Special Needs and Divorce: What Does the Data Say?

shutterstock_174158831It’s not unusual to attend presentations at disability ministry conferences where statistics on the impact of specific disabilities are quoted or repeated and accepted as fact, without citing the original source of the research. I’ve been guilty myself of citing or repeating statistics I’ve heard at conferences without verifying the primary source…I’d NEVER be able to get away with spouting statistics without references if I was presenting at a major medical conference.

That got me thinking about some of the statistics I’d been using in Key Ministry presentations. First, as Christians, we have an extra burden to represent the truth, because people will judge our witness (and indirectly, Jesus) based upon the integrity of what we say and do. Second, the consequences of what I do in my ministry activities have even greater lasting significance than the decisions I make in my medical practice, so the standards ought to be at least as rigorous as the ones I implement in my day job.

To that end, I spent an evening searching out the frequently-quoted statistic of an 80% plus divorce rate in marriages where the parents are raising a child with special needs. I make no claims that this search is all-inclusive. Searching journals in developmental or intellectual disabilities is extremely challenging because few articles are made available for “open access” (anyone can download and read the contents free of charge). I was surprised at how little research exists on the topic. There’s lots of research on the impact of parental divorce on kids, but very little information about the impact of disability in children on parental marriage status or satisfaction.

There are seven studies of good quality that I’ve located on the topic to date…

A study by Wymbs and Pelham (J Consult Clin Psychol. 2008 October; 76(5): 735-744) examined divorce rates and predictors of divorce among parents of youth with ADHD. The divorce rate among parents of kids with ADHD was nearly twice that of couples in the general population (22.7 percent of parents of children with ADHD had divorced by the time the child was 8 years old, compared to 12.6 percent of parents in the control group). If the parents of a child with ADHD were still married by the time their child reached the age of 8, their subsequent divorce rate was no higher than that of controls.

Factors associated with an increased risk of divorce included history of antisocial behavior in the father, mothers with substantially less education than fathers, an earlier age of diagnosis of the child’s ADHD,  children from racial or ethnic minority groups and children with concomitant behaviors associated with Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Conduct Disorder.

Robbers et al (Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2011 April; 46(4): 311–319) examined a sample of over 6,400 children in The Netherlands to ascertain to what extent internalizing and externalizing problems at age 3 preceded and predicted parental divorce. They found that higher levels of externalizing problems (aggression, conduct problems, hyperactivity)  in girls at age 3 (but not in boys) predicted later parental divorce.

A study by Urbano and Hodapp (Am J Ment Retard 2007 Jul;112(4):261-74) compared divorce rates among families of children with Down Syndrome to families of children with other birth defects and families of children with no identified disability. Divorce rates were lower among couples with a child with Down’s than in the other two groups. When divorce did occur in the Down Syndrome group, it was more likely within the first 2 years after the child’s birth. Factors associated with increased risk of divorce among families of children with Down’s included younger age of parents, parents who were unable to complete high school, fathers with less education than mothers and couples living in rural areas.

Swarminathan, Alexander and Boulet (Maternal and Child Health Journal 2006 Nov;10(6):473-479) found parents of very low birth weight (VLBW) infants have a 2-fold greater chance of divorce/separation compared with parents of a child with a birth weight greater than 1500 grams during the two year period following delivery.

Hartley et al (J Fam Psychol. 2010 Aug;24(4):449-57) examined rates of divorce among families of children with autism spectrum disorders. Parents of children with an ASD had a higher rate of divorce than the comparison group (23.5% vs. 13.8%). The rate of divorce remained high throughout the son’s or daughter’s childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood for parents of children with an ASD, whereas it decreased following the son’s or daughter’s childhood (after about age 8 years) in the comparison group. Younger maternal age when the child with ASD was born and having the child born later in the birth order were positively predictive of divorce for parents of children with an ASD.

Baeza-Velasco et al (J Dev Phys Disabil (2013) 25:613-624) examined the occurrence and timing of separation of parents raising children with Autism Spectrum Disorders followed over a 10-year period (n = 119). They compared the clinical characteristics of children and sociodemographic variables between parents who remained as a couple versus parents who separated. The results showed that after 10 years of follow-up 74.8 % of the couples remained together (n = 89), representing a separation rate of 25.2 %. This rate remained stable over the study period. There was no significant difference in any of the clinical and sociodemographic variables between comparison groups. They suggest that “raising a child with autism does not often lead to the dissolution of the parents’ relationship, as is commonly believed.”

