The Special Needs Family


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Tim Sweeney, Licensed Clinical Social, presents The Special Needs Family as part of the 2009 Spring Brown Bag Autism series at the University of Mary Washington.

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The Special Needs Family

  1. 1. Tim Sweeney, LCSW University of Mary Washington April 22, 2009 The Special Needs Family
  2. 2. <ul><li>Provide a loving and nurturing environment for your child </li></ul><ul><li>Strive for a happy and healthy marriage </li></ul><ul><li>Develop and live by a family mission statement </li></ul><ul><li>Provide each child the opportunity to develop to their potential </li></ul>Family Priorities
  3. 3. <ul><li>Regardless of our family structure, the most important thing we can do for our children is provide secure attachment. </li></ul>Priority #1 – Provide a Loving and Nurturing Environment
  4. 4. <ul><li>Attachment is the enduring emotional tie between infant and caregiver. </li></ul><ul><li>John Bowlby </li></ul><ul><li>Attachment is a biological system of proximity seeking behavior to specific figures for protection and/or comfort. </li></ul><ul><li>Robert Neborsky </li></ul>Attachment Theory
  5. 5. <ul><li>A ttunement - Aligning the parent’s own internal states with those of the child, often accomplished by the sharing of non-verbal signals. </li></ul><ul><li>B alance - A child’s attainment of balance of its body, emotions and states of mind through attunement with the parent. </li></ul><ul><li>C oherence - The sense of integration that is acquired by the child through its relationship with its parents in which the child is able to come to feel both internally integrated and interpersonally connected to others. </li></ul><ul><li>Siegal and Hartzell </li></ul><ul><li>Parenting from the Inside Out </li></ul>The ABCs of Attachment
  6. 6. <ul><li>Secure Attachment (50-67% of us) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Caregiver is responsive and nurturing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Offers a safe haven and secure base </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Promotes healthy and autonomous relationships </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can recover from misfortune </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Rarely acts as victim </li></ul></ul>Types of Attachment
  7. 7. <ul><li>Insecure Attachment </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Avoidant </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Dismissive, aloof, disconnected </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Anxious </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Resistant, angry, passive, needy </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Disorganized </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Most difficult type </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Abusive caregiver </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Caregiver is source of terror and alarm </li></ul></ul></ul>Types of Attachment
  8. 8. <ul><li>Neglect </li></ul><ul><li>Rejection </li></ul><ul><li>Role Reversal </li></ul><ul><li>Inconsistency </li></ul><ul><li>Abuse (Physical, Sexual, Emotional) </li></ul><ul><li>“ Good Enough Parenting” </li></ul><ul><li>D. W. Winnicott </li></ul>Parental Behaviors that Threaten Secure Attachment
  9. 9. <ul><li>By making sense of the impact of insecure attachment on our own lives </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Be the author of our own life story.” Daniel Siegel </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Find supportive, empathic emotional relationships that encourage authenticity and nurturing, direct communication. </li></ul>Breaking the Cycle of Insecure Attachment
  10. 10. <ul><li>Be open to internal recollections that can fit into a larger picture of your life. </li></ul><ul><li>Have attuned communication between parent and child to share and amplify positive emotions and share and soothe negative ones. </li></ul><ul><li>Work on leftover issues of the parent that can block secure attachment and block accurate perception of child’s signals. </li></ul>Promoting Secure Attachment
  11. 11. <ul><li>Any Marriage with a Special Needs Child or Children is a Special Marriage </li></ul><ul><li>You must have basics of a </li></ul><ul><li>good marriage </li></ul><ul><li>before you can have a </li></ul><ul><li>Special Marriage </li></ul>Priority #2 – Strive for a Happy And Healthy Marriage
  12. 12. <ul><li>John Gottman, PhD: two distinct periods during a marriage/relationship </li></ul><ul><ul><li>When we disagree </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>When we get along </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Influences the intensity/ depth/outcomes of disagreements </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>He calls it “positive sentiment override” </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>Fundamentals of a Good Marriage
  13. 13. <ul><li>Accentuate the positive </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t eliminate the negative </li></ul><ul><li>Have a positive to negative interaction ratio of at least 5 to 1 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Results in Positive Sentiment Override </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Marriages of a 1 to 1.25 positive to negative ratio spells serious trouble </li></ul>Successful Relationships
  14. 14. <ul><li>69% of all divorces are caused by unresolvable differences that are not addressed ! </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Conflict resolution tactics will not help </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Couples must learn to come to an arrangement on major problems while honoring and respecting each other </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Develop tolerance </li></ul></ul>Unresolvable Differences?
