02/03/2014 05:40 pm ET Updated Apr 05, 2014

Divorce and the Child With Special Needs

All children are vulnerable when parents divorce. Children with special needs are even more so. But with special attention to their uniqueness and special needs, they too can cope and thrive.

1. Don't blame the child for your divorce. Conventional wisdom has it that having a child with special needs makes a couple more likely to divorce. Recent research debates that idea. The problem isn't necessarily the stress of the child's needs. The problem may be that the couple didn't have the inner resources or the supports they needed to handle a significant crisis.

2. Remember that kids with special needs are often hyper-sensitive to their parents' moods. If you see more anxiety, withdrawal, or acting up, it may be that the adults need to be more mindful of how much they are broadcasting their anger or hurt or grief or even relief.

3. Keep things stable during an unstable time. The parents' needs may be changing but the child's needs do not. The primary caregiver may want a break. One or both may feel they've missed out on too much due to parenting and want more "me" time. One or both may want to date. But, meanwhile, the child still needs the care, attention, and resources he or she has always needed. Wise parents plan for that.

4. Plan the transition to a new kind of family carefully. Kids with special needs generally have trouble with transitions. The changes created by divorce are no less challenging for them, even if the adults think that everything will be "better". Routines, living situation, and caregiver responsibilities should be changed as gradually as possible.

5. Don't move into a new relationship too quickly. See #4. You already know it takes a child with special needs time to adapt to a new teacher, caregiver, or medical provider. It will be no different with a new love. It's wisest not to introduce your child to a potential new partner until you are very sure he or she will be a keeper. A break up would be hard enough on you. It would be even harder for your child.