Namkung et al (Am J Intellectual Devel Disabilities 2015; (120):6, 514-526)  prospectively examined the risk of divorce in 190 parents of children with developmental disabilities compared to 7,251 parents of children without disabilities based on a random sample drawn from the community and followed longitudinally for over 50 years. They found the risk of divorce increased among families without a child with intellectual disability as the families became larger but did not increase with increased family size among families of a child with intellectual disability. Overall, they saw no significant difference in divorce rates among families with and without intellectual disabilities (22% vs 20%, respectively).

Eun Ha Namkung, lead author of the study, shared this interpretation of the findings…

“Our results clearly show that the effects of having additional children are different for families of individuals with developmental disabilities compared to the effects on the general population, and suggest that other children in the family may be a vital support system for parents coping with the care of a child with a developmental disability.”

A study by Freedman and Kalb (J Autism Devel Disorders 2011 DOI: 10.1007/s10803-011-1269-y) demonstrated the following:

Despite speculation about an 80% divorce rate among parents of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), very little empirical and no epidemiological research has addressed the issue of separation and divorce among this population. Data for this study was taken from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health, a population-based, cross-sectional survey. A total of 77,911 parent interviews were completed on children aged 3–17 years, of which 913 reported an ASD diagnosis. After controlling for relevant covariates, results from multivariate analyses revealed no evidence to suggest that children with ASD are at an increased risk for living in a household not comprised of their two biological or adoptive parents compared to children without ASD in the United States.

Here’s an interesting quote from Dr. Brian Freedman, lead author of the study:

“Results from the analysis found no consistent evidence of an association between a child having an ASD diagnosis and that child living in a traditional versus nontraditional family. Once we control for co-occurring psychiatric disorders, our results show that a child with an ASD is slightly more likely than those without ASD to live in a traditional household. This somewhat counter-intuitive result is likely due to particularly low probabilities of living in traditional households for children with those other disorders, regardless of whether or not they have ASD. In fact, exploratory analyses suggest that having ADHD, Externalizing, and Internalizing disorders are more strongly related to the probability of not living in a traditional household than is ASD.”

Here are my takeaway points following a review of the available data:

The data from the Wisconsin study would appear to suggest that the presence of older children who can help parents with the day-to-day responsibilities of supporting siblings with severe disabilities may play an important role in maintaining family stability. While the data from which the results of the study were derived came from an earlier time in society when families in general were more stable, the results are consistent with what I see in my practice…older siblings who share in caregiving play a critical role in helping families impacted by disability to function effectively.

I also suspect the level of understanding about autism in the community has progressed to the point that having a child with the condition has become more socially acceptable. The same is true of Down Syndrome, which is caused by a specific chromosomal abnormality. Mental health is still a taboo topic. It’s less stigmatizing to have a kid with an autism spectrum disorder than a kid with a psychiatric disorder.

When prevalence rates of autism increase, the government and private foundations (appropriately so) invest money into research to figure out the cause. When rates of ADHD, bipolar disorder, or anxiety increase among kids, the immediate assumption is that lifestyle choices by parents, drug company conspiracies or shoddy diagnosis are contributing factors. I’d hypothesize that parents of a kid with a psychiatric diagnosis are more fearful of being judged by others (say…at church?) than parents of a child with an autism spectrum disorder. As a result, parents of kids with psychiatric conditions may be less likely to have the social supports and the connection to community that helps to preserve marriages.

While experience suggests that families of kids with ASDs very much need purposeful and intentional outreach and support from a local church, this may be even more true in families of kids with psychiatric conditions.

The bottom line is that families of kids with all special needs are in desperate need of local churches where they can experience the love of Jesus through the care and support of friends and neighbors.

Resource…Here’s an excellent download on the myths and realities of marriage for parents of kids with autism spectrum disorders.

Most recent update October 31, 2015


shutterstock_24510829Key Ministry is pleased to make available our FREE consultation service to pastors, church leaders and ministry volunteers. Got questions about launching a ministry that you can’t answer…here we are! Have a kid you’re struggling to serve? Contact us! Want to kick around a problem with someone who’s “been there and done that?” Click here to submit a request!

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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38 Responses to Special Needs and Divorce: What Does the Data Say?

