Finding a special needs daycare and preschool can be challenging and stressful. However, the benefits it can provide in the form of socialization and structured programming make it worthwhile for many families. First, it's important to understand that all daycares and preschools
(with the exception of religiously controlled child care programs) must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means that child care centers
and home daycares
can't deny your special needs baby because of any disability (unless they are a threat to other children or would require fundamentally altering the nature of the daycare.)
That said, the level of experience and training of staff can vary widely and a given facility may not be well-equipped to provide the best environment for special needs children. It is therefore often worth looking for an inclusive preschool that specifically welcomes and integrates children with and without special needs. The teacher-to child ratio and overall group size should also be considered, as a smaller number makes it easier to facilitate individualized care. If your child has specific healthcare needs, it is important to make sure that the special needs preschool you chose can accommodate them.
Some things are legally mandated by the ADA, so for example, if your daycare has a policy against administering medicine, this should not apply to your special needs child if he or she needs medicine to treat a disability. Cleanliness can also be critical for some medical conditions, so if this is a concern, keep an eye out for things like a high presence of alcohol-based hand gel, soap, and sinks. Tables, cribs, and toys at a daycare for special needs children should all be disinfected very often, and you should obtain a copy of the daycare's sick policy so you can gauge the possible level of exposure.
While many approaches to special needs child care can be effective, certain educational philosophies are especially well suited, including the popular Montessori
, and Reggio Emilia
approaches. Each of them emphasizes the need for children to learn at their own pace, and is supportive of child-directed exploration and uneven skill development. This not only helps all children celebrate their strengths without feeling bad about their weaknesses, but also creates an environment that embraces individual differences.
No matter the program you choose, ongoing communication with the teachers and staff is the best way to ensure that they and your child form a happy and productive relationship. Even child care centers that have rarely or never had a special needs child might be great with a little education and collaboration with the parents. Always ask about training and environment, but also don't hesitate to ask if the staff is willing to learn something new to help your child have the support that he or she needs to thrive.