Recently, I received this question from a friend:
“How do you know where to find resources for a special needs child and where do you start? I have only one special needs child, however finding therapies and care for him is proving difficult. He only receives therapies once a week (PT, OT, and ST), but we are still very new in our special needs journey and it’s overwhelming trying to find the help that we need. After he turns three, his therapies will stop unless we enroll him in school. It’s hard to know where to start!” – Sarah
I was thrilled to receive this question because it’s a great one! After having two special needs kids that I’ve had to find multiple resources for in multiple states, I like to think I’m a bit of an expert in this area. It can be tough trying to find the best resources in your area, but as a mama and an advocate, you’re doing a great job starting here and now.
Finding Resources for the Special Needs Child
1. Start With the Source: Other Special Needs Parents.
As a military family who has moved around a lot, I have found that the best way to find local resources for a special needs child, is to find other special needs parents who already live in the state or city you are currently in or going to. Depending on the needs of my child, I do a Facebook search to find other parents who have a special needs child in the area I’m looking for. Word of mouth is powerful and asking parents who have gone through the same things as your family and who understand what it’s like to try to find the best resources for a special needs child can be invaluable.
- See my list of 60+ Facebook Groups for Special Needs Families!
For Example: I might type in keywords such as “Autism” and “Colorado Springs” to find groups of parents who have a child with autism in the Colorado Springs area. If you want to generalize it more, search for terms like, “Special Needs” and “Colorado Springs,” If you are still having trouble, take your search term broader and try different cities or just the state name.
2. Use Google Search.
The same tip I just gave you can be used in Google search as well. Use those keywords to help you find resources in your area. If you want to get more specific you can google terms like, “Therapists in Colorado Springs,” or “Pediatric Physical Therapists Colorado Springs. If the places you find have a place for parents to read reviews, read those carefully as those are going to be as close as you get to word of mouth and parent advice.
3. Military Families Can Ask Their EFMP Coordinator.
If you’re a military family making a move or PCS, the EFMP program coordinator at your new duty station should have a list of local resources. They also should be able to tell you which doctors, therapists, and hospitals, they refer out to. Sadly, I’ve found that not every EFMP program is the same, so if you find that they are not able to help in this area, try one of the other suggestions on here!
4. Ask Your Insurance Company.
Many insurance companies will have a list of providers that are covered and that you can use. You can call your insurance company or visit their website to find a list of providers. Once you find the list, start researching the different resources and reading the reviews to find the perfect therapist or doctor for you!
5. Use Early Intervention Services
Did you know that every state has Early Intervention programs that provide in-home therapy to children birth to age three who need it? While every state’s programs will vary and some will be better than others, this is a great way to help your child have a great start working on any of the delays he or she may have. I believe the majority of these programs provide free therapy or discounted therapy based on income.
- “In every state, very young kids can get early intervention help if they have developmental delays or specific health conditions.
- Early intervention helps children meet developmental milestones through a wide range of services.
- An evaluation can confirm whether your child is eligible.”
These programs will help create an IFSP (Individualized Family Support Plan), which is similar to an IEP that a special needs child would receive in school. Having an IFSP will help make sure your child has the support they need and it will help them to transfer over to a school IEP smoothly once they turn three.
6. Use In-School Therapies.
If your child is on an IEP, they can and will receive therapies through the school. Keep in mind that these therapies are different than home or clinic based therapy as they are focus only on addressing school-related issues. In order to find the right school for your special needs child, use the tips in the steps above to research what local schools have the best programs for children with special needs.
7. Find Respite Care.
Respite care is for those who with special needs that need supportive services to help with social stimulation, engagement, and activities. It’s also so that mom and dad can get a break and know that a trained professional is with their child. Many respite care companies also do therapies in the home. Use the search tips above to find a local respite care company and even if they don’t offer therapy services they most likely will be able to point you toward the right resources.
8. Try Home Health Care Services.
If your child already qualifies for Home Health Care, ask if they offer in-home therapy services. Many Home Health companies provide this and it is already covered by insurance.
9. Ask Your Case Worker or Social Worker.
A lot of special needs families will have a case worker or social worker who is helping their families. If you are a military family, you can ask your base pediatrician or EFMP program coordinator to be assigned one. If you do not have a case worker or social worker, ask around about how you can get one. Usually, you can ask your insurance company to assign you a case worker or you can ask your child’s pediatrician or local children’s hospital for a referral to see a social worker to talk with them about resources in the area.
You Found Resources for Your Special Needs Child, Now What?
Once you have a list of resources for doctors and therapists you want to check out, do you know what to do next?
- Study the Reviews. I know I’ve already mentioned this several times, but asking around or reading the reviews will be so helpful in narrowing down the list or resources you have.
- Call the Potential Company or Therapist. When you’ve chosen a few resources you want to look into more, call and ask to talk to a therapist there. Ask if you can schedule a time to go in and look around and see what they offer.
If you continue to have trouble finding the right resources for your special needs child in your area, research options in the next biggest city near you. Sometimes, finding the best means driving further to get it. It may be a lot of trial and error, but you can do it!
What about YOU? How do you find the best resources for your special needs child? Have you tried any of the tips above?