  1. Jon says:

    First, thank you for finding solid stats. It is too often that numbers are thrown around with no support.

    I know there is a tendency to blame the parents for a child’s ADHD and that is sad. I also know that ADHD symptoms can arise from a child’s trauma, real or perceived. When trauma decreases the blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, you see ADHD.

    Could it be that there are more divorces in a house with a child diagnosed with ADHD because there were problems in the marriage to start with that have also caused the damage to the child’s brain. In that case the divorce is a symptom along with the ADHD of a troubled relationship instead of a result of the ADHD.

    Helping marriages before children would help lower that both divorce rates and rates of ADHD. (I acknowledge that all ADHD symptoms are not from bad marriages.)

    Another question I have is to the difference in the numbers of the last 2 studies. If the divorce rate in families with ASD than in families without, you would assume there would be more children from broken homes in families with ADS.

    Could the differences be accounted for in number of children in household? I have not seen numbers on this but I would think homes with a child with ADS would have less children than most of the homes where there is divorce without ADS.

    For example, using the Hartley numbers (24% vs. 14%, rounded), if ADS homes had one child and the other homes had 2 children the numbers of children in homes of divorce would be 24 and 28 out of 100 families on each side respectively. I am not sure how all that transfers but I would be interested in seeing such a comparison.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on these ideas and let me know if what I have written is not clear.

    Thanks for doing what you are doing.


  2. drgrcevich says:

    Thanks for the comments, Jon.

    The Urbano study (Down Syndrome) and the Kennedy-Krieger study (autism) were population-based studies. The data for the Down Syndrome study came from a large database…I think looking at children within a given age range in the state of Tennessee. (368,000 “normal” controls). The Kennedy-Krieger sample came from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health, a government-funded project involving detailed interviews of 78,000 kids. The other two studies had smaller numbers (in the hundreds), but the families involved were interviewed in significant detail to ascertain specific risk factors for divorce.

    I think your hypothesis is plausible in the ADHD study. I’ve seen some more detailed discussion of the Kennedy-Krieger study when it was first presented, and there was some evidence of an increased divorce rate in families of kids who had other comorbid conditions (autism plus ADHD, autism plus anxiety, autism plus oppositional, defiant behavior). At the same time, I think there’s some genetic component as well in the families of kids with autism, but probably not to the same degree as with ADHD. At the high end of the spectrum, we find lots of kids with similarities to their brilliant, but socially awkward parents.

    The key point is that all of these families need lots of support, and the local church is uniquely positioned to provide them great spiritual and social benefits.


    • Jon says:

      “The key point is that all of these families need lots of support, and the local church is uniquely positioned to provide them great spiritual and social benefits.”

      I couldn’t agree more. I hope to keep moving my church forward in reaching out to these families. We have so many already with whom we could be doing so much more. Then there are all those who do not feel the church has anything to offer…


      • Suzanne M. says:

        Thank you for your comment. I am a person with Cerebral Palsy and I grew up with a Mother with Multiple Sclerosis, so I understand what disability can do to a family. Thankfully, my parents didn’t divorce. We were not christians at the time. I do know families with disablities that do go to church. I don’t think that the church knows how to come along side to help families affected by disablities.


      • drgrcevich says:

        Hi Suzanne,

        What would you like to see the church do better in order to more effectively come alongside families impacted by disabilities?


  3. Comorbid may be the key here. So often there are so many other things going on with the one with the disorder and within the family.

    So should we stop saying 80%? We usually say this within the context of “hidden disabilities” right? I know I’ve been guilty of that. It’s just really not that simple is it?


    • drgrcevich says:

      I think we should stop using the 80% statistic in the absence of evidence that the statistic is true for families of kids with hidden disabilities, or disabilities in general. For autism, there’s substantive evidence to suggest that it’s NOT true.

      I do think we need more research to demonstrate how these conditions affect church participation and spiritual development, along with well-designed research to direct churches in offering supports that make the greatest impact for kids with disabilities and their families.


      • Shannon says:

        I definitely agree that we should stop using the 80% stat. I cringed inwardly when I heard it thrown around several times at the Accessibility Summit. I know it must have come from somewhere, and I’ve been searching for the root (in hopes that it might lead to a study or something substantive to explain where it came from…and because I’m a bit of a stats nerd, if I’m honest). Unless it can be backed up, it isn’t ethical or honest to keep repeating it.

