Children with Special Needs

Finding Care for Children with Special Needs

If you have a child with special needs, you may have to ask specific questions to find a situation that fits your family. You'll want to look for a child-care provider who has experience working with children with special needs, who understands the challenges of working with children with special needs, and who knows how to adapt activities as needed. Most of all, you'll want to find a provider willing to work with you to meet the needs of your child. In addition, you will want to share information with the provider about the specific diagnosis, as well as characteristics specific to the child to ensure the chosen provider is a good fit for the child and family.

In addition to the general questions and issues regarding finding quality child care, you may want to consider these points as well when deciding on care for a child with special needs:

Determining Your Need

Services: Will your child need to receive any special services by therapists or others while in the child care setting?  Should your child care provider be close to special service providers so you can transport your child easily for therapies or medical appointments?

Location: Must you find care in an area that your child's program bus will transport to?

Best Fit: Does your child have any special health or behavioral needs that would make a large group setting such as a center or large school-age program less desirable?

dad with boy on shoulders

Screening Child Care Providers

Many providers who are not used to caring for children with special needs may seem somewhat fearful about caring for your child.  This is normal.  Remember how you felt at first?  A positive attitude, and interest in learning more, and a belief that all children deserve quality care are the most important considerations when choosing a provider.  Here are some other questions to think about as you screen providers:

Attitude: What is the provider's attitude toward disabilities in general and your child in particular?  Is it frightened, over-protective, pitying?  Or is there appropriate expression of interest and curiosity?

Routines:  How does the program handle things like eating, sleeping, and toileting?  Would it be a problem to fit your child into these routines?

Experience:  Does the program have other children with disabilities?  Have they cared for similar children in the past?  (You may want to try to contact the parents of these children if you can to see if the provider worked well for them)

Barriers:  Is there anything about the physical environment that would be hard for your child?

Talking with Potential Providers

It is more important to tell the provider about your child's personality, likes and dislikes, and regular daily routines rather than about his or her diagnosis.  Disability labels such as cerebral palsy can be very scary for a child care provider who does not know what this diagnosis means.  Tell the provider about what your child can and cannot do.  Let the provider know how your child behaves around other children when you are away.  Describe any special adaptations or routines that your child needs.

For example, "Mac is four years old and has Down's Syndrome.  He can run, draw with crayons, and sit still for a very short story.  His speech is about two years behind other kids his age.  He is very shy and needs extra encouragement to play with other kids.  He is also just learning to go potty on his own."

Working with Your Provider

After you decide on a child care provider, be available and encourage questions. Make sure you share specific information about your child to help the providers understand and provide quality child care. Tell them:

  • How your child lets you know what he or she wants or needs
  • How your child gets around
  • What special equipment, if any, your child uses
  • What kind of help is needed, if any, to assist your child with daily routines like feeding, using the restroom, putting on clothes and shoes, etc.
  • What medicines your child takes, how much, and when
  • If a special diet is needed
  • What your child really likes to do
  • What activities are difficult for your child
  • What other agencies or programs provide special services to your child. (It's a good idea to give your provider written permission to talk with or share written information with special service providers)

Your child care resource and referral program has services for providers serving children with special needs, such as technical assistance, training, and/or consultation and referrals to community agencies. Encourage your provider to Contact Us with any questions or concerns.