Choosing Child Care for Your Special Needs Child

Choosing child care for any child can be an arduous and stressful task, but if you are the parent of a special needs child, it can also be a very confusing and emotional experience. There are many things that have to be considered when placing a special needs child with a child care provider, whether it be an individual or a licensed day care center, such as the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) child care laws, what questions to ask and what to look for when visiting a potential center or caregiver.

With the exception of child care centers run by religious entities, all child care providers, including small home based providers, must comply with Title III of the ADA laws. According to the Department of Justice website the basic requirements of Title III are as follows;

  • Centers cannot exclude children with disabilities from their programs unless their presence would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others or require a fundamental alteration of the program.
  • Centers have to make reasonable modifications to their policies and practices to integrate children, parents, and guardians with disabilities into their programs, unless doing so would constitute a fundamental alteration.
  • Centers must provide appropriate auxiliary aides and services needed for effective communication with children or adults with disabilities, when doing so would not constitute an undue burden.
  • Centers must generally make their facilities accessible to persons with disabilities. Existing facilities are subject to the readily achievable standard for barrier removal, while newly constructed facilities and any altered portions of existing facilities must be fully accessible.


All childcare providers must follow these laws unless they are religious entities.

Once you are sure that the caregiver you are considering is in compliance with the ADA laws, you should visit the facility at an unannounced time to observe the activities of the center and the quality of care the children are receiving.

PhotosToGoUnlimited-904271Wendy Zwicker, Program Director for the Special Needs Unit of the YMCA Child Care Resource Service through the Department of YMCA in San Diego County, feels this is one of the most important steps of choosing a child care center or provider. “If they won’t allow you into the center or home when you show up unannounced, be aware. It probably means they are not providing quality care.”

Once you feel comfortable that a center or provider is providing adequate care, you should set up an appointment to speak with the child care administrator or provider to ask important questions about the quality and type of care your child will receive. You should also use the time in the center or home to further observe the activities and the center itself. According to Zwicker, you should pay special attention to how the center is organized.

“Look around and see if the center is child friendly, for example, if toys and supplies are within reach of a child to make it easier for the child to help him/herself,” she says. “Look at the pathways in the center to make sure they are clear of obstructions and easy for the child to maneuver through and also observe if the restrooms are readily accessible and child friendly. You should also pay attention to the ratio of caregivers to children. Are there enough care givers that your child will be taken care of and receive the attention that he or she needs?”

One indication of whether or not a child care facility is child oriented and not just geared towards parents is the location of the children’s’ artwork. “There are times when a center wants to showcase artwork for parents, but the artwork of the children also needs to be on their eye level so they can see and take pride in their accomplishments,” states Zwicker.

While talking to the caregiver, be sure to gather specific information, such as the level of experience the caregiver has in dealing with special needs children. Zwicker also recommends making sure the center is accountable. “Find a provider that is both licensed and monitored,” she urges. Determine what kind of schedules and routines the caregiver has in case accommodations need to be made for the child, what kind of experience and training (if any) are provided to other caregivers that may be taking care of your child, and what they can do to accommodate the special needs of a child.

Be sure to give all the pertinent information about your child that the caregiver will need to know to assure the best quality of care. Be honest about your child’s disabilities and needs and discuss any concerns the provider may have. This is an important step in assuring open and honest communication between the caregiver and yourself. There should be a partnership between both parties to ensure the success of you child while in the center or home.

Sara Thompson, of Endicott, Washington, placed her son with ADHD, Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) and anxiety in childcare when he was still a baby. Her experience, for the most part, has been a successful one.

“I really find that children in daycare are better socialized and adjust better. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for us if we wouldn’t have put him in care,” says Thompson.

“I find that parents need a break sometimes,” she says. “Some days I would put him in daycare so I could have a day at home.” Thompson appreciates the respite from caring for her son, while knowing he has a chance to socialize and develop new skills.

With the right support, placing your child with special needs in a day care center or with a home based care provider can be very successful. Once the emotional hurdle is overcome and the stress of finding the right center is lifted, it can be beneficial to both you and your child.

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