        ~Shannon @ The Works of God Displayed


  4. myjazzylife says:

    What I find very sad is the fact that I am the ONLY one at our church who has an Autistic child. No one see’s the need to make modifications for him because after all he is the ONLY one. So he is left out of many activities and events. He can not participate in AWANA or other things because he has to go with his age group. He is nine years old and yet his mind is at age 4-5. I just find it sad that no one wants to work with these children on their level. No one care that they don’t understand or catch concepts of God. My son has done very well at dealing with some crazy things like a Children’s minister who thought loud music with lots of motions was good for children sending my child into a near melt down each week. If we were not employed through this church I would venture to say we just would leave and not attend anywhere.

    As parents we need support and love. We need to know that when we drop our child off he is in a safe environment with people who are educated in his care. We do want you to teach him God’s word but at his level. One where he might begin to understand and get a picture of God. A place that is quiet and calm with activities and toys that will stimulate them and yet be a comfort to them. My child puts up with sitting for 1 hour 40 minutes in junior church but he HATES it. I feel so bad for him and reward him each time following. But I hate that he finds church such a miserable place.

    I am told that we don’t have enough workers for the “normal” children so we can devote the time or energy to outreach to your child. I wonder how Christ the creator of this child feels about that. I can tell you after being on the battle front 24 hours a day 7 days a week that by the time it comes time for church it just doesn’t seem to be one battle worth fighting. I can see why parents of other special need children just throw up their hands and say forget it.

    This week our AWANA teachers went to a training. Only 2 teachers out of 50 went to the one on special needs children. When one of them confronted the director he stated its not worth the time as we have no special needs kids. Failing to realize that without outreach to these families of course you are not going to have any. I guess my son was invisible. I just feel bad that people see no need to minister to these families or these children. Why don’t I do the ministry? I am on the front line of the war all week long. I can educate but the running of the ministry will have to be someone with lots of love, patients and energy.

    When we first moved to N Texas I did e mail every church in our community and ask if anyone had a special needs class. Only one church wrote me back to say NO. Now I do know of only 2 in an area of several million who offer anything. I often hear of this or that “unreached people group” and I find it offensive that 1 in ever 100 in our area has Autism. How many families are excluded? They have the highest divorce rate among all parents of children with disabilities. Shouldn’t the church consider that? Maybe instead of ignoring it in hopes it will go away, you should sit at McDonalds and look at the faces of the mama’s. You can always tell the one who as a special needs kid. She is the one who looks much older than she really is. Very tired, and stressed looking. Just looking for some love and acceptance.


    • drgrcevich says:

      Hi Jazzy Life,

      I’m so sorry that you’re not experiencing the level of care and support you need through the church you’re currently attending. But I see evidence from my involvement with the team from Key Ministry that things are changing. We’re getting (and responding to) requests several times a week for help from churches seeking to get better at welcoming, serving and including families like yours.

      Ask other parents of kids with disabilities in your area about their experience with churches. There may be churches in your area becoming very intentional about welcoming families like yours. One of the staff people in my office has a son with autism around the age of your son. They recently changed churches (for reasons unrelated to their son’s disability) and have had a fabulous experience in their new church.

      If the folks at your church would like help, we’re happy to provide training, consultation or resources to them for free. Have them e-mail Katie Wetherbee at katie@keyministry.org in order to connect.


    • Lara says:

      Hi! I can relate! I go to a large church, & my child is the only one that is (still not diagnosed by a professional) a child who displays Autism. He was kicked out of the nursery a few months ago, because they are only suppose to be in there til they turn 4, and he was way past 5 (He’ll be 6 in March), but he wasn’t ready for what they call “Kids Zone” which is 4-11. So now I get to one church service a month. I do nursery once a month, and then take turns with my husband taking our son into Kids Zone every week during church. It is hard & yes, it’s frustrating b/c it feels like there’s no place for our son, but God has a special place for him. So hang in there. Know you’re not alone & that God will do mighty things with your kid & he has a special place in the kingdom….Likely, God will use your child to teach the people at your church a lot of things!!!!


