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Providing Quality Child Care to Children with Special Needs

As a child care provider interested in quality care, you can make a real difference for a child with special needs.

Parents seek quality first.Parents and guardians want safe, healthy places where their children can learn how to make friends and get the best start for their young lives. That's equally true for parents whose children have special needs because of disabilities or chronic illness.

You already know every child is unique and valuable. By welcoming and including children with special needs as part of your program, the benefits can add up quickly.

When you include children with special needs in your child care program, there are many benefits for everyone involved can experience. 

  • For the children with special needs, you offer chances to interact with other children, to have some typical childhood fun, to make friends and to have countless chances to learn new skills.
  • For the other children, you provide daily proof that being different is no big deal.
  • For the parents of children with special needs, you provide a vital service so they can once again work, run errands, shop -- do all the things any parent does.
  • To enrich your own teaching, you'll gain new knowledge about child development and, in some cases, you can learn additional skills by working closely with specialists.
By taking a few simple steps to provide "inclusive child care," you also ensure your program meets the requirements for federal laws. A program that is good for any child in your care is a program that is well on its way to quality care.

Inclusion is for everyone. No one likes to be left out. That fact is at the heart of what is called "inclusion" -- to welcome and to include all children. You already have what it takes to be inclusive if you treat each child as an individual with unique needs, likes, dislikes and abilities.

Parents are simply looking for the right people and programs that will help their child learn and grow in a safe and comfortable place. In fact, many children with disabilities will require only a few accommodations to participate in your child care program.

Fairness demands inclusion. Child care programs are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as "public accommodations." This federal law passed in 1990 prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities.

This means your child care program cannot deny services to a child based solely on the fact the child has a disability. (Programs operated by religious organizations should note exemptions do not apply if your program accepts tax money through subsidy reimbursement or Child and Adult Care Food Program.)

To meet your responsibilities under the ADA, child care providers should:

  • Follow policies and procedures that ensure the inclusion of children with and without disabilities.
  • Talk with every family about what accommodations would be needed to include their child.
To learn more about meeting the ADA requirements, contact the Americans with Disabilities Act Information Line toll-free at: 1-800-514-0301.

An inclusive child care program looks a lot like any other quality child care program.

Children with and without disabilities interact together and follow a routine. Depending on the needs of the children, some activities and routines are adapted from time to time to make sure every child benefits from participation.

Some children with disabilities receive specialized services, including physical, developmental and occupational therapy. These specialized services do not replace a family's need for child care.

Families and specialists may be interested in providing services to a child while he or she is in your care. Child care providers frequently find that these specialists can be wonderful resources. For example, the specialists can help you figure out how to adapt your daily routines. You can learn even more about the child's specific needs from them.

Children with disabilities can use most toys, equipment and play materials. The child's family is often able to help you make adaptations, provide special items the child needs, demonstrate any special skill for working with the child, and assist in finding ways to modify the environment so  the child can participate.

You and your program also can be more inclusive by watching your language. You can help the children in your care understand all children deserve to be treated fairly by being a good example for them.

  • Make sure you are modeling acceptance of all children by treating children with disabilities with the same respect you give the other children.
  • Make sure the way you talk puts the child first and his or her disability second. For example, you can say, "a child with asthma" instead of saying "an asthmatic" or "a child with Down Syndrome" instead of saying "a Downs child."

There are many resources available to help you evaluate your program. Oklahoma's families and children want more child care programs that are inclusive. Resources include:

  • If a family is receiving OKDHS subsidy, the family may apply for a higher special needs reimbursement rate. For information on eligibility criteria for families and child care programs, contact your licensing specialist.
  • For information about workshops, statewide training and other resources in your area to support you as you include children with special needs, call the Oklahoma Child Care Resource and Referral Association at 1-888-962-2772 or the Center for Early Childhood Professional Development at 1-888-446-7608.
  • Oklahoma's TIC-TOC training is a workshop series for child care directors and providers. This training series provides skill-building workshops designed to assist child care providers feel competent about including children with disabilities in typical child care settings. For information on free TIC-TOC training, contact the Tolbert Center for Developmental Disabilities at (405) 271-1836 or by e-mail at
  • Unique Environments is a comprehensive training program providing an in-depth course on caring for children with disabilities. For registration information, contact Special Care, Inc., at (405) 752-5112.
  • Contact the SoonerStart Early Intervention Program for children ages birth to 3 years with developmental delays or disabilities. Call 1-800-426-2747 (OASIS) for the address and phone number of your local SoonerStart program. SoonerStart may provide services for approved children in a child care setting with parental permission.
  • SoonerStart's training program offers many low-cost training opportunities for child care providers. Check out the latest listing of upcoming training events by looking up the Tolbert Center for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) website at You may reach the TCDD by phone at (405) 271-1836 or by e-mail at
  • To help you locate resources within your own community, call OASIS at 1-800-426-2747.
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