Considering Dads

By Stephen Grcevich, MD

How often do those of us in special needs ministry take the time to consider the needs of fathers?

This study was presented earlier in the week at the International Society For Autism Research suggesting that over 30% of fathers of teens and young adults with autism and/or other developmental disabilities experience symptoms of depression significant enough to warrant clinical attention.

In general, I have far less contact with fathers than mothers in my practice. When we schedule new patient evaluations, we routinely offer early morning appointments (7 AM) to encourage and support the participation of working fathers. Two things I’ve noticed in 25 years of practice. First, fathers have a difficult time dealing with problems when there isn’t much they can DO to make the situation better. Second, fathers silently grieve the loss of opportunities for shared experiences with their kids more than they let on. Dads tend to be the coaches and the scoutmasters. Kids with disabilities (with exceptions) tend to have more difficulty participating in the types of experiences they’re more likely to share with their fathers.

From a ministry perspective, supporting fathers of kids with disabilities becomes a challenge. Getting them together is like herding cats. When I was involved on the Board at Bay Presbyterian Church, our special needs ministry team tried establishing a room for dads with coffee and donuts next door to the dedicated classroom for kids requiring more support, in an effort to foster relationships and social networking. The demographics at Bay Pres may not be typical of churches in general, but the ministry team observed that a very high percentage of fathers of kids they served held jobs that required frequent travel. The treatments recommended for kids with special needs are often very expensive and insurance benefits generally range from poor to non-existant. Whatever extra time or energy fathers have tends to go into supporting their wives or meeting the emotional needs of their “typical” children, who are often overlooked because of the attention required by their sibling with a disability. Time to engage in Christian community through small groups or Bible studies is limited and social isolation is frequent. Wives are exhausted by the end of the day. Sexual relationships suffer. The 30% figure quoted for the rate of depression among fathers of kids with developmental disabilities doesn’t surprise me in the least.

I’d be interested in any strategies our readers could share that have been helpful in minstering to fathers of kids with disabilities. Please feel free to share in the Comments section below.

I’d like to share a resource for Fathers’ Day. Here’s a podcast of a conversation between Bob West, President of The Need Project, and Michael Woods, the founder of this blog who serves as an autism and inclusion specialist for the St. Louis County schools in Missouri. I hope their conversation will inspire you and I’d encourage you to share the link with fathers you know of kids with disabilities.

Click here for the link to the podcast.

Happy Fathers’ Day!


In addition to his role with Key Ministry, Dr. Grcevich is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, Senior Clinical Instructor in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and serves as President of Family Center by the Falls, a multidisciplinary behavioral health group practice located in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Check out his Key Ministry blog, Church4EveryChild.

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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, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.

View all posts by Dr. G


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4 Comments on “Considering Dads”

  1. Shannon Dingle Says:

    We’ve found that this is where relational, rather than programmatic, ministry is key. For programs, including Sunday mornings class drop-off and pick-up, we see more moms. Statistically speaking, moms and women in general are more likely to be church attenders than dads/men, so this isn’t surprising.

    My husband and I coordinate Access Ministry together. Because he doesn’t have as much of a background with the special needs community as I do, I work more directly with training and support and event planning as well as communication with moms. Lee, meanwhile, is intentional about connecting with dads on the phone and in person. If Sunday mornings aren’t good, he’ll set up lunch plans to be able to engage with our dads and get to know them. Lee does other stuff within Access Ministry too, but we have determined that building relationships with dads is crucial across all ministry areas in our church – given what research shows about a dad’s spiritual influence – so his main job is ministering to and with the dads from Access. He also reaches out to the men teaching in any of the classes with kids from Access in them, so that they can engage with each other as dads as they discuss any extra support needed for the child with special needs in that class. In most of those cases, it’s a husband-wife team teaching, so it’s easier sometimes for me to just talk with the wife, but we’ve found that we are better equipped to meet the needs of families when we’re getting the perspectives of both the male and female teachers in the room.

    And we also work to schedule family events around dads’ schedules. We also have dads who travel a lot with work – and then our last cookout was last weekend, in the peak of wedding season – so we begin planning family events far enough in advance to start with conversations about schedules early on. Last weekend we had both mom and dad present in each of our two-parent families. It’s more logistically difficult to do it this way, but we think it’s worth it.


  2. Doug Goddard Says:

    Totally agree with this post that fathers of children with pecial needs are not being effectively reached. It is an extremely difficult task compared to the mothers who are so often more involved for various reasons in the childs day to day activities.

    One thing we have found helpful in our ministry is developing programs and activities that engage the children in more venues typical for male involvement and interaction like fishing, boating, archery, etc. This not as easy as doing the basic disability ministry programming of support groups, resource seminars, etc. which often appeal to more mothers but as we have seen can have great rewards.



  1. How Dads are Impacted When Kids Have Disabilities | Church4EveryChild - December 24, 2012

    […] wrote this post last year sharing some thoughts on how churches might be able to help. Please check it out. And if […]

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