    • sjamgo says:

      Dear My Jazzy Life,

      It’s been awhile since your post, but I’m hoping that you’ve found a church that is inclusive. I know I have and it’s really wonderful. Actually, more than half of our kids in the under 12 age sunday school group have special needs of some sort (ASD, Cerebral Palsey, psychiatric issues/mood disorders/ADHD). We are a small UU congregation, but a very welcoming one and I think that has something to do with it. I’m hoping you have found a more supportive religious environment. i know how it is though with the 24/7 vigilance and the stress it brings. Sometimes it can feel easier to not attend church on Sundays, but my spirit feels so much better when I do, and I know our kids are getting it too. Prayers for you.


    • bfontaine74 says:

      You are not alone! My husband is on staff at a church. Therefore, Sunday mornings are all on me. I constantly evaluate and change on I do to make my Sunday smooth.–Or kind of smooth. Sometimes I hire a worker to come with me, other times I keep our son at home. I still utilize the playroom–even thought he has “outgrown” it. No one is bothered by him in that room. We need to be in churches even when people don’t “get it.” I am always amazed on Pot-luck Sunday when several people cook his favorite foods. People are trying to connect with our son!


    • Janelle Knox says:

      Just had to jump in here. I am the mother of a 57 year old who was born with a rare brain tumor that caused daily severe epileptic seizures since age 8 months. He still lives here at home with his dad and me. We have been lucky that our marriage has survived—but just barely at times because dad just stayed “busy” and gone a lot as a way of dealing. And I was always frazzled with frequent ER visits and hospitalizations, etc. I was raised in church and tried to take my 2 children, but sad to say, I received the worst treatment of all at the churches we attended. Everything from cruel teasing to name-calling, to people telling me I had no right to get him out in public. I found no peace or comfort at church because of this. I guess this is the Karma part—one woman who was particularly vocal about my son being unwelcome because of his disability (by the way, he was NOT violent or disruptive) stood up in church many years later, asking for prayers for HER son. Guess what was wrong? You got it! Epilepsy! I also dealt with my mother wanting him to be left our of family affairs because “they wouldn’t understand”. She didn’t want to be seen with him or for ANYONE to know of his disability. Very hurtful! He now is same as an invalid, in a wheelchair and eyesight almost gone, but he remains forgiving, cheerful, and content in spite of all he’s gone through. He never complains. Thank Goodness there are bright spots! His niece is now a Special Ed teacher, who has such a heart for these special ones because she saw what her uncle went through!
      We all need to be more supportive of each other’s needs!


  5. Lara says:

    I, too had heard the 80-90% divorce rate in parents with children with Autism. I just Googled the info & came across your article, & I appreciate your research. Though we never had our child “labeled”, it is blatantly obvious he has Autism. It has been hard on our marriage, especially when my husband doesn’t want to admit our child HAS Autism, but we have the Lord & that is all we need to get through this. Besides that, it’s not the end of the world. If my son were “normal” he wouldn’t be the interesting, funny & innocent child he is right now. I just know it. He wouldn’t be my Josiah. So we don’t look at it like the world does. God’s the glue. He makes us stick together.


  6. Susan Leiby says:

    I heard that the 80% statistic was originally something that a legislator threw out one time, and it just stuck. Not based on evidence.

    I’ve also heard that despite the 80% statistic being unfounded, that some studies have shown that when couples have a child with a disability, there IS an increased rate of marital dissatisfaction. Not that they actually divorce, but that they stay married and are just not as happy.

    As the parent of a child with a disability, that doesn’t surprise me. With all the additional stresses placed on our families, there is a chance for more conflict.

    I really would love to see a solid study on this whole topic. Not just as a professional, or as one who works in special needs ministry, but as an affected parent.


  7. drgrcevich says:

    The Freedman article has been published:

    DOI: 10.1007/s10803-011-1269-y

    Relationship Status Among Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Population-Based Study

    Brian H. Freedman, Luther G. Kalb, Benjamin Zablotsky and Elizabeth A. Stuart

    Despite speculation about an 80% divorce rate among parents of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), very little empirical and no epidemiological research has addressed the issue of separation and divorce among this population. Data for this study was taken from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health, a population-based, cross-sectional survey. A total of 77,911 parent interviews were completed on children aged 3–17 years, of which 913 reported an ASD diagnosis. After controlling for relevant covariates, results from multivariate analyses revealed no evidence to suggest that children with ASD are at an increased risk for living in a household not comprised of their two biological or adoptive parents compared to children without ASD in the United States.


  8. Stacy says:

    Thank you for using people-first language! Refreshing!


