Financial pressures with a disabled child
What is happening to us?
Many parents caring for a disabled child will tell you outright: the costs are greater. If that’s you, you might be finding that these extra financial stresses are causing a strain on your relationship. If, as a couple, you’ve never dealt with financial struggles or argued about money before, this may be new territory for you both.
This can be tough to work through with your partner because the impact of financial worry is so consuming. And of course, it has an impact on almost every aspect of daily life, which makes it harder for your relationship to thrive.
Why is this happening?
Many families endure financial hardships but, financially speaking, is it really more difficult for families with disabled children? The short answer to this is yes.
This is mainly due to the fact that many items need to be specialised – the 'bog-standard' versions simply won’t be fit for purpose, and specialised items can cost significantly more. The specifics are obviously dependent on the disability in question, but many parents can expect to face several expenses on:
Special dietary requirements
Specialised equipment and toys
Some items and equipment costs may never have occurred to you as requiring modifications, but for some disabled children, specialised versions of the same item are absolutely essential for their safety and usage.
These are not lifestyle costs, but basic costs for the same living standards. Here’s a quote from a dad that had to shell out a lot of extra cash so that his child could have a similar experience to other kids:
“Our current battle is trying to get a bicycle for our young son, a disabled 11-year-old. My older son’s bikes have never cost more than £50 and have generally been second hand. Getting Isaac, our disabled lad, a bike is a very different ball game. The cheapest we have found is £800 because he needs two wheels at the back, a waist cradle and harness to support him, and it needs to be a tag-along bike so my husband can pull him with his bike. So, Isaac can’t have a bike, because we can’t afford it. It just makes me mad that things are so much more expensive when you have a child who has disabilities. He longs for a bike and to be able to join in!”
For many parents in similar situations, this is on top of other expenses too, including additional care needs, additional heating, clothing and laundry needs, and travel to appointments .
Unfortunately for some parents, financial strains don’t stop there. Parents are often entitled to financial support through the government, but because the word ‘disability’ is a large umbrella term for many circumstances and needs, the process for getting support is not always straightforward. Many parents with disabled children aren’t sure of exactly what they qualify for. This uncertainty will just add to the frustrations felt by many.
This extra financial pressure can impact the family as a whole, but also the relationship on parenting couples. But why does financial stress specifically impact the relationship so much? Here's a few of the main reasons:
Couples may never have faced the strain before, so they are not experienced with handling disagreements on the subject.
The main provider can feel an increased sense of pressure to earn more. Feelings of guilt can fester and this can be quite negative for the relationship.
Expectations of 'family life' might be different to what new parents had imagined, which can result in feeling somewhat disenchanted. This feeling can cause some to withdraw from their partners and the people around them.
When families are ‘comfortable’ financially, it usually means they have freedom and options. In a relationship or family where you’re limited by finance, it can feel like you’re restricted or trapped. These feelings can really affect your behaviour towards one another.
How can we help our relationship thrive through financial stress?
1. By talking to each other
As a couple, one of the most useful things you can do is to get some clarity on your wants, needs, hopes and fears. Anticipating potential problems can give you more realistic expectations about the future, and allow you to find a more relaxed way to discuss problems together. 
Set some ground rules about what you will do next time an argument breaks out. You may want to decide to take a break from the conversation and return to it when you’re both feeling a bit calmer. Try saying something like “Can we talk about this in a different way once we’ve calmed down a bit?”
Although this may be a given, try to avoid having these discussions in a supermarket, the bank or other public places where the money pressures are suddenly most apparent. You’ll have a much better chance of getting a positive outcome if your conversations take place privately in your own home.
Be honest with yourselves and kind to each other and you’ll significantly improve the chances of talking about money without an argument.
2. By taking practical steps
For many couples who are struggling with financial strains, the idea of money planning goes out the window. For some, their focus goes into simply surviving and putting food on the table. But even if money is very tight and there’s little or no chance of saving, money planning can still help you. A budget is still a sensible idea – even if it only helps you realise how much extra help you need. You can find a free planner through Money Advice Service, along with a few really helpful online guides.
It may be useful to keep a spending log over a month or two to see what you’re really spending. When you can see the whole picture, you’re in a better position to make decisions about which costs are essential and where you might be able to cut costs.
Remember to really consider all of your extra expenses like those in the table above. If you’ve got some friends who’ve been through something similar or adopted a child with a disability, it might be an idea to ask them for guidance. Your midwife or doctor may also be able to offer recommendations. Use the people around you and don’t be afraid of reaching out.
3. By seeking out entitlements
Benefits and financial support can be a tricky field to navigate as they are liable to change over time, and as we’ve already mentioned, it will depend on your family circumstances and your child’s disability. For more advice on benefits, tax credits and other sources of financial help, visit Contact’s help page. Also, check out the current situation through services such as the Citizens Advice and the Money Advice Service, who will be able to talk through your budget and help you learn what you might be entitled to.
While financial pressure can be quite heavy, the relationship and family can still grow and develop. If money were no object, of course building up your relationship and family would be easier, but the most important thing is to function as a unit, and face the challenges together.
 Pancer, S. M., Pratt, M., Hunsberger, B. & Gallant, M. Thinking ahead: Complexity of expectations and the transition to parenthood. J. Pers.68, 253–279 (2000).
 Contact (2014), Counting the Costs.