  15. 15. <ul><li>“ What counts in making a happy </li></ul><ul><li>marriage is not so much how </li></ul><ul><li>compatible you are, but how </li></ul><ul><li>you deal with incompatibility.” </li></ul><ul><li>Leo Tolstoy </li></ul>
  16. 16. <ul><li>Harsh Startup (starting off on wrong foot) </li></ul><ul><li>Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Criticism – vague, broad, attacks character </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Contempt – sarcasm, disgust, mockery, hostile humor </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Defensiveness – denial, excuses, cross-complaining </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Stonewalling – withdrawal, refusal to engage </li></ul></ul>Negative Interactions
  17. 17. <ul><li>Criticism – the antidote is a complaint </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Specific, behavior-oriented, not attacking character </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Defensiveness – accepting responsibility for part of the problem </li></ul><ul><li>Contempt – creating a culture of praise and pride </li></ul><ul><li>Stonewalling – self-soothing, staying emotionally connected </li></ul>Antidotes to the Four Horsemen
  18. 18. <ul><li>50% - marriages </li></ul><ul><li>67% - second marriages </li></ul><ul><li>74% - third marriages </li></ul><ul><li>65-72% of marriages with special needs children </li></ul>Divorce Rates
  19. 19. <ul><li>Sweden – 54.9% </li></ul><ul><li>Australia – 46% </li></ul><ul><li>Russia – 43.3% </li></ul><ul><li>Germany – 39.4% </li></ul><ul><li>Japan – 27% </li></ul><ul><li>Singapore – 17.2% </li></ul><ul><li>Spain – 15.2% </li></ul><ul><li>Albania – 10.9% </li></ul><ul><li>Italy – 10% </li></ul><ul><li>Turkey – 6% </li></ul><ul><li>India 1.1% </li></ul><ul><li>2002 – Americans for Divorce Reform </li></ul>Divorce Rates in Other Countries
  20. 20. <ul><li>Any marriage with </li></ul><ul><li>one or more </li></ul><ul><li>special needs child </li></ul><ul><li>is a special marriage. </li></ul>The Special Marriage
  21. 21. <ul><li>“ The National Survey of Children with Special </li></ul><ul><li>Health Care Needs 2005-2006” </li></ul><ul><li>Study done by the Department of Health and Human Services – Health Resources and Services Administration </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>Special Needs Defined
  22. 22. Special Needs Defined <ul><li>Children with Special Health Care Needs are </li></ul><ul><li>“ ...those who have or are at increased risk for a chronic physical, developmental, behavioral, or emotional condition and who also require health and related services of a type or amount beyond that required by children generally.” </li></ul><ul><li>McPherson, M,, Pediatrics , 102(1):137–140, 1998 </li></ul>
  23. 23. <ul><li>13.9% of children in U.S. or 10.2 million children are special needs (16.1% boys, 11.6% girls) </li></ul><ul><li>3.5% of special needs children are uninsured </li></ul><ul><li>1/3 of families say insurance coverage is insufficient </li></ul><ul><li>23.8% of parents cut back/stop working </li></ul>Survey Results
  24. 24. <ul><li>Gender differences can be more pronounced </li></ul><ul><li>Conflicts about the disability can interfere with relationship </li></ul><ul><li>One parent (usually the mother) gets enmeshed in the disability </li></ul><ul><li>One parent (usually the father) gets distant and develops more outside interests (work) </li></ul>Challenges of the Special Marriage
  25. 25. <ul><li>Denial of disability – The “He/she will be fine” school of thought </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Other spouse has to become the total resource coordinator </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Loss of idealized child – grief </li></ul><ul><li>Disagreement on level/style of intervention </li></ul><ul><li>Marriage gets neglected </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Child’s disability becomes the central issue of the marriage </li></ul></ul>Common Pitfalls
  26. 26. <ul><li>Recognize/discuss differences in your feelings about the child(ren). </li></ul><ul><li>Develop helpful support structures </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Associations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Groups </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Other parents </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Divide and conquer </li></ul><ul><ul><li>e.g., mothers do appointments and fathers advocate with insurance company </li></ul></ul>Keeping the Marriage Special
  27. 27. <ul><li>Honor the relationship </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Have a life outside of the disability </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>As possible, do things as a couple </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>As possible, do things for yourself </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Mothers often prefer being with friends </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Fathers often prefer doing things </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Work on issues within the marriage </li></ul>Special Marriages
