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Special Needs – Caregivers

All children share the same basic needs:  to be accepted, cared for, loved, valued, and supported. A child with special needs is someone who requires specific support for health, intellectual, emotional, or physical developmental needs. As a caregiver, being aware of every child's needs will help you provide the best care for all children.
Including a child with special needs in your program can benefit everyone. You will need to learn about the child’s daily activities, development, and routines in order to work as a team with parents and other professionals to contribute to the child’s success.

So, who is a child with special needs? A child with special needs experiences some delays or differences in their development. Children with special needs are also referred to as children with disabilities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, children with special needs have physical or mental disabilities that may limit them from “major life activities” such as breathing, learning, hearing, seeing, speaking, or walking.
There are many different types of special needs, and a child may have a combination of disabilities that may make learning or other activities more difficult. Some areas of developmental delays or disabilities include communication, emotional, social, intellectual, and physical.

If you suspect that a child in your care may have special needs, have a conversation with the parent and recommend an evaluation. As the child’s caregiver, it is important to provide parents with plenty of support and community resources. The child’s school district can often be a good place to begin the evaluation process and obtain resources. Caregivers and educators may feel concerned that caring for a child with special needs will mean less time and energy for other children, but inclusion actually benefits all children.

Inclusion means that all children, with or without special needs, learn in the same environment while receiving the support and services they need to be successful. Inclusion benefits all children by helping them to learn, understand, value, and accept each other for their individual differences. It also gives children an opportunity to work with others in a diverse environment, which promotes empathy and social skills.

Some ways to meet the needs of children in an inclusive program include:

  • Answering questions children have about another child who seems different from them. It is important to show a positive attitude toward their questions and help them understand and accept a child who may appear different.
  • Encouraging social interaction by teaching children how to play with and include a child with special needs. You can also encourage friendships by helping a child with special needs be more involved with peers, encouraging play that includes all children, and praising children for positive interactions.
  • You may need to provide additional support by giving more attention to a child with special needs. Include all children in special playtimes or lessons to prevent them from feeling left out.
  • The curriculum, method of teaching, meals, and physical environment may need to be changed to meet a child’s needs. Daily routines teach children what to expect and may help them feel comfortable and confident. Children with special needs may also have specific dietary needs.
  • Be prepared to coordinate on-­‐site services.  A child with special needs may require individualized sessions with other professionals, such as medical specialists, nutritional therapists, or speech therapists while they are in your care. You may need to ensure that the child and therapist have a quiet, private area to conduct a session.
  • It may be necessary to rearrange the physical layout of your program. This may include widening spaces for a wheelchair or obtaining special equipment.
  • Attend trainings about working with children who have special needs, and exchange ideas with other caregivers and parents who care for children with special needs.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, also known as IDEA, protects children with special needs by requiring public schools to provide free education to children with identified special needs. It also requires that each child ages birth to three years has an Individualized Family Service Plan, or Individualized Education Program, if they are three to twenty-one years old. These are also referred to as an IFSP and IEP.

If a child in your care is receiving special services, you may have the opportunity to participate in their IFSP or IEP. This may require open communication with parents and other professionals such as the child’s pediatrician and therapists, providing access to services, brainstorming and using methods to help the child as written in the IFSP or IEP, attending IFSP or IEP meetings, and sharing information with parents and professionals about how the child is doing.

To find our printable brochure, “Special Needs – Information for Caregivers,” as well as other helpful resources for child care providers, please visit our “For Providers” section at www.chs-­‐ca.org.

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