Come January of each year, Fort Worth mom Angela Darby starts to stress about where she will send her 14-year-old son, Jordon, who has autism spectrum disorder and is nonverbal, for child care over the summer. (Their names have been changed at her request.) Until a few years ago, Medicaid paid for an agency to provide in-home summertime care for Jordon while Darby worked as an administrative assistant for
the federal government.
Darby was left with few options when Medicaid cut off this funding: The single mom had to work, and both her mom and Jordon’s older brother were unable to watch Jordon for extended periods of time.
So Darby started to sift through local child care options for a facility that would provide her son with the individual care he needs. Since Jordon only speaks in two-word phrases, he can easily be misunderstood and can become frustrated, a difficult situation for inexperienced caregivers.
Through trial and error, Darby has found that some programs are better than others. “In some places, he just wasn’t getting the care he needs,” she explains. “No one was trained to deal with his behavior. He would get upset, and nobody could help him.”
This year she will be sending her son to the same facility she used last summer, which allows her to view Jordon’s day through a video camera and monitor whether staff is watching him.
Darby’s struggle is a familiar one for parents whose kids have disabilities or need round-the-clock medical management. While the rare child care facility will accept a child with serious medical needs or behavioral challenges on a case-by-case basis, parents’ best bet is finding a program developed specifically to help kids and young adults with special needs flourish. To help you out, we’ve curated a list of local child care options designed to do just that.
Achievement Center of Texas
Ages: 3-13 years
Overview: The Special Needs Day Care program at the Achievement Center of Texas provides both before- and after-school care for up to 14 children with special needs such as autism spectrum disorder, seizure disorders and cerebral palsy.
Hours: Monday–Friday 7:30–8:30am and 3:30–6pm
A Typical Day: Before school, kids wait on their buses, eat breakfast or a small snack, and work on arts and crafts projects. After school, students play on the outdoor
playground, practice life skills like baking and visit the library and multi-sensory lab for up to 30 activities that use four of the five senses, ranging from bubble tubes to foam pits.
Good To Know: The day care can accommodate children in wheelchairs and has full changing rooms with lifts.
Cost: $200 per week; some scholarship opportunities available.
2950 North Shiloh Road, Garland, 972/414-7700; achievementcenteroftexas.org
The Ashford Rise School
Overview: Up to 60 kids a day—both typically developing and with special needs—attend this six-classroom preschool that creates an integrated learning environment.
Hours: Monday–Friday 8am–2:30pm
A Typical Day: Students begin their day by greeting their teachers and having a snack before heading to social circle time. They follow up with fun activities like obstacle courses and handwriting practice that help to build gross and fine motor skills. Two days a week, kids meet with on-staff therapists to practice occupational therapy, physical therapy, motor therapy or speech therapy.
Good To Know: Because the school is located inside the Moody Family YMCA, students get rec time in the facility’s large, open field and can take advantage of additional onsite opportunities like adaptive swimming lessons. The YMCA offers after-school care from 2:30–5:30pm at an additional cost.
Cost: Monthly tuition is $1,100; siblings receive a 30% discount.
6000 Preston Road, Dallas, 214/373-7473; ymcadallas.org
Ages: 6w-14y (varies by program)
Overview: Serving both neurotypical children and kiddos with special needs such as autism, cerebral palsy, respiratory disorders and speech delays, Bryan’s House provides weekly child care for ages 6 weeks–5 years and vacation-time child care for ages 5–14 during school breaks. There are 70 kids in the weekly program with an additional 90 children during school vacations.
Hours: Monday–Friday 7am–6pm
A Typical Day: A typical day involves family-style meals (to help kids practice serving themselves), large group time with activities like music, small group time for art and STEM projects and choice time during which students get to decide what they’d like to do.
Good To Know: In addition to providing child care, Bryan’s House operates as a full socialservice agency with a case manager assigned to each family to help them navigate education and health care.
Cost: Tuition is $125 per week, but case managers will work with families to see if they qualify for funding from additional sources.
3610 Pipestone Road, Dallas, 214/559-3946; bryanshouse.org
The Clubhouse for Special Needs
Ages: 13-22 years
Overview: Like Angela Darby, Darlene Hollingsworth couldn’t find suitable care options for her son who has Down syndrome. She founded The Clubhouse For Special Needs over a decade ago as an after-school day care, but it’s since expanded to a full-day program and now serves more than 60 young adults with special needs.
