3 tips for finding the right childcare for your child with special needs

Kinderling News & Features

Finding a daycare for kids is a challenging process. Somewhere with ample outdoor space, good educators and strong communication channels are all part of a longer checklist of necessities every parent has. Finding somewhere that ticks all the boxes is made even trickier when your child has a neurological or physical disability.

Christine Zuvela has worked with families of children on the spectrum for over 17 years. She’s also a  childcare centre director at SDN Beranga, a centre with educators trained in understanding various abilities.

This makes her well-equipped to share her knowledge with parents who may be going through this process right now.

 “Parents that have a child with additional needs have those extra challenges looking for not only a centre that's convenient for the whole family … it's also looking at how is that centre going to support [the] child and[the] child's unique needs as well.”

Parents are at the start of a lifelong journey of supporting their child; and a childcare centre is often the first place they’ll leave their child away from home.

“Parents are getting used to the fact that they've got a child now with a developmental delay or a disability … On top of that, having to advocate for their child,” Christine said. Sometimes, the parent doesn’t actually know what is necessary, so they’re still getting their head around what their child needs on a day-to-day basis.

As Christine told Kinderling Conversation, there are three key things to remember during this process:

1. Ask LOTS of questions

Christine said that families need to ask more questions and examine the centre further to ensure their child’s needs will be met. She suggested families decide what they really need from a centre and jot it all down on a list. Then when you go look at potential places of care, take the list and ask about everything you’ve written on it.

“It might be you might have a child who is non-verbal. Ask the question, ‘How are you going to communicate with my child, and how are you going to ensure that my child can communicate with you?’” Christine said.  “Asking those questions are really important.”

2. You’re allowed to be pushy

Separation anxiety can be more intense for a child on the autism spectrum; each child has specific needs in order to have a good day.

Christine said it’s important that the daycare centre should take this into consideration and parents should know it’s okay for them to be pushy in order to look after their child’s needs.

Listen to Christine on Kinderling Conversation:

 “Arrival time for that child is really important. If the day is going to be a positive experience … and if we want children to succeed in childcare, we want it to start positively, otherwise the day will just completely unravel,” Christine explained.

3. Prepare for transitions

A transition is moving from one space to another, one activity to another, or from one school or daycare to another.

“For a child with autism that can be really challenging,” Christine said. “What we know is we need to prepare children for those transitions and that takes time.”

When a family starts at a new centre, Christine suggested they go a few times to meet the educators and get to know the spaces with the parent. In addition to this, she said to bring items from home along. 

“Often what we do is, when the child and family are starting, we will put things in in the environment that are familiar for them to start them off so that they start with something that's really familiar and gradually get used to the new space.”

You could also head to a child care centre's Open Day to check out what they're about. SDN Beranga Open Day is on July 7 at 10am, and you can register here.

Christine warned that some centres without specially trained educators who know how to communicate with children on the spectrum, can show a lack of understanding in responding to a child’s behaviour. Educators can rush through those tricky transition moments. For example, when moving from outdoor to indoor play, if a child is not feeling prepared, they will miss the next learning experience.

“It's really important that educators understand the importance of giving the child enough preparation time to be able to transition effectively and therefore not miss really good learning experiences.”

This segment was presented by SDN Disability Services for children, providing you with support as unique as your child. For more information visit sdn.org.au.