  28. 28. <ul><li>Women: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Recognize the intensity of emotions is overwhelming for men </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Men often react by working harder and can feel unappreciated for doing so </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Men need education about the disability </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Men can take longer to process the situation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Are solution-oriented and may try to “fix” the child </li></ul></ul>Address Gender Differences
  29. 29. <ul><li>Men: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Women often feel they are carrying too much of the burden </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Provide more help than is customary </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Spend time with the child (floor time) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Good for the child </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Let’s mother have time for other things </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Women have needs to convey their feelings more than men </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Need listening and compassion </li></ul></ul></ul>Address Gender Differences
  30. 30. <ul><li>Be aware of the emotional peaks and valleys in having a child with special needs </li></ul><ul><li>Guilt and blame damage intimacy and ruin the marriage </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid criticizing your spouse concerning his/her approach to treating the disability. Let your spouse learn from mistakes. </li></ul><ul><li>Both parents being very involved with parenting increase chances of successful special marriages </li></ul>Special Marriages
  31. 31. <ul><li>Identity is driven by equal input from parents and children </li></ul><ul><li>Make the family the priority </li></ul><ul><li>Create “Family Time” and be faithful to it </li></ul><ul><li>Develop a family mission statement </li></ul>Priority #3 – Develop and Live by a Family Mission Statement
  32. 32. <ul><li>Be proactive </li></ul><ul><li>Begin with the end in mind </li></ul><ul><li>Put first things first </li></ul><ul><li>Think “win-win” </li></ul><ul><li>Seek first to understand…then to be understood </li></ul><ul><li>Synergize </li></ul><ul><li>Sharpen the saw </li></ul>Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families
  33. 33. <ul><li>Explore what your family is all about </li></ul><ul><li>Write your family mission statement </li></ul><ul><li>Use it to stay on track </li></ul>Develop a Family Mission Statement
  34. 34. <ul><li>Our family mission: </li></ul><ul><li>To love each other </li></ul><ul><li>To help each other </li></ul><ul><li>To believe in each other </li></ul><ul><li>To wisely use our time, talents, and resources to bless others </li></ul><ul><li>To worship together </li></ul><ul><li>Forever </li></ul>Sample Family Mission Statement
  35. 35. <ul><li>Our family mission: </li></ul><ul><li>To always be kind, respectful, and supportive of each other, </li></ul><ul><li>To encourage each of us to reach our potential, </li></ul><ul><li>To keep a spiritual feeling in the home, </li></ul><ul><li>To love each other unconditionally, </li></ul><ul><li>To be responsible to live a happy, healthy and fulfilling life, </li></ul><ul><li>To make this house a place we want to come home to. </li></ul>Sample Family Mission Statement
  36. 36. <ul><li>Parent all children the same way </li></ul><ul><li>Recognize and respect sibling needs </li></ul><ul><li>Provide for all aspects of your child’s or children’s needs </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Treatment for the special needs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Allow for development in other areas </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Give each child one-on-one time </li></ul><ul><li>Let them be kids </li></ul>Priority #4 – Provide Each Child the Opportunity to Develop to his/her Potential
  37. 37. <ul><li>Have higher rate of childhood depression </li></ul><ul><li>May feel they have to overachieve to make up for their brother/sister </li></ul><ul><li>May bury their feelings/problems </li></ul><ul><li>Can be embarrassed by their siblings </li></ul><ul><li>Teased/bullied at school </li></ul><ul><li>Resentful of limited/infrequent family outings </li></ul><ul><li>May worry about their long-term future </li></ul><ul><li>May worry that condition is contagious </li></ul>Special Siblings
  38. 38. <ul><li>Have open family discussions and encourage the expression of honest feelings </li></ul><ul><li>Explain the disability to them in terms they can understand </li></ul><ul><li>Give them privacy </li></ul><ul><li>Be a positive role model on how to handle challenges </li></ul>Tips for Parenting Special Siblings
  39. 39. <ul><li>Family Priorities </li></ul><ul><li>Provide a loving and nurturing environment for your child </li></ul><ul><li>Strive for a happy and healthy marriage </li></ul><ul><li>Develop and live by a family mission statement </li></ul><ul><li>Provide each child the opportunity to develop to their potential </li></ul>Summary
  40. 40. <ul><li>Tim Sweeney, LCSW </li></ul><ul><li>11244 Waples Mill Road, Suite K </li></ul><ul><li>Fairfax, VA 22030 </li></ul><ul><li>703-359-4848 </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>Thank You!