Raising Children with Special Needs is Tough: Parent Training and Counseling Under the IDEA

Published on May 25, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

It’s hard enough raising kids in today’s world.  But when you have a child, or several children, with disabilities, just getting through each day can be an incredible challenge.  Many of my clients are overwhelmed, and who can blame them?  Whether it’s the mother of the child with autism whose behaviors are so challenging that simple tasks like grocery shopping are a nightmare; the father whose son has cerebral palsy who is trying to maintain some consistent schedule while simultaneously juggling several doctors’ appointments; the parent of the student with dyslexia who is quickly believing she is “stupid,” even though she is not; or the desperate parents who are watching their teenager spiral out of control as they slip deeper into clinical depression…

…regardless of how the disability of a child manifests itself, the stress it places on the family is tremendous.

In fact, studies show that raising children with disabilities places an inordinate amount of pressure on marriages. A recent study comparing parents of children with ADHD with couples whose children did not have the disorder revealed that the divorce rate was reported to be twice for the families with a child with ADHD. Sadly, for parents of children with autism spectrum disorders, marriages suffer even more.  Add in sleep deprivation, general anxiety over the future of their child, the impact all of this has on siblings, and financial strains.  Then, when you compound those stresses with disputes with your school district over what constitutes an appropriate special education program, it is no wonder that many families collapse under the pressure.

As one of my clients once poignantly said, “we fight autism every day, why should we have to fight our school district too?”

The fact that parenting a child with special education needs requires some support is a fact, thankfully, not lost on Congress, who incorporated “parent training and counseling” into the IDEA and its implementing regulations.  The Federal Regulations state that “related services” under the IDEA include “Parent counseling and training.”

What is Parent Counseling and Training under the IDEA?

It is defined as “assisting parents in understanding the special needs of their child; providing parents with information about child development; and helping parents to acquire the necessary skills that will allow them to support the implementation of their child’s IEP or IFSP.”  34 CFR 300.34

In my experience as a Connecticut special education lawyer, and in my review of the case law and discussions with other practitioners throughout the country, Parent Counseling and Training is one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of the IDEA.  How can we expect children to be successful if we do not give their parents the tools necessary to support their special education program?  Most parents do not have any background or training in the educational programs and methods being implemented by their child’s school.  Therefore, if they are to be effective in understanding and supporting their child’s IEP, many of them will need special training and counseling to do so.

It’s not as if a child has a disability from 7:30 a.m. through 2:30; it is a twenty four hour, seven day a week issue.

If you feel that you need additional help to understand your child’s disability, and that without it their special education program can not be effective, then I highly recommend you raise this request at the next IEP meeting you have for your child.  Moreover, if your school district is playing the “blame game” with you, as in “well, we do our best during the hours he is here, but if you aren’t helping him/reading with him/working with her at home, then there is only so much we can do,” then I would say your opportunity is perfect to say:  “you know, you might be right.  What kind of parent training and counseling can you provide to us to help us understand the disability and support the IEP?”

Parents should not be expected to be speech pathologists, applied behavior analysts, special education teachers, or psychiatrists, simply because their child has special education needs, although sometimes I’m sure it feels that way.

You are entitled by law to some help, ask for it!

3 Responses to Raising Children with Special Needs is Tough: Parent Training and Counseling Under the IDEA

  1. Michelle R. Davis
    January 2nd, 2012 | 8:13 am

    Hi Jennifer, I’d like to list this article as a resource in my COPAA conference resources, as my session is on Parent Counseling and Training. As usual, nice work!

  2. Jennifer Laviano
    January 3rd, 2012 | 7:33 pm


    Feel free, look forward to seeing you there! Best, Jen