Daycare & Respite
for Children with Disabilities: Tips for Parents and Providers
Igafo-Te'o, Bridges4Kids, April 9, 2006
For more articles like this
Our experiences with childcare have
been both positive and negative. In Michael’s current childcare
setting, employees use structure, a steady temperament and
patience, blended with a series of choices to positively engage
Michael during his visit – whether it is for an hour or for ten
hours. Sometimes this can be as simple as knowing when Michael
needs to be in a quiet space away from the other children,
sitting down and drawing a cartoon character with him or fixing
him a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner.
A few years ago, at another childcare center, I walked in after
work only to witness a worker throw my 60 pound son up against
the wall in the main hallway. Looking back, I realize that the
incident occurred because the staff member was not prepared to
work with Michael nor did he want to work with Michael. He saw
his behavior merely as bad behavior instead of Michael’s
attempts to communicate discomfort or fear. The atmosphere was
simply too overwhelming for Michael.
Finding someone who “gets” your child and who understands their
special needs is a true blessing for any family. The extra
challenges and time required to care for a child with special
needs can never be underestimated.
Our experiences have been filled with trial and error, success
and failure. Here are some things that those who have worked
with our children have found to be useful:
1) Study up on the disability. Never take anything for
granted. One child’s seemingly “bad behavior” may be his
reaction to transition or an overwhelming noise level. It may
not be behavior related at all but merely his way of
communicating his discomfort or difficulty in accepting the
things around him.
Ask the parents about what works
and what doesn’t.
Get a good idea of what it takes to
care for this child.
Learn about his/her communication
methods and how he/she deals with pain or with uncomfortable
2) Track data related to
outbursts and questionable “behavior” in order to figure
triggers and possible ways to calm the child.
Track behaviors along side possible
‘triggers’ that may cause them ie. Sitting in circle time may
cause the child to put his hands over his ears and rock because
he is uncomfortable sitting in such close proximity to other
Use the data to come up with ways
to avoid possible ‘triggers’ or meltdowns for the child.
the child with someone who compliments his personality. Avoid
matching up a child with someone who is overly aggressive or
Personalities are a big issue.
Children (like those with autism) have a keen sense of who likes
them and who doesn’t.
Children may display dislike with
someone by acting out.
Children may be uncomfortable with
a certain staff member because they remind them of someone else
who they’ve had a bad experience with.
Learn not to take it personally.
Have the family
provide information beforehand on known likes, dislikes,
triggers, calming methods, sensory issues, transitions,
allergies, food sensitivity, potty training practices and
This can help you avoid situations
where the child may become embarrassed or overwhelmed.
Try to keep the child away from
things/situations that are known to cause frustration.
Remember that behaviors are NOT
ALWAYS BAD behaviors. They can be a child’s way of
expressing their feelings.
Transition can be hard on any child
– especially a child with a disability such as Autism. You may
have to come up with a ritualistic way of blending into the next
thing on the schedule.
Value the input from siblings. You can never underestimate the
words of wisdom from a sibling. They may have great insight into
things that will help you as you work with the child.
6) Avoid making a “big deal” at
pick up time about every single negative thing that happened
during the day. Parents already know that it is challenging to
care for their child.
This is one of my pet peeves. It is
not necessary to fill the parent in on every single negative
happening of the day. Believe me – we already know how
challenging it is to care for a child with a disability. Don’t
be afraid to ask questions or to bring up disturbing issues
though – this may be a good way to find out additional,
important things about the child.
Perhaps a notebook is best. This
way you’re not “telling” everything but you’re documenting as a
way of trying to figure out triggers and/or behaviors of
7) Try to find ways to include
the child in activities which interest them. Find ways to
incorporate turn taking and playing with other children. Tap
into their strengths. Take something positive and use it in
other aspects of their day. For instance, if a child excels at
reading, let him read a book to the toddler group or allow him
to pick a book on Fridays to read to the group.
A good way to make a child feel
more comfortable in their environment is to boost their
self-esteem and comfort level about a situation.
If a child excels at reading,
possible let the child pick a book once each week or read a book
to a toddler group.
If this child ‘gets along with’
children younger then them, maybe it’s their way of fitting in.
Find ways to incorporate this “like” into their day.
If the child is very ritualistic in
nature, find something that he can do that is positive. For
instance, allow him to clap the erasers or stack the puzzles…or
line up the books at the end of the day.
8) Avoid stigmatizing the child;
don’t make him seem anymore different than he may already seem
to his peers. Avoid putting them into situations which are known
to cause meltdowns or tantrums. This only further stigmatizes
the child and makes your day much more difficult. In other
words, pick your battles.
Remember that children are like
little sponges. They absorb everything we say and do. They look
up to us.
Speak kindly of a child with a
‘difference’ and you’ll set the tone for a life filled with
acceptance for the ‘typical’ children.
Don’t make a big deal about
differences. If you must call a child out, do not do this in a
public forum. Pull the child aside and talk to them. You might
find that their behavior is warranted.
Have conversations with children about how everyone is different
- and that differences are part of what makes us each special.
9) Invite the parent to come in
so that you can observe them as they work with their child in
the childcare setting. This will give you an idea of how they
deal with specific situations that may arise.
This is a good way to see how the
child acts within your center. See how the parent deals with
issues that arise. Take notes if necessary.
If possible, try to observe the
child in their own home. This is a GREAT way to see how they act
on a regular basis. It is also another opportunity to see how
the parent deals with issues that arise.
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