Children with Special Needs

All you have to do is spend time with a child to know that they grow quickly and develop differently – each at their own pace. They generally reach milestones around the same age, like smiling, walking, and talking. But skills not reached within a certain timeframe may signal the need for extra support. If you are concerned about your child’s development or have a child that has been identified with a delay, this section is for you. You are your child’s strongest supporter and advocate in getting the best care for their needs. At the same time, the journey can be met with difficult choices, interactions with many specialists providing services, and an ongoing need for information. Here is a list of local resources that may be a helpful guide.

Strong Start DC Early Intervention Program (DC EIP) serves as the single point of entry for District families concerned about their child’s development. Strong Start is a city-wide, comprehensive, coordinated, multidisciplinary system that provides early intervention therapies and services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays and their families.

DC EIP also offers Strong Start Community Playgroups  which provides families with information about their child’s development, early childhood developmental screenings, early intervention process and community resources available to families across DC. The community playgroups are facilitated by early intervention professionals and provide a family-centered, child-interest driven environment for children to interact with their same-age peers, while families receive information about early intervention related topics.

Community playgroups are held on different days throughout each month depending on location. Registration opens at 10 a.m. two weeks prior to the scheduled community playgroup date and closes at 10 a.m. the day before the playgroup. Space is limited and families are asked to RSVP for each playgroup session.

Early Stages is a DC Public Schools (DCPS) assessment center for children between the ages of 2 years 8 months and 5 years 10 months. They help identify any developmental delays that your child may have and will arrange services to address them. The center can serve any child who goes to a DC public school, is home-schooled or has not yet entered the school system.

Early Learning Programs with Specialties are available to meet the needs of your child and family. Use the free Child Care Finder to search and view profiles of local licensed child care providers. You can sort programs by their ability to offer specialized services, such as for children with autism, deafness, learning disabilities, and speech and language delays. Strong Start and Early Stages (mentioned above) can also help refer you to child care and arrange the services needed for your child.

For more support, you can contact a Child Care Referral Specialist at (202) 829-2500 or email

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Are there centers that accept children with special needs?

Yes, there are centers that accept children with special needs.  The ADA requires that child care providers not discriminate against persons with disabilities on the basis of disability.  Most child care centers and family day care homes are public accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and must provide equal opportunity for children, parents and others with disabilities to participate in programs and services.  A parent or child may not be excluded solely on the basis of disability. Some of the ways child care programs are required to ensure equal access include:

  • eliminating or modifying eligibility criteria which discriminate simply on the basis of disability;
  • removing physical barriers; making reasonable modifications in policies, practices or procedures; and
  • providing auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication.  The higher insurance premium for the child care program is not a valid reason for denying the enrollment of a child with a disability.
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