Working with children who have physical disabilities requires thoughtful planning for child care providers. Children with physical disabilities need different types and amounts of assistance and support in order to participate fully in their child care program. Child care providers who are including a child with a physical disability need to get input from the parents, professionals working with the child, and the child himself or herself. That input can help the child care provider make specific plans to accommodate the child in the child care program.
Helping Children Be Independent
Children with physical disabilities are children first. Like all children, they need opportunities to make choices and do things for themselves, within the limits of their ability. Resist the temptation to do everything for the child. Provide appropriate help, but encourage children to try to do things themselves. This may mean that tasks and chores could take a little more time. Remember that doing things independently helps children build self-confidence and independence. Provide encouragement and patience, and help the other children do the same.
Specific Ways Child Care Providers Can Support Children with Physical Disabilities
Here are some specific ways child care providers can support the learning of children who have physical disabilities.
Make it easy to move around in play areas.
- Use heavy, stable furniture and equipment that cannot be easily knocked over.
- Remove rugs that can be tripped over, or tape them down.
- Arrange furniture and equipment with a wide aisle so children can move around more freely.
- Provide a safe place for walkers, crutches, wheelchairs, or canes so other children do not trip over them.
- Work with parents to find comfortable ways for a child to sit. A corner with two walls for support, a chair with a seat belt, or a wheelchair with a large tray across the arms are three possibilities that may help children with certain physical disabilities participate more fully in child care activities.
- Make objects more steady. For example, secure paper, mixing bowls or wood blocks to the table or floor so they remain in place as the child paints, draws, stirs or hammers.
Adapt learning activities.
- Provide tools that children with motor disabilities can use for grasping, holding, transferring and releasing.
- Be sure objects are age-appropriate. For example, a bean bag made from dinosaur fabric is much more appropriate for a 5-year-old than a rattle or a baby toy.
- Provide materials of different textures — such as play dough, fabric swatches, ribbon, corrugated cardboard and sandpaper — to stimulate the sense of touch.
- Be sure activity areas are well-lighted. Add lamps if needed.
- Plan activities to encourage all children to move all body parts. Work with parents and specialists to choose special exercises for the child, and encourage the whole class to do some of them as part of a large group activity.
- Add tabs to books for turning pages.
- Place tape on crayons and markers to make them easier to grip.
- Secure paint brushes into a glove, or provide paint brushes with large knobs on the ends.
- Consider buying scissors that open automatically when squeezed, or scissors that do not require children to use finger holes.
- Provide spray bottles to practice the squeezing motion needed to use scissors.
- Keep items contained. Roll a ball inside a hula hoop placed on the floor. Play with blocks on a cookie sheet or the lid of a cardboard box.
Teach classmates how to help a child with a physical disability.
- Playmates are usually eager to assist children with disabilities, but may take over and provide too much help. Applaud and encourage helping behaviors, but also teach children to encourage their classmate to do as much as possible on his own.
- Teach children how to offer help respectfully. Encourage them to ask if the child wants help first, and to take “no” as an answer.
- Encourage children to find creative ways to include a child with a physical disability in their play activities. For example, moving blocks to a table might make it easier for a child in a wheelchair to participate.
For More Information
For more information on supporting children with physical disabilities in a child care program, check out the eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care section on Child Care for Children with Special Needs, or take a look at the following articles:
- Adapting the Child Care Environment for Children with Special Needs
- Physical Disabilities: Signs of Concern
- Talking with and about Children with Special Needs
- What Is Inclusive Child Care?