  9. drgrcevich says:

    Our crew always seeks to use people-first language. I think our colleague Harmony is planning a series of blog posts on people-first language later this year.


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  13. Lisa McCarville says:

    From the research show here and the research I have done the results are inconclusive as too how many marriages end divorce with children of special needs. Anedotally I know of many Mother’s of children with special needs where the fathers have left the marriages. I know personally of only one Mother who has.
    Churches could help families by providing either trained aides in Sunday schools who would stay and work with a child in an inclusion class and/or work with a child on a one one situation for confirmation or preparing a child with an intellectual disablity for a religious event such as a Bar Mitsvah or baptism. My son needs help staying on track and needs any lesson broken down into steps where he can understand and succeed.
    I can only attend church if I know my son is safe. He can be a flight risk at Sunday School. Also I do not want to turn my child over to strangers who may not have any experience with a differently abled child.
    I attend a Quaker Church sometimes and I bring my own helper or just stay with my child in his Sunday School Classroom. It is hard for me to be spiritually fed if I cannot attend adult classes or church due to there being no option for me to place my child in a safe and secure classroom with a instructor who knows and can deal with my son.
    Am glad to see this discussion. Disagree that there is no proof that more marriages end in divorce with a special needs kids. There is all kinds of proof, just not many studies done. I have spoken to too many families to know that many people cannot handle the pressures and responsibility of life with a disabled person and they walk out. To me the stats reliablity do not matter as much as that it happens, and the weakest members of our society and most disenfranchised suffer. How many does it take before we realize it is an horrible reality that many families are dealing with.


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  16. JR says:

    I work at a church (not in children’s ministries) where we have many children with disabilities. I think it is worth noting that well-intentioned churches can still find it hard to minister to those with disabilities.
    1. Children’s Workers are volunteers – if they don’t enjoy working with the kids, they may quit. Working with kids with severe disabilities is difficult work. In my experience the only way this works is if people are specifically recruited to minister to those with special needs. The number of people willing to do this is often not large compared to the need. Sometimes parents of children with disabilities are so used to advocating for their children that they are too forceful and make workers who are doing their best feel guilty about how they handled situations or even make the children’s pastor feel like this is a potential lawsuit — this again leads to workers quitting, etc.
    2. Most churches struggle to recruit enough children’s workers for the basic worker to child ratios required by their insurance company. When you add children that require higher ratios of ministers, that only makes recruitment of enough workers even more difficult.
    3. Children with disabilities often can not be included in classes lower than their age because of safety concerns. The child may have the emotional maturity of a four year old, but since they are eight, they are the size of an eight year-old. Parents of children without disabilities have valid concerns about their children’s safety, and even if the 8 year old is harmless, parents don’t necessarily know this, nor will they be assured by a worker telling them that. If anything ever DID happen the church would also face the liability issue—they would have to show that including an older child with disabilities in a younger class was reasonable (which would be hard to prove once something happened).
    4. Having a “special needs class” is a good idea, but again you can end up with kids with such a variety of special needs and different ages that it is impossible to do anything with them, or is not safe for the smaller ones.


    • JR says:

      Sorry, I forgot to end with: This doesn’t mean churches are off the hook. It is certainly possible to recruit people for special needs and the only two churches I have worked in have done this and I think done it well.

      But I think we need to have compassion for the average church who is just trying to keep their head above water in children’s ministry most of the time. There’s lots of things they could do better that have nothing related to disability, and they’re not doing anything about that either because they just don’t have what it takes (whether time, resources, people, etc). My wife was a children’s pastor for many years and she was constantly working with our ministers on simple things like “always have an object lesson.” After 10 years most of them were starting to do it. Change takes tremendous amounts of work. We need to reach out to everyone, but the “one size fits all” reaches the most people most efficiently, and so many churches fall into that trap.


  17. Carla J says:

    ADHD is a genetic disorder that runs in families. Believe me, I have read A LOT on the subject and we live it everyday. Comorbid disorders are a high probability if you have it and new research links it to Thyroid disorders as well. I am Hypothyroid and so is my sister. My brother has ADHD, our son was diagnosed at age three with ADHD and ODD and two years ago I was diagnosed late onset ADD. Raising a child with this disorder can be very difficult and if you struggle with it yourself sometimes imbearable. Our family is out of state which leaves us with no support not that our family understands especially mine. In my family I was the only one to have children. We do not attend church anymore because we felt like lepers. Parents are always judged for their childrens behavior regardless of the situation. Unless you live it you dont get it. It has been through Gods mercy that our marraige has survived and I truely believe one day we will be able to help others with our testimony. We still are looking for a church family but it has not been a sanctuary of support for us. We have learned not to take it personally but it still hurts. There is definitely a stigma. The body of Christ should especially be inclusive and lift them up during time of need. Isolation can be as debilitating as the disorder itself.

