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July 3, 2007 > Workshop for Couples with Special Needs Children

Workshop for Couples with Special Needs Children

Parenting has been described as the hardest job on earth and even the best parents need occasional "on-the-job" help and support. In particular, parents of special needs children face multiple challenges to their marriages and relationships because of the extreme demands placed on them. They may experience physical, emotional, and financial stress trying to cope with the needs of their child. It may be difficult to locate and afford a substitute caregiver. It is also difficult to set aside time for themselves and their relationships.

Research has shown that parents of children with autism experience greater stress than other parents because of a variety of challenges associated with autism, such as financial worries, reactions from people unfamiliar with autism, concerns over the future of the child, and burnout from the constant needs of the child. Parents with a special needs child experience every problem other parents face - the difference being that these problems are amplified and can be lifelong. For them, there is the ongoing stress of exceptional financial burdens for therapies, special classes, unpleasant social reactions from people unfamiliar with special needs children, unending concerns over the future of the child, burnout from the ever constant needs of the child, and almost non-existent time for individual rejuvenation and for cuddle or reconnect time with one's spouse.

The challenges of parenting a special needs child can be so time-consuming and exhausting that couples end up having no time for themselves. Couples with an autistic child have a higher than average rate of divorce, with some studies showing an 85% divorce rate in these marriages.

To help support and nurture couples with special needs children, two organizations (the Friends of Children with Special Needs in Fremont and The Couples Institute in Menlo Park) have joined forces to co-sponsor a couple's workshop for special needs families. Friends of Children with Special Needs (FCSN) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing support, friendship, and life skills to developmentally disabled individuals and their families. FCSN was founded in 1996 and has since expanded to a membership of over 500 families, serving over 200 individuals with autism, Downs Syndrome, and cerebral palsy. The Couples Institute, founded in 1984, specializes in providing couples and marriage therapy.

The weekend couples workshop will be a first of its kind for both organizations. It will be a weekend devoted to nurturing love, passion, and respect in the relationships of couples coping with the challenges of having a special needs child. The goal of the weekend is to give couples a rare chance to breathe new life into their relationship and family life.
Parents with exceptional challenges need exceptional communication and problem-solving skills. The workshop aims to teach couples these skills. The workshop will teach secrets of building and sustaining a flourishing relationship. Couples will learn how to handle differences and disagreements, negotiate, set goals, reduce stress and tension in the family life and relationship, and bring out the best in each other.
The workshop will be led by Peter Pearson, Ph.D., a founder and co-director of The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California. Dr. Pearson has dedicated his life to helping couples create extraordinary relationships. Together with his wife, Dr. Ellyn Bader, also a psychologist, Dr. Pearson has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News." In addition, Dr. Pearson was an Associate Consulting Professor at Stanford University from 1987 to 1992.

Notes Dr. Pearson: "A strong, loving, and healthy relationship provides much more than companionship and support. It also encourages both partners to be their best as individuals." Dr. Pearson aims to teach couples at the workshop how to have productive and satisfying relationships, even with the challenges of parenting a special needs child. According to Dr. Pearson, even with such challenges, couples can be shown how to "bring out the best in each other while breathing new life and energy into the depleted parts of their relationships."

The workshop is a two-day workshop from 9 am to 4 pm on July 14 and 15. It will be held at the FCSN Center (2300 Peralta Blvd., Fremont, CA). The costs of this workshop have been deliberately kept low to enable as many couples as possible to attend. The fees are $100 per couple, $75 for FCSN members, inclusive of lunch. On-site childcare will be provided for an additional low-cost fee. For more information, contact Josephine Chou 510-739-6900, email:

Anne Chan is a licensed psychotherapist and career counselor in Union City. She can be reached at or 510-744-1781.

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