges but I have to disagree strongly with JFD67. My step son's mother left him 7 years ago as she missed her social life too much and couldn't deal with his behaviour any more. She has not paid a single penny in child support, ever. She used to have him fortnightly and now he sees her once a year as she moved so far away. My husband was left to pick up the pieces, both emotionally and financially. When I met my now husband, he was stuck in a rut as far as my step son's behaviour is concerned. I would deal with my husband's emotional meltdowns as he could not cope, as well as try to educate myself on autism.It was me that suggested we contact external agencies to get behaviour therapy and occupational therapy for my step son as well as finding social and sporting activities as his parents were far too defensive and resistent to looking for outside help from anyone. Now his mum is completely out of the picture - her choice. I have had to give up my professional career, I'm the one who collects him from school when he is sick and I am the one that takes him to all his medical appointments every week. The previous poster says that you should have known what you are taking on when you married him. I disagree. Noone can see into the future. Life changes.Nor can you always predict caregiver burnout. I could not have known that my step son's mother would do a runner completely (she was giving us a fortnightly break and now we never get a break), I could not have predicted that I would be the one to have to give up my career (my husband earns more plus his job relocated him), nor could I have predicted all the different and difficult behaviour that has come along with my step son going through puberty. Sometimes biological parents need to stop being so defensive and resistent to change for the best interests of the whole family.
workingtogether - 17-May-17 @ 7:53 PM
@Stepmom - if you're looking for affirmation, it might be slow in coming, especially if you are trying to change your husband's way of dealing with his son, a son he has known from birth. As you say, it is really not your place to impose opinions on how your husband deals with his son. Yet, reading further into your comment that is exactly what you want to do. You married your husband and his son comes as part of the package and you must have been aware of this before you married your man. Therefore, you must have known what you are taking on. The fact the son's mother has died must be a massive shake-up for his son. Leave your husband to get on with his relationship with his son in the ways he knows best (you can't change a habit of a lifetime). I feel your best approach is not to try and change his ways, but to support your husband and his son by working with him and not against him. If you haven't dealt with a Down's Syndrome person before, then you don't really have the answers i.e your way is not necessarily the right way. This may not be what you want to hear - but as a mother of a DS child this is what I personally feel. I know I'd hate it if someone came in and tried to change my way of doing things with my daughter. Jen.
JFD67 - 9-May-17 @ 11:21 AM
I recently remarried. My husband has an adult son with Down's syndrome.His mother is deceased. I realize that it is my husband and not me who is the guardian of the DS man. I realize that it is not my place to impose my opinions on how to deal with his son. Yet, since the young man with DS is part of my life, it is frustrating for me to stand by silently while my husband deals w his son in ways that I disagree with. I realize that a lot of the DS man's life is not my problem,buta lot of it is my problem.When he is with us, it affects me. And in my opinion, he would be easier to deal with if some things were done differently. I have to stay silent and put up with his behaviour (true I can set some boundaries for myself vs the young man,but in reality, there is a lot that affects me no matter what boundaries I may try to create ). My hus gets touchy about my ideas of how to guide the young man. Ialso know that my hus must appreciate whatever I do for his son, he must understand, deep down, that as much as he adores his son, taking on a stepson w DS is not something to take for granted. Yet I feel I would like to have more aknowledgement from my hus for what I have taken on/ deal with constantly. Do you have any suggestions or words of encouragement /support for me? Perhaps there are others w similar experiences who can compare notes/lend support?
stepmom - 8-May-17 @ 10:41 AM
Marcus's Mom - Your Question:
I need some advice on blending my fiance and his 2 boys (13 and 17) with my 17 yr old son with severe Cerebral Palsy. I love my fiance very much, but he does not involve my son with his children or really get much involved his self. He says my son is not "normal". And he is not going to make his boys do anything that makes them uncomfortable. Like visiting my son or helping with my son. In any way. My fiance is also not interested in physically helping with my son. Am I making a mistake? Or is this normal and I am expecting to much?

Our Response:
I think in this instance this can be only a question you seriously ask yourself. The fact you are having to pose the question in the first place points to you having doubts and those early 'screamers' or warnings are always something we should listen to, as they are likely to become very much more embedded the longer the relationship continues. I'm afraid that by stating your son is not 'normal' would be very off-putting for most, as this reaction is less than empathetic. By his very actions, he obviously wishes to distance himself from any relationship with your son, which will be of no help to you in the future - so please be aware that you will be doing much of the caring/visiting of your son alone. I would wait a lot longer before I took the leap and tied the knot here.
BeingAStepParent - 18-Feb-16 @ 2:02 PM
I need some advice on blending my fiance andhis 2 boys (13 and 17) with my 17 yr old son with severe Cerebral Palsy. I love my fiancevery much, but he does not involve my son with his children or really get much involved his self. He says my son is not "normal".And he is not going to make his boys do anything that makes them uncomfortable. Like visiting my son or helping with my son. In any way. My fiance is also not interested in physically helping with my son. Am i making a mistake? Or is this normal and I am expecting to much?
Marcus's Mom - 17-Feb-16 @ 10:01 PM
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