• Shannon Parola

Childcare for Special Needs Families


I've been fortunate in my career to work with a multitude of unique and wonderful families. I'll be honest though, the ones that have "filled my cup" the most this past decade has been my special needs family. They seem to understand that good childcare is hard to come by and appreciate any help they can get.

Regardless if you are a regular or special needs family, childcare is a process. It will not get solved in a day or week, so get the ball rolling if you need help! You can check out my Childcare Assessment if you are starting from square one!

I've talked at lengths about my experience as a special needs nanny and how to become a special needs nanny extensively on a Shanannyigans podcast episode this year. More recently, I jumped onto the Thriving in the Midst of Chaos Podcast, where I offered tips and tricks for finding childcare within the special needs community. I hope this blog post can serve as a condensed version of my advice from these two podcasts for parents.

The pandemic was brutal for everyone, but I believe the community that got hit hardest was the special needs community. Many of these families depend on the services the city and state provide them or the therapies they attend daily. The pandemic brought a lot of these services to a complete standstill for MONTHS. Most parents were juggling home and zoom education for their children. I talked to countless special needs families where their children were not only falling behind but regressing in skills they had worked so hard to gain. They had zero help, and they felt their lives were being ripped apart. These are the stories on the news about moms having to choose between their children or their career. Too many of those calls ended with me in tears because my heart just ached for these parents. I wanted to help, but there wasn't anything I could do with nothing open and a cloning machine still not available. Thankfully, we are starting to see things open back up, and parents are starting to become optimistic about finding care for their children again.


First off, let's discuss the fact that "special needs" is a generally broad term. I've seen it used for learning disabilities to extremely medically complex conditions. Finding successful childcare comes down to the child and the type of care that the family needs. However, there is a line with special needs caregiving where a nanny is no longer the correct type of person for the job, and a medical professional is.


There are three scenarios I run into when talking to Special Needs Parents:

  1. The parent is at their wit's end and feels like they are drowning. They need help right now.

  2. The parents believe they can only deal with their child and no caregiver could work for their family.

  3. Parents are frustrated with childcare because they keep going through caregivers.

Repeat after me, "My child deserves the same quality of childcare as everyone else. I, like every other parent on this planet, deserve a break too."

That's the 100% truth. You can get childcare that works for your family. It's just going to take time and outside-of-the-box thinking. If you are at your wit's end, call a family member or friend that you trust to either give you a break to think clearly about it or help you figure it out together. Keep asking. Don't ever give up.

As a special needs parent, you need to go into this search knowing you will not find Mary Poppins. It doesn't matter if you are a special needs or regular family. Mary Poppins does not exist in the real world. In this instance, you are essentially asking for a trained and certified human in your child's specific conditions that can handle other nanny tasks as well. There is no one certification, book, or course to make you the perfect special needs parent. The same goes for nannies.


There is no official training or certifications in special needs, except for special needs education or therapy degrees. There are some certifications available for specific conditions through foundations or programs. For the most part, special needs nannies are unicorns. Not everyone is meant to do this job and carry the title. An excellent special needs nanny is someone with extensive experience with the community, education in special needs, early childhood, or therapies, certifications in new techniques that would help your child/family, and a great attitude. My bachelors degree is in Kinesiology with an emphasis in motor development and I minored in child psychology. I took what I was using in the classroom, what I saw in the therapy rooms with my kids, and applying to what we were doing at home to continue the progress.


With that being said, Double check with your therapists and doctors that they allow others to be at therapy. Some families found out that facilities/therapies would not let a different caregiver be present through the pandemic. Parents went through all the trouble of finding a nanny and then couldn't use that nanny because of the therapy restrictions. If your nanny can help with therapies, there will be more forms to fill out due to HIPAA, and you will have to make sure you have an open line of communication between your nanny, you, and the therapist.

When it comes to affording childcare, there is no easy way around it. Childcare is expensive. Check with your job and see if they are offering any childcare assistance. Some companies have provided memberships to childcare websites or even a stipend to help as benefits. With a particular medical diagnosis, you may qualify for caregiving assistance. It may take some time on the phone to get everything set up, but it is an option if you are financially strapped. It's also worth checking out what your city and state offer in terms of assistance with childcare.


If you are a family that continues to hire nanny after nanny and is frustrated with your search, I would suggest taking some time to look at your previous hires and your job listing. In most cases, when I speak to the parents, it goes something like, "we were pressed for time and this was the best we could do." For any nanny family relationship to succeed, it must be the right fit, especially if you are looking for someone long-term. But not every nanny is a special needs nanny, and if the relationship is causing you more work and stress then help, it's not a good fit.


When it comes to finding childcare for a special needs family, you have to sometimes think outside the box. If you've exhausted the usual childcare sites like Sittercity and Care, then here are some other places you can try.

  • Local Facebook Parenting and Mom's Boards - They are fantastic about giving you their honest feedback about daycares, locations to play, and even sitters. You may even run into another special needs parent to connect with!

  • Check out your local colleges in specific departments like special education or nursing.

  • Use your Linkedin account! It's a great way to connect with professionals who may give the care that isn't traditional nannies or on the caregiving websites.

  • If you've had a nanny in the past that's worked, call them and ask what time THEY are available. Some nannies are willing to work random hours if it works with their schedule. Being flexible could be a key for you getting those crucial breaks you need.

If you still need help or need someone in your corner, I'm always offering free 30 min sessions for all new clients. My goal is for you to leave our sessions with questions answered and a direction to go.