La Feria Daycare Helping Children with Special Needs
LA FERIA – When a young child is diagnosed with autism, the financial responsibilities for parents are sometimes even greater. Some parents find themselves depending on daycares for help.
As one mother explained, the decisions aren’t the easiest.
Seven-year-old Jonathan loves to participate in sensory stimulating activities, like running shaving cream through his hands.
Another of his favorites is playing with building logs, sometimes to build but most of the time to drum them on the floor.
His favorite snack is Goldfish crackers and milk. He gets to enjoy all his favorite things at Little Lions Learning Center in La Feria.
His mother, Laurie Mascorro, said other daycares in the area weren’t as welcoming.
Mascorro’s son was diagnosed with autism. No one wanted to take on the responsibility of caring for a child with special needs, she said.
According to the American with Disabilities Act Title 3, privately-owned daycares cannot discriminate against people with disabilities on the basis of the disability itself.
But they can turn children away if their presence would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others or would fundamentally alter the program.
The evaluation of the potential threat must be made on an individualized assessment, not generalizations or stereotypes about the effects of a certain disability, according to the ADA’s website.
Mascorro didn’t want to speak on camera, but sent in a statement. She said:
"Searching for a daycare wasn't easy. After calling a few locally, and getting negative feedback about taking my son with autism, I was referred to Little Lions and met with Robbi, the coordinator. Right away, she noted their experience with another autistic child and asked to us drop by so she could meet my son in person. It was a blessing and a relief to find someone with such understanding and compassion"
Little Lions Director Robbi Zapata said she was glad to welcome Jonathan.
“It wasn’t a problem for me, because children are children first. No matter if they have special needs or no special needs, they are children first, so they deserve a place in the world and that includes daycare,” she said.
As a full-time working mother, Mascorros said she was relived to find an after-school daycare for Jonathan. She depends on her job to pay the bills and for health insurance.
She said had it not been for the daycare, another chunk of her check would’ve had to go to paying for a stay-at-home nanny. She added there aren’t enough daycares that cater to children with special needs.
Jonathan has attended Little Lions for the past two years now. Zapata said he’s acclimated well to his peers and vice versa.
“The thing about children with disabilities that people need to understand is that these children have more similarities than differences with children, maybe, don’t have a disability,” Zapata said.
Zapata said she’d worked with children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and knew welcoming Jonathan into the daycare was all about adaption to his needs – not the other way around.
“Jonathan is very – he loves routine, and so we do that, and everybody knows exactly what Jonathan does when he walks in the door. He’s greeted by the same person every day and he goes and does the same things and he has a snack – special snacks for Jonathan. Then he’s incorporated just like any other child that comes off the bus in the afternoon,” she said.
When Jonathan needs to get up and leave the group, he does. Zapata gives him the freedom to do so.
She said the other children don’t mind that he gets to do that.
Constant communication with his mom and teachers at school is also key to Jonathan’s success at daycare, she said.
“It’s important that everybody be on the same page,” Zapata said.
She is encouraging other daycare directors in the Valley to be open minded about children with autism.
“They need to feel loved. They need to feel accepted. We can’t keep them secluded, we can’t isolate them just because they have a special need,” she said.
Zapata said everyone benefits by children like Jonathan reaching their maximum potential right along with their peers.
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