Top 3 Childcare Options for Children with Disabilities

children with special needs playing

Accessing appropriate childcare services challenges many parents who have children with disabilities. In the big cities, you can find daycare centers with specially trained staff and special facilities. They provide high quality care for children with a wide variety of complex disabilities, including autism. Admittedly, these childcare services are often expensive and the daycare centers can’t always keep up with the demand, but they do exist.

In smaller cities and towns, they don’t. This leaves many families with three main options.

1) Relying on Family and Friends

Many parents who have disabilities rely on family and friends to provide the childcare services they need. Sometimes this is their preferred choice. Sometimes this is their only choice. This option requires having at least one family member or friend who is available when the parent works. The childcare provider should be someone who knows the child and the disability well enough to provide quality care, even if they have no formal training or experience.

Many parents choose this option, because they can be reasonably sure their children are getting quality care from someone they can trust. They pick family members or friends they know they can rely on. They trust them to take good care of their children, because they know the providers they’ve chosen love the children, too.

This is often a good way to ensure that the same person takes care of the child for a long time, which provides a valuable sense of stability for the child.

Unfortunately, if the parents don’t have people they can trust who are also close enough to do the job, then this alternative isn’t really an option.

Even if this is an option, it might not be the best choice for your family. Caring for a child with disabilities can strain an otherwise healthy relationship, especially when the parent and the caregiver do not agree on what to do to handle challenges that may arise. Conversely, other strains in the relationship can negatively affect the quality of care provided to the child. The biggest downside, however, is that family and friends are probably not trained in either childcare or their children’s disabilities. While family or friends can care for your child, they may not be able to provide professional childcare services.

2) Hiring Professional Respite/Therapy Providers

A respite provider is kind of like a professional babysitter. They’re trained to provide care services for children (and adults) with disabilities. A therapy provider may be trained in a specific disability, like autism, or in a special set of skills, like speech and language development. Quite a few parents of children with disabilities hire respite or therapy providers to meet their childcare needs.

Finding the right provider can be a challenge, but when you do you often end up with another example of valuable stability. I hire the services of three different respite providers and the newest of them have cared for my children for over eight years. These professionals are usually trained—sometimes highly trained. Not only can they provide quality childcare services, they can also follow individualized development plans designed to help children overcome challenges associated with their disabilities.

The biggest downside is that these workers can be quite expensive. They’re childcare workers with special skills and the best of them are in high demand, so they can charge more for their services than a traditional babysitter. Like a babysitter, they often work with a single family—perhaps, even a single child. A fee of $15-25 per hour is not unheard of in a small town where living costs are low.

3) Training Receptive Childcare Staff

Some parents prefer the reliability and professionalism they can receive from a daycare center, even though the staff lacks the specialized training the children may need. Other parents lack the funds for respite or therapy providers and lack the close connections necessary to rely on family and friends, so a daycare center is their only viable option. On the up side, these facilities often provide attractive educational programs for the children they serve.

Daycare centers offer many parents with an affordable and beneficial childcare program for their children. Unfortunately, they may also experience high staff turnover, which can be less stable for the children. The main challenge is that they often lack the skills and training necessary to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities. This makes it especially important for parents to shop around until they find an acceptable childcare facility with receptive staff.

By taking the time to train staff members in a child’s unique needs, parents can ensure their children get the best care possible. Sometimes this means providing staff members with appropriate literature. Other times this requires working one-on-one with staff members to teach them how to handle special challenges. As long as the parents and the staff cooperate, they can usually create the level of service the children need. Keep in mind, however, that even special education teachers with advanced degrees in special education struggle to meet the needs of children with complex disabilities, including autism. So, it shouldn’t surprise you if a childcare professional is frequently overwhelmed by your child’s needs.

All three options offer important benefits. It’s not an easy choice to make. It seems very few things about parenting are easy, especially when children have disabilities. As challenging as this all sounds, the truth is that parents can access quality childcare services for their children with disabilities, even in smaller communities that lack specialized childcare facilities that can be found in big cities.

Bio: Stephanie Allen Crist is a writer and an advocate. She is also the mother of three children with disabilities. Stephanie is the author of Discovering Autism / Discovering Neurodiversity and First Steps: Understanding Autism. Learn more at

Learn more about parenting children with special needs here.

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