Whether your center focuses on providing services specifically for children with special needs or you have children with special needs at your center, this blog post addresses the importance of providing support to both parents and staff at your center.
Until being a special needs parent myself, I never really knew how to best support them within the regular child care center or classroom. I’ll be the first to admit, I often failed them.
As my daughter with special needs gets closer to turning two, the thought of entering her into a child care center has crossed my mind. As I began to think about what this would even look like, I had the thought to write a blog post geared towards Leaders, Directors, and Teachers. It’s not often that we get to hear it from someone who has actually been there, so here I go.
1. Listen to their story
The journey of being a special needs parent often comes with a long story and much grief. For me, a part of the grieving process has been to share my story. Sometimes sharing my story included long drawn-out conversations with lots of tears and others were short and sweet. Both kinds of sharing have helped me personally in dealing with my own grief process.
In the child care world, you can help support this process by simply listening. Ask the family to share their story, diagnosis and any information they share. Initially, this is a great way to connect with the family and to really understand where they are coming from and the needs that their child may have.
2. Have sympathy
The last thing a special needs parent wants to hear is that you understand because it is a very difficult thing to do, unless you’ve been there. The best thing to say is “that sounds hard” or “I can’t even imagine.'' Admitting that you don’t fully understand it but could imagine that it would be hard, is the best thing you can do. Unless you’ve been there yourself, empathy is nearly impossible but sympathy is not. Find a place of sympathy for the family. Picture yourself in their shoes, briefly stop thinking about how that child’s needs will impact your center and find a place of sympathy.
3. Assist them in finding services
If the family isn’t already in contact with the Birth-3 program in your area, assist them. Finding support and services is key for both the child and the parents success along the way. Often, these services will send a team of people to support that child and sometimes will conduct visits for the child in the center. This is a great way to support the child and the teacher as well. As much as you can help them connect and stay connected with their team of people, the better.
4. Train your staff
It’s important that your staff are trained in dealing with children who have special needs, as well as having the ability to be able to recognize signs. As Teachers and Directors we are to NEVER diagnose, but we can help direct parents to getting assessed and seeking the help that their child needs. A well trained team can go a long way. Sometimes just simply understanding the needs and adaptations at a deeper level can help the teacher lead the child to a place of thriving inside the classroom.
5. Communicate any expectations or policies upfront
At no point am I saying that your program has to accept every single child who walks through their doors. We did not, and if I led a school again, I wouldn’t. What I am saying is to know the boundaries, what your center and teachers can support has limits. Our limit was always as long as we can care for the child within the ratios we have been given, then we will gladly accept them into our program. If not, they are 100% welcome to still join but we would need an aid provided.
Know your limits and communicate them upfront with each family. This is also something you will want to add in your handbook as well. Communication is the key to all relationship success!
It’s my desire to give you a small picture into how to best support these families. It is our job as leaders to have grace and provide some support where we can. Just by reading this blog you are showing that you care for the special needs population and I would consider sending my beautiful gem of a daughter there.
**When I use the term Special Needs I am including all aspects including medical to behavioral that could be diagnosed or not.
**As a team we do not support discrimination and encourgage you to find out what your State or Province laws are as it relates to this topic.