It’s always easier when there are two of you. It’s said the devil is in the details, and that’s doubly true when you need to remember everything for your special needs child. Don’t shy away from flying solo, even if you weren’t the primary caregiver before the divorce. You are intelligent, strong and capable. You’re a dad, and you can do this. Here’s a flight plan to get you started.

Pilot Priority: First Things First

Schedule a consultation with your child’s specialist. In the case of allergies, food and environmental, that usually means allergy/immunology. If you’re not certain where to go, start with your paediatrician. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology estimates that seven million children in the US have asthma and /or allergic diseases. If your ex was the primary point of contact, you need to establish your own relationship.

Even if you were part of the process in the past, a new visit on your own is in order. Now’s the time to share new phone numbers and addresses, to review past history, and most importantly, now is the time to ask questions. Plan ahead. Make a list and remember: ask about everything.

Identification: Know What to Ask About Your Special Needs Child

Your experience to date with your own child should steer you in the right direction, but we’ve assembled a list of questions that can apply in many situations. Ask, even if you think you know the answer.

  1. Who do I contact after hours and what is the phone number?
  2. What constitutes an emergency situation where I should head straight to the emergency room? We are conditioned to “wait and see” but you need to know if that’s an effective strategy for your child’s situation. Hives may respond to an oral antihistamine, anaphylaxis requires immediate treatment.
  3. Can we go over a list of my child’s medications and their side effects? Keep a list of your child’s medications and contact numbers for your doctor in your smart phone.
  4. Are there any food interactions with prescribed medications? Sometimes it isn’t the medications, it’s what you eat when you take the medicine.  Make certain you know what not to offer.
  5. If we travel, what concerns do I need to address?
  6. My child has an EpiPen. Can you review how to use it?
  7. If I need to administer epinephrine, do I need to go to the emergency room as well? One and done isn’t the case with epinephrine. A trip to the ER is in order to make certain there no instances of rebound. Anaphylaxis can be a two-part reaction, with an additional reaction happening between eight and 72 hours after the first.
  8. Is there anything I should have with me at all times to manage my child’s condition? In some cases, it’s an EpiPen.  With food allergies, you don’t want to rely on finding allergy-friendly food when you’re out. Pack a “go-bag” and take it with you.  Children with diabetes often need to address low glucose levels; make certain you have acceptable food along with their insulin and testing supplies.  If you have a child with sensory issues, you may need headphones or ear plugs. Every special needs child is different; find out what your child needs.  Have a bag that stays at your house, and one that goes with you.
  9. Last question: Is there anything I forgot to ask? Give your doctor this chance to add any information he/she feels you need.

Training & Standby:  24/7

You may not feel like it, but starting now, you’re the authority on what to do. As the pilot, it’s your job to step up and make certain everyone who interacts with your child knows the plan.  And it’s up to you to train them. Asthma, diabetes, autism, food allergies, developmental issues.  The list is long and varied. Each child is unique and there’s no one-size-fits-all guide.

This is one area in life that remains very much a pilot/copilot scenario. The only variable is who sits in the pilot’s seat. Parenting is challenging with any child, but special needs require the combined skills of both parents. Regardless of your post-marital situation, this one demands complete cooperation between you and your ex. Craft your flight plan together, agree to back each other up and be on standby if the need arises.

Identify. Ask. Explain:  Creating a Support Circle

Look at the people around you and choose your support structure wisely. Who does your child like? Who makes your kid feel safe and comfortable? Who would you call if you needed help? If one or two names rise to the top, you’ve got your answer.

Before you need it, ask. Talk with those friends and family members ahead of time to make certain they’re comfortable with your plan. Never assume. Agreement on their part means training, phone numbers and accountability. Most are happy to help, but they need to be prepared.

Basic Training for Your Team

For example, training someone to use an EpiPen is relatively easy. Convincing them to actually use it if needed is something else entirely. Help everyone get over the squeamish factor by using the trainer provided with the EpiPen. It’s a dummy injector that can be reset over and over to practice. As with everything in life, practice makes perfect. It also makes it easier.

Only Accept Volunteers

Identify your needs, ask your potential team members if they are willing to help, and explain everything that is involved in your request. Remember to be respectful if the answer is no. It’s better to know beforehand, but try not to judge if a friend decides to opt-out. There is a true expectation of responsibility and that can make some people uncomfortable. And that’s okay. You just need to know.

Pilot-in-Command:  It Isn’t Lonely at the Top

You’ve met with the doctor. You’ve reached an agreement with your ex; you’re on the same page. You’ve created a support circle. Now what?

Do your research. There are online support/information groups for virtually every condition or special need. Support groups are essential in helping you to network. To find a good dentist. To get access to successful treatment programs. To bounce ideas. To help you solve problems.  Review the options and subscribe to bonafide websites that offer information and updates. Several good options include:

FARE:  Food Allergy Research & Education

The Pep Squad: Support group for diabetes

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: Educational Support Groups


Cancer Support Groups

Getting Your Gold Wings: Enjoy Your Child

It’s easy to get caught up in the management aspect of special needs. To make certain you have the right food. To double-check that you really do have the inhaler. To obsessively check the time before the next blood test. To wonder if the environment is too loud or too distracting.  You literally can drive yourself crazy.


Remember that in spite of all the conditions, it’s about a kid and a dad. It’s about spending time together, creating a bond that belongs to the two of you. Your perfect day doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s. It’s about building a relationship that is as unique and wonderful as your child. And that’s worth its weight in gold.


Are you a newly single dad? Share your questions in the comments box below.

You have to be able to work with your ex for the good of the child. Make sure everyone is on the same page. Co-parenting Agreements Put Your Kid’s Best Interests First. Take care of yourself as well as your kids. Real Men Join Divorce Support Groups.

Do you or someone you know have a special-needs child?

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(c) Can Stock Photo / yarruta

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