Hours: The afterschool program is Monday–Friday 3:30–6:30pm; the full-day program is Monday–Friday 7:30am–6:30pm.
A Typical Day: Young adults can do what they want to do, when they want to do it. And there’s plenty to choose from—activities in the Westernthemed facility include meals in the Rusty Nail Café; pool, air hockey and video games in the Workout Corral; and puzzles and table games in the Parlor.
Good To Know: The Clubhouse has plans to triple its square footage by building an additional facility—including a gymnasium—in the near future.
Cost: $400 per month; $120 per week; $12 per hour. Scholarship opportunities are available.
1308 Harwood Road, Bedford, 817/285-0885; theclubhouse.org
Ages: 14-25 years
Overview: Yet another parent who took matters into her own hands: Emma’s House opened in 2012 after the founder struggled to find child care for her 14-year-old daughter, Emma, who has an intellectual disability. The small program provides after-school care and vacation-time care for young adults with autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome and other special needs.
Hours: After-school care is Monday–Friday 3:30–6:30pm; vacation-time care is on
weekdays with no school from 7:30am–6pm.
A Typical Day: The 1,800-square-foot facility has a cafe area, an electronics room, a game room and a quiet room. Supervised by counselors and volunteers, young adults spend their time snacking, reading books, hanging out on the computer and listening to music.
Good To Know: Due to the program’s small size, Emma’s House is unable to accommodate young adults in wheelchairs or with certain behavioral challenges.
Cost: $400 per week; the facility works with agencies to provide funding in specific cases.
920 Bluebonnet Drive, Ste. 101, Irving, 972/839-1502; emmashouse.net
Kinderfrogs School at Texas Christian University
Overview: KinderFrogs is a one-stop shop that provides child care and early intervention services for 36 children with special needs including Down syndrome, chromosomal disorders and cri-du-chat syndrome.
Hours: Monday–Friday 8:30am–3pm, though students can arrive as early as 7:30am
A Typical Day: Kids learn in one of three classrooms divided by age, exercise in the gym and on the playground, and visit the therapy room for speech, occupational, physical and music therapy.
Good To Know: KinderFrogs serves as a laboratory school for TCU, allowing students in the College of Education to observe classrooms, help out as classroom aides and conduct educational research.
Cost: Annual tuition is $17,780; scholarships available to some families.
2805 Stadium Drive, Fort Worth, 817/257-6828; kinderfrogs.tcu.edu
Easterseals North Texas Child Development Program
Overview: Easterseals provides child care for up to 60 children with autism spectrum disorder or a similar diagnosis. The program uses an incidental teaching model, in which the environment is designed to nurture kids’ interests and prompt them to communicate their needs so that they’re ready for kindergarten.
Hours: Monday–Friday 7:30am–5:30pm.
A Typical Day: Board-certified behavioral analysts, program coordinators and junior instructors work in four classrooms divided by age. Kids play on a new outdoor playground, make art and learn in the academic area of each classroom.
Good To Know: Easterseals also provides outpatient rehabilitation such as occupational therapy, speech-language therapy and physical therapy.
Cost: Tuition varies by family; the program accepts insurance to help cover cost of care.
4443 N. Josey Lane, Suite 100, Carrollton, 972/394-8900; easterseals.com
Ages: 2-16 years (varies by program)
Overview: Known for its learning gym full of sensory equipment, It’s A Sensory World! also offers before-school, after-school and full-day care for 12 preschoolers ages 2–5, as well as private school classes for 32 children ages 5–16. ISW Academy serves children with sensory processing disorder, autism, cerebral palsy and other special needs, as well as kids without a formal diagnosis who struggle in a typical school environment.
Hours: The full-day program is Monday–Friday 8:30am–2:30pm; the half-day program is Monday–Friday 8:30–11:30am or 11:30am–2:30pm. Before-school care is 7:30–8:30am; after-school care is 2:30–5:30pm.
A Typical Day: After circle time, preschoolers head to the large sensory gym, which includes two trampolines, a rock wall, a slide and 12 therapy swings. Throughout the day, littles can look forward to library time, art, music and playtime on the outdoor playground.
Good To Know: Staff coordinates with kids’ outside therapists to make sure they’re reaching individual goals.
Cost: Full-day preschool is $12,100 per year; half-day preschool is $4,600 per year; before- and after-school care available at an additional cost; scholarship opportunities available for some families.
13617 Neutron Road, Farmers Branch, 972/239-8100; itsasensoryworld.org