Although it may seem like a relatively uncomplicated decision, choosing a day care for your child can sometimes feel as challenging as choosing a college or career path. This decision is only made more complex when your child has a physical or mental disability that can impair his or her ability to thrive in a traditional day care setting. What are your best day care options for a disabled child, and what should you evaluate in choosing a specific program? Read on to learn more about some of the available options and how they may be able to help your child develop social skills and confidence.
What day care programs are targeted to meet the needs of disabled children?
There are a number of types of integrative day care curricula that can allow your child to interact with others (both disabled and non-disabled) in a constructive and safe way. These include:
This curriculum was developed by Maria Montessori, a noted Italian scientist and child development expert. Unlike some more structured types of day care programs that often mirror preschool or elementary school scheduling, those using the Montessori method focus on child-centered play and experimentation. Rather than adhering to the "three Rs," Montessori teachers and students focus on using all five senses to learn about the world around them. For example, when studying a unit on India, a Montessori class may spend the day cooking and tasting different types of curry, dancing to Indian music, or reading poems by Indian authors, rather than simply reading texts about the history and culture of India.
A Montessori day care may be a wonderful option for a disabled child because of its level of inclusion. Because Montessori classes are sorted by skill level (rather than age), your child won't feel out of place or embarrassed by being among the older crowd in his or her classroom. By being allowed to experiment and learn at his or her own pace, your child will gain self-confidence and a love of learning.
Another type of child-led, hands-on day care curriculum is the Bank Street method. This curriculum focuses more on a child's growth (mental, emotional, and physical) than on memorizing facts or adhering to schedules. Children being taught in a Bank Street day care will set their own educational pace, with a teacher simply guiding children to appropriate activities and learning materials to help them develop skills.
Like Montessori, Bank Street day care can be well-suited for a disabled child, as your child will be able to choose the pace at which he or she picks up skills, without feeling compared to other children his or her age. Although a care provider will always be close at hand to assist or answer questions, your child will be permitted the independence to make his or her own educational decisions, instilling a greater sense of self-confidence and self-worth.
What should you consider when choosing a day care for your disabled child?
After you've selected a curriculum you believe will allow your child to thrive, there are still some logistical concerns to iron out -- particularly if your child is physically disabled.
- Are all facilities handicap-accessible?
Although most public buildings have been fitted with ramps and other devices to help the handicapped gain access, you'll want to ensure that your child will be able to do everything he or she needs with minimal assistance -- including using the toilet in relative privacy. If your child is still in diapers, you may want to determine whether the available changing facilities are able to accommodate any specific needs.
- What is the student to teacher ratio?
Each state mandates a maximum number of students per adult to ensure that the adult is able to adequately care for and guide these students. However, you may want to look for facilities whose numbers are well below the maximum, to allow your child more one-on-one time with his or her teacher.
For more information, contact local day care programs to learn about their practices.