“When fathers learn that their child will have lifelong special needs or that they have a dangerous illness, their reactions can range from shock, to acceptance, to greater love. Fathers often try and meet these challenges with courage and ingenuity. Many fathers are highly committed to their special needs children and devote long hours to the physical and emotional care of their children” (Brotherson & Dollahite, 1997).
Father involvement is a key practice to preventing child abuse among all children, especially those with special needs. Accessible fathers are exceptionally suited to both protect their special needs child and move them toward independent self-protection. This is done by being the keeper of their dreams.
Children need a father who believes their unique dreams are both significant and attainable. At the start, special needs children may need dreams of doing what others do so easily and routinely—things like speaking for the autistic or walking for those with cerebral palsy. But their hard-fought accomplishments are just as significant. As life progresses, the dreams for these children will take various forms as they make their life choices for work, relationships, and hobbies.
Despite the best intentioned efforts of communities to understand the special dreams of these children, they may often feel isolated and alone. Having a father who understands their dreams and helps them achieve them is priceless.
When Detroit Tiger’s pitcher Ryan Perry earned his first major league save on April 11, 2010, he gave the ball to his dad. Two weeks later when Detroit Tiger’s rookie Austin Jackson hit his first major league home run, he gave that ball to his father for his trophy case. Most fathers can dream of being in this situation, even if the odds are against it. However, fathers of special needs kids are unlikely to entertain the dream of professional achievements for their children, as the goal is often independence and respectability as a person and citizen.
But a game ball should go to all the fathers of special needs children this year, because what you do at home can save the dreams of your child and make the difference between laughter or tears, socialization or stagnation, hope or despair, and independence or institutionalization. Brandi Snyder said something that aptly describes how special needs children depend on their fathers: “To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.”
Reference: Brotherson, S. E., & Dollahite, D. C. (1997). Generative ingenuity in fatherwork with young children with special needs. In A. J. Hawkins & D. C. Dollahite (Eds.), Generative fathering: Beyond deficit perspectives (pp. 89-104). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
The above article was originally published as part of the