By Courtney Freitag
Finding the right person to provide respite or child care is a common challenge for any family. However, children that require special care or medical requirements add an extra layer of complexity.
As school doors open and students are welcomed back into the classroom, families juggle schedules that often require care for children with autism. The level of care can vary from dressing, grooming and feeding care to accommodating sensory needs, toileting and assistance with homework. However, having options and choices for a welcoming, safe environment is a critical step for children to be appreciated in a diverse setting.
There are also many benefits to early childhood and school-age children in an inclusive setting—for both the child and the caregiver. “Inclusive child care is important because it makes child care about caring for children, not separating someone because they may be labeled as ‘different,’” says Sheila Baer, owner of Baerly Big Child Care in Tigard. “It starts with teaching tolerance for one another.”
Children with autism will require an individualized approach to their needs, being aware of how to incorporate social skills, behavioral goals and different strategies than their neurotypical peers. Whether it is in a group setting or a one-on-one caregiver, a reliable and qualified provider is like an extension of your family.
Inclusive child care simply means children with and without special needs are cared for together. Addressing the specific needs of your child, and setting up parameters for proper support, is a step toward inclusivity so children on the spectrum are given a chance to meet their potential. When inclusive child care options are available, families don’t have to face potentially losing a job or be forced to be the primary caregiver for a special needs child.
First, decide what type of child care setting and option is the best fit and what works best for your family dynamic. There are a few varying types and each one has its own benefits depending on the needs of the child:
- In-home: A daycare professional that serves the family in their home
- Home-based daycare: Small setting generally in a licensed provider’s home
- Inclusive/specialized schools: Quality care by those trained and experienced with children on the spectrum
Depending on what type of set-up is ideal, creating a plan and outline of information is essential. The Inclusive Child Care Program outlines helpful information that will help a provider serve a child on the spectrum, such as:
- A child’s interests, special likes/dislikes and favorite activities
- A child’s strengths and abilities
- A child’s specific needs and the best way to meet them
- Any fears or concerns
- Best ways to communicate with the family
- How to keep consistency between home and the child care facility (if off-site)
- People that may be helpful to a provider, such as a therapist or specialist that works with the child
ICCP also outlines the many benefits of inclusive child care to children and youth, whether they experience a disability or not:
- Young people are not segregated. The negative effects of labeling and lack of familiarity are decreased.
- Young and school-age children have opportunities to learn from and share experiences with each other
- This includes positive models for learning, communication and behaviors
- All children feel a sense of belonging
- Children of all ages learn to appreciate diversity in others
- When everyone participates, children have opportunities to be creative, resourceful and cooperative
Child care providers also benefit to opening their doors or servicing families with children on the spectrum. Gaining knowledge and skills of this population allows educators to bring their knowledge to children requiring a bit of extra care, demonstrating a flexibility and understanding that each child has its own unique needs.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a caretaker,” Baer says. “So accommodating children with autism or any other ‘ability’ comes naturally. I just want children to have a fun and safe environment to be in. A child should never feel excluded for being who they are.”
QUESTIONS TO ASK A CHILD CARE PROVIDER (reprinted with permission from Autism Action):
- What experience do you have working with children on the autism spectrum?
- What is the caregiver to child ratio? Will there be enough childcare providers to give your child the care he/she needs?
- How much staff turnover has there been in the past year? What is the average tenure of the staff?
- What are your minimum requirements when hiring caregivers for your facility? Note: Caregivers with degrees and/or special training in working with children will be better equipped to work with your child.
- Are caregivers involved in activities to improve their skills such as classes or workshops?
- What type of background checks are done on staff? Likewise, if you choose an in-home daycare, ask the provider if there will be other family members around the children. If yes, who? What is their background?
- What is the daily schedule or routine?
- Describe organized activities you provide for children.
- If my child needs time alone to decompress how will that be handled?
- Do you develop individual goals for each child?
- Describe how you discipline
- Describe feedback I will receive about my child at the end of the day
- How do you handle emergencies?
- Can parents “drop in” for a visit? (Note: If the provider says, “No”, this is a red flag. You should be able to drop in unannounced at any time.)
- How do you handle toilet training?
- Do you accommodate special diets (if your child has food allergies)?
- If your child has sensory issues, take into account the lighting, noise, etc. Are the rooms appealing yet not over stimulating?
- What is the overall attitude of the adults working with the children? Are they attentive with a positive attitude or do they appear overwhelmed? When touring the facility, do you notice a variety of developmental activities taking place?