Daycare Facilities for Disabled Children

Checklist for Researching Daycare Facilities

Choosing a daycare facility for disabled children can be a time-consuming process, not to speak of the emotions that accompany finding the right setting for your child. Parents want to find a facility that offers both the best care for their children and one that their child will be happy attending.

A physical therapy session with a disabled child
 fatihhoca / E+ / Getty Images

Not all daycare facilities are created equal, however. In addition, the laws about the care offered vary from private to public daycare facilities, and from state to state. Therefore, it is important to research all aspects of a facility before placing your child in daycare. A good first step is to make sure you check out the top childcare options for children with disabilities.

Your child's daycare environment can play a big role in their later success. 

What to Look For in Choosing the Best Daycare Facility

When researching a daycare facility for disabled children, there are many different factors to consider. These will include everything from the amount of attention your child can expect to receive, to the ability of your child to navigate their surroundings in the facility, to your "gut" feeling about what is the right fit.

Evaluating and then making a decision can seem a daunting task, but taking the time to consider the following items may help you narrow down your options and help you focus on the facilities which will best meet the needs for both you and your child. Take time to consider:

  • Entrance to the facility/accessibility. Is the entrance to the daycare facility accessible? A facility that caters to the disabled should have a ramp or lift that assists those using mobility devices to easily access the building. Automatic doors are also a sign that it is an accessible facility.
  • Indoor facilities. The inside of the facility should appear clean, smell clean, and have accessible classroom doors, tables, chairs, and bathrooms. If there is more than one floor of the building, is there an elevator for students using mobility devices? Take the time to actually walk around the facility to get a feel for how your child will navigate their way each day.
  • Classroom child to staff ratio. In order for a child to get the attention they need, they require as much one-on-one time with a teacher as possible. In some cases, a child may need an aide that spends the entire day with the child to make sure that all of their needs are being met.
  • Research provider skills. Do the teachers have the skills, training, and experience to teach a child with a specific disability? Don't be afraid to ask about the background of any and all professionals and paraprofessionals who will be working with your child. As you are well aware, as a parent of a child with a disability, "book smarts" and "street smarts" can differ. Do the teachers and other staff appear to have experience working with a child with a disability like yours, and more, do they seem to have a passion for doing so? Make sure that the facility chosen has the staff with the best skills and experience to care for a disabled child.
  • Educational environment. The best daycare facility has a positive educational environment that promotes the physical, emotional, and social growth of all of the children in a classroom. Look for a classroom where the children are being engaged and are allowed to interact with each other. As much as possible and you are allowed, take the time to attend a few classes and be a "fly on the wall" so you can get an idea what your child will experience each day.
  • Discipline and guidance. Observe a class in progress as well as other group activities being led by teachers. What form of discipline is being used to maintain control of a group of children? How are the children being guided to do what is being asked of them in class? Don't assume you have the answer, and specifically ask how any problems will be dealt with, thinking of concerns that may arise with your child. Are you comfortable with this approach? Will the staff call you if a concern arises? It's important to any child that there is consistency between the daycare environment and the home environment. If there are any concerns you have about philosophies that differ from your own, bring them to light right away, before your child enters that environment.
  • Staff response time. As you are observing a class or other instruction if a child does something that requires a teacher’s response, how long does the child wait? Are there aides in the classroom that can assist the teacher to see to the immediate needs of the children? Again, taking the time to sit in on classroom activities, if this is allowed, will give you a chance to visualize how this works in the particular daycare.
  • Planned activities. What is a typical day like at the daycare facility? Find out what type of activities are planned on a daily basis. Ask if field trips are given and if so, how often. Is there a playground, gym, or therapy pool on the premises?

Daycare and Special Education

Some daycare facilities are very similar to special education facilities, whereas others are not, and either may be the best fit depending on your needs. There are some excellent facilities that offer daycare in what appears to be more of a traditional school, with the exception of all of the students being disabled. For others, a daycare facility may simply be a place for children to be cared for during the day, without the expectation of an education due to ability level. Some facilities may care for children who are disabled up to the age of 22, due to state laws that allow disabled children more time to complete their high school education. The wide range of options emphasizes why it is so important to visit the school and go through the checklist above in addition to the questions and concerns you add to the list.

Bottom Line

Due to the potentially lengthy period of time a child may spend in a daycare or a special education facility, it is important to be sure that all of a child’s needs are being met as they grow. By choosing the best daycare facility for disabled children, a parent can ensure that their child will receive the attention they need when a parent isn’t around to monitor their care and receive instruction appropriate for their abilities.

The process can seem overwhelming, but it is possible to find a daycare setting for your child with a disability which both provides them what they need and gives you the reassurance you need so that you can be effective and comfortable when they are away. Consider all of the points on the checklist above and take the time to add whatever pros and cons you have discovered yourself in the process. Of course, much of a decision is subjective and your child is the best judge. You may even want to keep notes after you visit each facility. Perhaps rank their "happiness" or "interest" on a scale of 1 to 10. Many parents are able to find a daycare that they are not only pleased with, but pleasantly surprised with.

Finally, remember that any decision you make is not permanent. Make a place on your calendar to reassess your decision, whether it is once a week or once a year, the important thing is to do so.

The Need Goes On

Choosing a daycare option for a child with a disability is a great step for when you need to work, but what about when you need to live your life in other ways?

And finally, finally, the last daycare need should be addressed. The concept of daycare syndrome and frequent infections. You may be planning on returning to work but feeling horribly guilty as other parents (and worse yet, relatives) talk about how your child who is disabled already is more likely to develop infections. Yes, kids in daycare get infections. And yes, kids who were not in daycare get a host of infections when they begin school. Returning to work should not be a guilt trip for you. Many children with disabilities thrive in a daycare setting in ways they never could at home. What is important is for you to be comfortable with your child's care, and that may require plugging your ears to the many well-meant but hurtful comments you may hear in the process.

Take the time to learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and how this may affect you and your child. Almost all privately run child care centers must comply with the ADA.

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By Charlotte Gerber
Charlotte Gerber is a disability writer and advocate. She has made a career of educating the public about various diseases and disabilities.