Solo Parents Raising Children with Disabilities

When I used to think about families raising children with disabilities, I thought about couples raising children together.  This was my mental default setting.  Part of this was because Fran and I have been very involved in issues pertaining to couples raising children with disabilities.  Given the added stressors this often places on a relationship, we have been immersed in this topic for the last several years. There is no doubt that the impact on relationships and marriage remain of great importance.

Father lifting up daughter

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More recently, I looked around and started paying attention to the fact (that was right under my nose) that life has changed and the traditional family is barely the norm anymore.   For many reasons, this is particularly true when it comes to families raising children with disabilities. Did you know that according to researchers (Dr. Cohen and a colleague) at the University of North Carolina, less than half of children with disabilities live with married, biological parents in two parent homes?  These researchers also found that a full 25% of all children with disabilities live with single mothers and an additional 5% live with fathers.  You can read more about this at:

We also can’t forget that fully a quarter of children with disabilities are adopted by single parents and many single grandparents are functioning as primary parents.  Exploring the need in this area has lead to a book contract on this topic from Woodbine House.

We are eager to hear your thoughts on the topic.  Are you going “solo”? What do you see as the greatest challenges? Do you have any advice for others? What issues do you think are particularly important to address?  Please either add your thoughts to our blog or go to the following website where I have posted a confidential an open ended questionnaire

Thanks so much.

Laura Marshak Ph.D.


  1. Katherine M. Martin says:

    I am a single adoptive parent of a son now 18 years old who was adopted from Romania at 20 months. His medical issues were unknown at the time. Subsequently he was found to have 2 rare colonic motility disorders – had 5 surgeries in 20 months – has a colostomy – was later diagnosed with NVLD, LLS, ADHD, PTSD, Depression, Mood Disorder and Sensory Processing.

    Money and isolation are the two biggest concerns. Little more than a year ago I lost my job when caregiving responsibilities were interfering with productivity at work. I was told to take a month off until my son could get his act together after a mental health crisis. When I refused (because I couldn’t afford to) I was terminated after 26 years with the same civil rights agency. It has been particularly challenging because of his complex medical and psych issues with only medicaid coverage.

    I forced my self not be isolated – I volunteer for several agencies which enable me to be around other parents. I coach Special Olympics, I do special education political action work, I belong to 2 support groups one for adoptive families and one for parents of kids with mental health issues. Just so happens that my adoption group has almost all sped kids too. I have friends who have special needs kids – some solo – and I reach out when I’m at my breaking point. I lack of back up is hard – I don’t have anyone to punt to for HW, for discipline, for traveling 2 hrs to specialist appts or hospitalizations.

    Humor is key – my son is a smart funny guy – it helps us cope. Love the book Shup Up About Your Perfect Kid! Taking it one day at a time – I have control over today sometimes – and tomorrow is another chance.

    • Laura Marshak says:

      Hi Katherine,
      Thanks so very much for taking the time to reply to this posting. What you had to say about how you handle isolation is great and I would love to use the essence of it (anonymously and de-identified ) in the solo parenting book. I have read lots of books but never have gotten around to that one–although I love the title (Shut up about your perfect kid). Will get it…I appreciate what ytou shared and will add it to the collective wisdom

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