January 13, 2020 - Summary of research about special needs children

Introduction: This "ESP Thought of the Day" will be coming out periodically on a go forward basis.

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Summary of research about special needs children

Lawyers, parents and mediators face significant challenges when endeavouring to devise a shared parenting plan where children have demonstrable special needs. The article sourced below by Pickar and Kaufman is a welcome addition to the literature relating to the implications of separation and divorce on special needs children, including autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, learning difficulties, psychiatric or medical disorders, etc.

Pickar and Kaufman examine "gatekeeping" parental behaviours. While we normally attach negative connotations to "gatekeeping", the authors sensibly discuss that gatekeeping can be "facilitating" (good gatekeeping) or "restrictive" (bad gatekeeping unless there is a demonstrated necessity exclude a destructive parent).

The authors suggest that in some situations primary decision making areas must be divided. On the other hand, in other situations equal shared parenting may not work and one parent must be entrusted with primary decision making across the board. The authors caution that we must all focus on the child's needs. We cannot afford to lose sight of that focus as we become enmeshed in parental disagreement or lack of cooperation.

Colman has advocated throughout this series - ESP Thought of the Day - that there should be a legislated presumption of equal shared parenting. Colman notes that a presumption is but a starting point. There are situations where dividing parental responsibility would be counter productive to a child's needs. Special needs children may be one area where the presumption should not override a special needs child's requirement for stability and predictability in terms of medical treatment and educational programs, for example. Not all autistic children (for example) will benefit from their warring parents having approximately equal decision making roles or even equal time. We must always place the individual child's needs first. Still, ESP should be the starting point; to depart from ESP there should be compelling evidence.

Source: Pickar, D. B., & Kaufman, R. L. (2019). The Special Needs Child After Separation or Divorce. In Lyn R. Greenberg, Barbara J. Fidler, & Michael A. Saini (Eds)., Evidence-Informed Interventions for Court-Involved Families: Promoting Healthy Coping and Development (pp. 325-52). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Link to Gene C. Colman's Equal Shared Parenting Web Page

Link to past issues of the ESP Thought of the Day publication