The voice of the mother on the phone was frantic, and sad. She and her family had recently moved to our area from California, and her new job was scheduled to start in three short weeks. Almost immediately after they arrived in town, she had started reaching out to local child care centers for care for her three-year old son PJ—and every single one had said “No.” It wasn’t because they didn’t have openings, or because the family could not afford the tuition. It was because PJ has Cerebral Palsy. While the Americans with Disabilities Act is meant to prevent such out-and-out refusals, the fact is that they happen every day. Child care providers are often unaware of the law, and frequently simply do not know how to go about making the accommodations and modifications that are necessary to include children like PJ.
So we listened. We found out more about PJ—he uses a wheelchair most of the time, but also loves to roll onto the floor to get where he wants to go. He doesn’t have a lot of control of his arms and hands, but has enough that he can pick up soft objects—and drop them on the floor with a smile for someone to retrieve! He absolutely loves music—when his favorite tunes come on (Baby Shark is a big one!) he sways back and forth, claps his hands and breaks into a smile that lights up the room—and the hearts of anyone nearby.
And then we got to work. We used our database of providers to give mom a list of options—a list that included information about previous experience with children with special needs. We coached her on sharing all the wonderful “can-do’s” about PJ as well as some of the developmental challenges he has. We checked in every few days to see how the search was going, and when she told us she thought she’d found a center that was open to including him, but seemed a little nervous about what to do, we contacted the center to offer help and support.
In the week before PJ started, we were there when Mom and PJ came to visit for a morning. We modeled ways that teachers could interact with PJ, and how they could also engage the other children in being good friends and playmates. We acknowledged teachers’ nervousness, but also noted all the things they were already doing to get to know and include him—like inventing a game where his peers were challenged to see how fast they could pick up the foam pieces that PJ dropped on the floor. We helped them think through and “problem-solve” transitions that might be challenging—how would they make sure PJ had some assistance feeding himself while the other children also needed to eat?
When PJ’s first day at the center arrived, we were there to help make sure things started off well—but we didn’t stay long! Teachers were connected and engaged; the other children were eager to play; and PJ was ready. When we left that day he was bopping his head and clapping along with the other children to the familiar words and tune of “Wheels on the Bus.”
Follow-up over the next few weeks confirmed that PJ’s placement was secure, and Mom was comfortable and confident in her new job because she knew PJ was well cared for—and loved!
If this story sounds similar to yours, our Inclusion and SEEC team are here to help! The first step may be scary but know that we already care and love your child!