Many of us look for childcare and preschool programs for a variety of reasons. Some parents require childcare in order to return to work, and/or to have a break from our care-giving responsibilities. In addition, many parents are also eager (as we were) for their child to have an opportunity to be with other children in an educational preschool setting. There are several different types of childcare options (in your home, in-home daycare, daycare centers, preschools) and you may have a preference for one over another. This is a very personal decision, but sometimes when you have a special needs child, you are faced with having fewer choices. Since our family faced many challenges and limited choices during the first few years, I am providing you with a place to start your search by compiling a list of childcare and preschool facilities who openly market themselves as welcoming our children. You will find this in the Education/Preschool Resources section of the site. If I could not find a facility in your state I provided a link to the state agency that conducts the licensure for daycare facilities, and/or the state office that provides childcare referrals.

We went through so many different hurdles trying to find the right people and places for our daughter but we have found some wonderful people and places along the way. It didn’t help that we moved during our daughter’s toddler years and had to start over finding new resources. I have learned that not all facilities and people who appeared to be “the best” were appropriate for my child. In fact, we experienced much resistance and passive discrimination at a University hospital’s facility that was NAEYC accredited and had all of the bells and whistles. I was so naive in the beginning. I thought if we were reasonable with our expectations and because we had a good-natured disposition, we would be received in the same manner. Weren’t these places and people bound by law to provide “reasonable accommodation”? Apparently, these laws do not always inspire people and places to do the right thing.

Throughout this time I have often felt like Julie Roberts in the movie Notting Hill when she says, “I am just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her.” I do not think I ever felt so vulnerable in my life as I did going to door to door trying to find a pre-school willing to allow our daughter to participate in their program. While searching for a school I often would think of this movie and say to myself, “she is just a little girl, like any other, standing in front of you people, and asking you to love her”.

Perhaps, you will have a positive experience from the start and I hope you will be met with genuine compassion and open arms. If not, do not be disheartened. I have shed too many tears over people’s fear and stupidity when there are people and places out there willing and capable of caring for our children in a safe and stimulating environment. Sometimes the search is more labor intensive depending on how familiar people and places are with ADA guidelines. If you get discouraged contact your local Department of Social Services. There is a federal grant program funded by CCDF and within each state there should be a contact person and team (the name of the program receiving money from CCDF will vary by state) available to provide education and assistance to childcare facilities about including our children or  you may have other local agencies that provides education and resources about inclusion.

Many states are acknowledging the problems both facilities and families of special needs children are facing working together, and have started programs offering additional funds to facilities caring for a special needs child. Before you get angry about a bad experience, remember how little daycare workers typically earn, and the limited resources the facility may have access to (or feel they need) in order to appropriately accommodate your child. Many facilities also feel very vulnerable to lawsuits and we cannot really blame them. We live in a litigious society and when a special needs child or parent walks in the door, many people panic.

Hopefully you will find that the places you visit will make “reasonable accommodations” as they are supposed to according to law. If they do not, or if you do not have a good feeling about the facility, move on and find the one that will. Do not waste your energy taking a moral stand when other opportunities await your child. Would you really want your child in a program when they present themselves in such a negative way from the beginning? At the same time, if you feel strongly about voicing your concerns find someone who cares, who will listen, and a person or place that will do something positive with the information you are giving them. As special needs parents we need to conserve our energy whenever possible; so choose your battles and anger wisely.

Despite my desire to remain objective, there have been times where I just resigned myself to accepting that some people are just unpleasant, and even cruel and I did not hesitate to tell them. The one time we did formally document and report our experience of discrimination at a facility (where my child attended), nothing further was done to remedy the problems we knew existed. Instead, they fired the one staff member who was honest with us about how our child was being treated. So, be mindful of what your goals are if you do file a complaint, be diligent in finding the best forum for articulating your concerns and who they are reported to, and realize the potential need to remove your child from a facility (if he/she is already enrolled).

Sometimes you find help in the most unlikely places. Spread the word that you are looking for help. Talk to other parents (particularly those people who have children with special needs), social workers, doctors, or whomever you know that is a good source of information related to caring for your child. Your ABC representative or other advocacy organizations should have a list of centers and people they have already worked with to help establish inclusive programs. Perhaps there is a place that I have listed in your state that you find interesting but is far from where you live. Pick up the phone and call them. Ask them if they know of facilities or people in your area that could help you.

You may have to have some flexibility with your expectations, but never let that flexibility include a potential compromise of your child’s safety. We made compromises at various times. Our daughter has not always been in the least restrictive environment because the opportunities for something different were not supportive enough. We recently compromised on placing her in a preschool of a different religious affiliation than our own. The childcare and preschool searches have been lessons in patience, creativity, advocacy for my child, and offering up lots of prayers.

For more information and resources on education, pre-school, and childcare please see the Education/Preschool Resources section of the website.