    I am very greatful for our school district. It was bumpy at first especially the medication battle but we got him into an early childhood program through the district under his diagnosis but only because he was moderate to severe ADHD. It was a lifesaver. He is now on medication and an IEP with an annual ARD (meeting) to address learning problems, behavior issues, etc. It has helped a lot but we still take one day at a time. CHADD has a wonderful support group also with a treasure trove of information to help families, training for parents and teachers. Some churches are starting to hire nursery workers now but I highly doubt they have a PPCD degree. Unfortunately the average volunteer could never match up to our son…lol nor would they ever want to volunteer again. You need a special breed of people dedicated to the kids. They are Gods creation too. Its not the child that is so ugly but the behavior. They just experience the world differently.

    We as a family still struggle. I can honestly say that it has made us stronger. We just celebrated 20 years of marriage and our son is getting better. He is 7 1/2 so we have reached and overcome the statistic by the Grace of God.

    For ADHD training, check out the CHADD website: teacher to teacher training. Also their workshops could be really helpful to anyone wanting to learn how to work with ADHD children. And they are affordable. You will just need volunteers with the patience of Jobe. Our sons ECS 4K teacher had it and he was an angel in disquise:)


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  19. Laurie Mershobn says:

    Having a child w/a psychiatric disorder(early onset bipolar) is ALL consuming and difficult on the WHOLE family. Fortunately, my husband and I have become so much closer through dealing w/this life long ordeal. We love our church, and we have great friends but I could NEVER use the term bipolar(even though everyone knows our son and loves him, even with his clear deficits that can be seen); it makes me very sad. It is VERY hard for our son to get involved w/weekend lock-ins, sleepover camps w/the youth group because he can not tolerate the lack of sleep; it literally throws him into a full episode….just so fragile. He is starting to sense the “disconnect” from the youth group(he is 12yrs old now) because of this…difficult on him and for us to watch


    • drgrcevich says:

      Hi Laurie,

      Thanks for commenting. You touch on a good point…we see lots of kids who are able to be part of some, but not all of the environments in which we “do church.” Many kids who are able to attend church on Sunday struggle with special events…retreats, mission trips, small groups that meet outside the church.


  20. Andrea says:

    I would like to address what was written about ADHD. While I myself do not have this challenge I do mother two children with ADHD as well as Dyslexia. Additionally, their father also has ADHD. I must disagree with it being compared to Bi-polar Disorder or really any of psychiatric conditions. Those individuals that must learn to manage typical lives yet struggle with Executive Function challenges are very different from the other disabilities mentioned. Most significantly would be the fact that ADHD individuals are often expected to perform without special services. That is something our society would never require or even ask of the other conditions. I also found that inheritability was not addressed. ADHD is a highly inherited condition, not primarily caused my trauma. Also, not likely in the other conditions. Lastly, ADHD is way more common than our society would like to admit. Read about it, look around you. My guess is you know more that one person who is managing (or maybe not managing their life living with ADHD.


    • drgrcevich says:

      Hi Andrea,

      Thanks for your comments. I think you hit on something…societal perceptions of persons with ADHD are very different than those with autism spectrum disorders. We did an entire series on ADHD in 2010 that started with a discussion of executive functioning, and have posted periodically on the research demonstrating the increasing prevalence of ADHD.

      Current thinking is that about 75% of ADHD cases can be attributed to genetics with many genes involved. Trauma may contribute to some cases…premature birth, exposure to drugs, alcohol or toxins in cigarette smoke, and other environmental factors (lead, single parenthood, socioeconomic factors, technology?) may contribute to other cases.


  21. cure4dmd says:

    In our world, we have a son with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. I am part of a moms support group and I would say 50% of which are divorced. And numerous cases where the parents live separate because of the need of accommodating their child’s needs or work related not wanting to have to transition the child with new doctors, schools and friends. there is A LOT of stress put on marriages when you have a child with a physical disability.


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