When you have a special needs child, you want him/her to be well-cared for in your absence. It can be difficult to find decent babysitters and daycare. You are entrusting them with a child that may not be able to speak, or may have outbursts from time to time, which can be very challenging for anyone who does not have enough experience. Yet, you still want your child to spend time with children his/her own age. Finding an inclusive (i.e., an educational environment that mingles all children of varying abilities) daycare is an even bigger challenge. Here is what to look for, and questions you should be asking.
What to Look For
Not all children who have special needs "look" like they have special needs. In fact, children with Asperger's or high functioning autism look just like every other child in the room. You will not be able to spot the children with special needs (unless they are in wheelchairs or have Down's Syndrome), so it is best to look for other signs of inclusivity. Those signs include ramps for wheelchairs, grab bars along the walls, pediatric Hoyer lifts for toileting and naptime, adaptive tableware for meals and snack times, etc., etc.. Then ask about inclusivity and the daycare's licensing for special needs children.
What to Ask the Center Director
The center director is typically the one who gives you a tour of the center and answers your questions. Where inclusivity and your child are concerned, you should be asking all of the following:
- In what ways does the center include differently-abled children in everyday activities?
- What is the teacher ratio when children with special needs are in a classroom?
- How is toileting managed? (This is especially important if your child is still learning to use the toilet.)
- Can the center accommodate special dietary needs? (e.g., soft mechanical, liquid tube feeding, etc.)
- Is the playground outside handi-accessible?
- How are challenging behaviors managed? (Because a time-out does not work for a meltdown when the child does not comprehend why he/she cannot go outside when the weather has turned bad)
Any other questions you have concerning the care of your child should be asked at this time. If you have any helpful information that the teachers in the center can use in challenging situations, be sure to inform the daycare center director of these issues and then ask how the teachers will be expected to handle these situations.