Author Box
Articles Categories
All Categories
Articles Resources

Special Needs and Co-Dependency

March 24, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 424

Living and/or working with someone who has special needs poses particular challenges. Individuals with special needs can have any combination of the following: Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), intellectual delays or disabilities, physical disabilities, organic impairments, and psychiatric disorders. These individuals require constant management. Interventions vary according to the disorder, disability, or delay. Structured teaching, predictable routines, the use of visuals, and intense physical and occupational therapy are just a few of the interventions used with this population.

Additional issues which add stress include placements on waiting lists for community services and schools, medical follow-ups, and behaviour management. Parents, caregivers, siblings, friends, and professionals who work and interact with special needs individuals endure hardships and make sacrifices on a daily basis. What happens when the daily management begins to take its toll emotionally?

Parental Guilt

Parents and caregivers are often plagued by feelings of guilt and helplessness. Some of them blame themselves for their child's condition. A significant portion of parents continue to be unaware that often, these individuals are born with the particular disorder. Parents' guilt may drive them to turn all of their attention to their children, creating a situation of co-dependency.


All caring parents make sacrifices for their children, but co-dependency is the tendency to allow someone else's behaviour to affect oneself through constant preoccupation with that person and his or her needs. Excessive caretaking and placing a lower priority on one's own needs are hallmarks of co-dependency. Other key elements include any combination of the following: low self-esteem, anger, anxiety, control issues, difficulties with boundaries, and repression (Beattie, 1992).

Working with this population requires a lot of effort and energy, but caregivers are at risk because they feel a greater responsibility towards their child. If there are additional children in the family, parents may also feel the guilt of neglecting them.

Siblings also suffer.

Although they love their brother or sister, siblings may find themselves in awkward situations, such as having to explain why he or she is different, and often endure ridicule or even bullying. They may feel embarrassed, and consequently, guilt.

This population undeniably requires more attention from primary caregivers. Growing up in a home where medical appointments, school meetings, and various therapies take up so much time may sometimes mean that soccer practice or help with homework takes a backseat. Siblings of special needs children can sometimes be unintentionally swept to the sidelines, watching helplessly as their parents struggle to maintain balance.

Sometimes, siblings are given additional responsibilities, and often, especially as adults, they are expected to take over the caretaking role. Some siblings feel that they cannot have a future of their own because they will inexorably be tied to their brother or sister.

Teachers and other professionals also feel the strain.

What happens to the other professionals who work within this area, such as teachers, speech and language pathologists, psychologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, coaches, and ABA therapists?

Professionals face particular stressors; the pressure of observing and evaluating, of providing therapy, and of ameliorating skills. Often, professionals work on behaviour management strategies, which is an arduous task, as aggression and self-injurious behaviours are common with this population. When families come to professionals for aid, they are reaching out, and these professionals do their utmost to deliver. It is an immensely rewarding line of work, but also a taxing one.

Caregivers need support and validation.

Caregivers both professional and in the family face daily struggles and challenges. They may feel as though they have no right to a voice because they are caregivers, and because the child's needs must be placed before their own. They need to be aware of the danger of co-dependency.

Balancing everyone's needs: Taking care of yourself as well.

Not everyone who works with or lives with special needs individuals suffers from co-dependency.

Parents, siblings, and other relatives are encouraged to have a night to themselves and to treat themselves to an outing on a regular basis. Respite centres, for instance, are available for that break. Asking a relative or a friend that knows your child well might also be an option. Attending parent and sibling support groups organized by schools and community centres is highly recommended. Of course, it is imperative to prepare the child for any changes in his or her routine. Educators can prepare simple social stories for the child in these cases, to help reduce anxiety.

Professional burnout

Professionals who work in the field have a tendency to take their work home more often than not. Saying "no" may be difficult, but a simple first step may be to resolve to limit yourself to the amount of overtime you'll put in. And again, spending time with family/friends and maintaining extracurricular hobbies or interests is important to balancing the demands of the job.

Caregivers and professionals who work in the area of special needs can benefit immensely from psychotherapeutic support which validates their feelings and provides them with an opportunity to express themselves in a safe environment. If you or someone you know is struggling to find balance in the world of special needs, it may be a good idea to seek support.


Beattie, M. (1992). Codependent no more: How to stop controlling others and start caring for yourself (2nd ed.). Center City, MN: Hazelden Foundation.

Fatima Nabi, M.A., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Montreal Canada. She works at Peter Hall, a school for students with special needs. She has a special interest in counselling family members and professionals working with special needs, as well as an interest in the area of co-dependency.

Source: EzineArticles
Was this Helpful ?

Rate this Article

Article Tags:

Co Dependency


Special Needs






Parental Guilt







Your body needs glucose in order to get energy for cell and tissue function. Without energy, the cells do not function properly and the immune system is compromised. When your blood glucose levels

By: Clifford H Woods l Health & Fitness > Diabetes l July 09, 2013 lViews: 2617

Heavy Metals - Free radicals (tissue damaging molecules that cause aging and bodily deterioration) are the result of the ever-present toxins within our environment. Heavy metals are contained in

By: Clifford H Woods l Health & Fitness > Supplements l July 09, 2013 lViews: 606

Braun shavers and trimmers are very standard brand and their new curser beard and head trimmer is big for trimming beards. This trimmer was specifically made to be able to trim down your beard and

By: Lovey Blackburn l Health & Fitness > Beauty l December 20, 2012 lViews: 459

On this website you will find latest makeup reviews and swatches from real people. You will know how makeup products look in real life, and you can also participate! Post your photos, tips and

By: l Health & Fitness > Beauty l December 09, 2012 lViews: 320

You can either seek referrals from friends and associates or search for consultants on the internet. The latter, in our opinion, would be a viable option for those pressed for time.You can either

By: Simon Liva l Health & Fitness > Diseases l December 07, 2012 lViews: 268

Healthy living is essential in today's world, to ensure one's well being. Learn how to relax and improve your mood now! Be it exercising, or indulging in one's passions and hobbies, be sure to set

By: Clarinda l Health & Fitness > Mind Body Spirit l December 02, 2012 lViews: 262

Not all doctors, nutritionists, and parents agree when it comes to the topic of dietary restrictions as a treatment for ADHD . According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a major study on

By: Cathryn Harperl Health & Fitness > Developmental Disabilitiesl July 13, 2012 lViews: 344

Stimulants such as Concerta, Adderall, and Vyvanse may be the answer to the prayers of a parent with an ADHD child when it comes to focus and attention, but the side effects that they introduce can

By: C J Mackeyl Health & Fitness > Developmental Disabilitiesl April 23, 2012 lViews: 274

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, regardless of what form of treatment you choose to undergo, one thing you must do is start to educate your school and teachers on how best to work with

By: C J Mackeyl Health & Fitness > Developmental Disabilitiesl April 14, 2012 lViews: 244

The decision to give your child ADHD medication is a difficult and personal one. By no means is it the only choice, but it's a decision that should be carefully considered before you accept or reject

By: C J Mackeyl Health & Fitness > Developmental Disabilitiesl April 10, 2012 lViews: 244

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common childhood disorder. Children may suffer from one or both of the two ADHD subtypes, including an inattentive type and a

By: Peter David Wendtl Health & Fitness > Developmental Disabilitiesl April 09, 2012 lViews: 233

Parenting children is a wonderful, albeit complicated experience. The same can be said for parenting children and teens with ADD/ADHD. The condition is widespread worldwide, although just a small

By: Jenna Brooklynl Health & Fitness > Developmental Disabilitiesl March 22, 2012 lViews: 254

Discuss this Article

comments powered by Disqus