Daycare for special needs: How to find a good one
Updated: August 29, 2023 · 5 Minute Read
Christine Hernandez, Specialist at Winnie
- Teach the daycare staff about any specific strategies that help your child manage stress or regulate emotions.
- Work with the daycare to establish a consistent daily routine. Try to copy the daycare’s schedule at home.
- Special needs programs are specifically designed to cater to children with disabilities or special needs. These programs have trained staff who specialize in working with kids requiring extra support.
- Low-income families can find affordable daycare programs through sites like Head Start.
Daycares for special needs offer a more structured and individualized approach than typical daycares. They focus on your child’s unique needs, providing appropriate therapies and interventions to help them thrive. These programs also offer a supportive environment where your child can interact with peers facing similar challenges, helping them develop social skills and a sense of belonging. As you explore options, the below list includes pieces of advice from other parents:
Advice from parents:
- Share your homework: You’ve already done the work to understand your child’s needs, strengths, and challenges. Share that info with the daycare staff. Communication is key to creating an inclusive environment.
- Create a guidebook: This guidebook can include all of your child’s favorite things and how to calm them down. You might already have one ready from your experience with babysitters or teachers! Here’s our childcare, teacher, and babysitter guidebook template if you don’t have one. Teach the daycare staff about any specific strategies that help your child manage stress or regulate emotions. Sensory tools, visual supports, and communication methods can make a big difference. Share strategies to support your child’s engagement and address any challenges that may arise. Share any existing Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or recommendations from your child’s school.
- Ask for the daycare’s routine: Many kids with autism and other developmental differences thrive with structure. Work with the daycare to establish a consistent daily routine. Try to copy the daycare’s schedule at home. For example, if all the kids nap from 12–2pm, do the same on the weekends. Visual schedules and clear communication about changes are crucial.
- Ask for sensory-friendly areas: Many autistic kids have sensory processing challenges. Talk to the daycare about your child’s preferences. Ask them to create a calming environment, minimize noise, and provide sensory activities. Let them know about any light sensitivities.
- Keep the convo going: Stay in touch with the daycare staff to stay informed about your child’s progress, challenges, and any adjustments made. Ask for an incident plan. If your child gets overwhelmed or has a meltdown, how are they going to handle it? Share updates and strategies from outside of daycare. If a child has the Medicaid Waiver, their care manager may have an emergency plan/incident plan already created that you can share.
- Loop in your support system: Coordinate with your family, therapists, and professionals outside of daycare to align goals and strategies. Consistency is key for your child’s development.
Is a special needs program better than daycare?
Both options have their advantages, but they serve different purposes. Daycare centers can provide a safe and nurturing environment for your child. They focus on meeting basic needs and ensuring your little one is taken care of while you’re at work or doing your thing. While they may offer some educational activities and opportunities to socialize, their main goal is keeping your child safe and happy.
Special needs programs are specifically designed to cater to children with disabilities or special needs. These programs have trained staff who specialize in working with kids requiring extra support. They provide tailored educational activities, therapies, and interventions to address specific challenges and developmental needs.
Special needs programs offer a more structured and individualized approach. They focus on your child’s unique needs, providing appropriate therapies and interventions to help them thrive. These programs also offer a supportive environment where your child can interact with peers facing similar challenges, helping them develop social skills and a sense of belonging.
When it comes down to it, the decision between a special needs program and daycare depends on your child’s needs, the quality of programs available in your area, and your family’s preferences and circumstances. It can be helpful to consult professionals like pediatricians or special needs educators to determine the best option for your child.
What are options for affordable daycare?
Many parents find the most affordable option is to ask for family support. This isn’t always possible (or the best for the child’s development). Childcare can cost as much as $22,154 in Ann Arbor, Michigan and as little as $4,807 in Sumter, South Carolina.1 Here are some affordable daycare options to consider:
- Family Child Care Homes: These small in-home daycares (usually no more than 6) offer a more wallet-friendly alternative to larger daycare centers. Plus, your child gets the personalized attention they deserve. Try negotiating rates.
- Nonprofit Daycare Centers: Look for daycare centers run by nonprofit organizations. They often receive funding or subsidies, which means lower prices for you.
- Cooperative Daycares: Share the load with other parents by joining a cooperative daycare. You take turns as caregivers and split the costs, making it a budget-friendly option.
- Employer-Sponsored Daycare: Some companies have on-site or nearby daycare facilities for their employees. These setups may offer discounted rates or financial assistance.
- Government Assistance Programs: Check out government programs in your area that provide financial aid or subsidies for daycare expenses. Depending on your income, you might qualify for some much-needed help.
- Head Start Program: If you’re in the US, the Head Start program is a godsend for many low-income families. They offer comprehensive early childhood education and daycare services.
- Preschool Programs: Look into preschools that offer full-day programs inclusive of daycare services. These often have more affordable tuition rates compared to standalone daycare centers.
- Community-Based Programs: Scope out local community centers, religious organizations, or community nonprofits that may have affordable daycare options or information on subsidized programs. Your neighborhood might surprise you!
Regularly check in the daycare environment to make sure it meets your child’s changing needs. You can find daycares near you on Beaming Health or Winnie. Learn how to prepare your child for daycare in our latest guide.
Written by Amy Gong and edited by Jeryn Cambrah. Amy is a neurodivergent marketing executive at Beaming Health, helping her mom run a daycare of six amazing kids in LA. Jeryn Cambrah is a neurodivergent mother of an autistic child. She's passionate about equipping parents with the knowledge they need to help their children thrive.
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- Raising a Child Can Cost More Than $30K Per Year in the U.S. – 2023 Study | SmartAsset.com. SmartAsset. Published May 19, 2023. Accessed June 2, 2023. https://smartasset.com/data-studies/cost-raise-child-2023