Vermont is a wonderful place to raise a family, especially for special needs families. As a transplant to this incredible state, I am often asked if I will ever go back home, and I always respond with the answer that Vermont is our home.
At a year old, my son wasn’t pulling to a stand so we started with early intervention. At twelve months old, he entered into an early intervention program and received in-home physical therapy. During physical therapy, my son’s therapist noticed some additional concerns and while in the early intervention program (ages 1-3) my son also received occupational and speech therapy.
It was my son’s early intervention case manager and the team of therapists who worked with him who noticed some red flags with my son’s development and suggested to us that he be seen by a developmental pediatrician for an autism screening. Because of the keen eye of his professional team, my son was diagnosed with autism at the age of two and a half.
Right after my son was diagnosed with autism, a law was passed in the state of Vermont called ACT 158. Act 158 mandates that insurance companies cover the diagnosis and treatment of early childhood developmental disorders which includes applied behavioral analysis, which is the gold star standard for autism therapy.
To say that special needs families in Vermont are wonderfully supported is an understatement, however, it can often be difficult to know of the many resources that are available. Because we have often struggled to find the correct resources, I have compiled a list of my top five resources that we use as a special needs family. This list is a combination of therapeutic, informational, and recreational opportunities that we currently use or have used.
Kayla’s Directory is a nonprofit agency started by an inspirational special needs mother, Sara Kruk. Kayla’s directory has four different components. The first component is the website which provides a directory of information from financial planning to haircuts for sensory sensitive children. The second component is adaptive equipment that has been donated to local business including an adaptive stroller at Shelburne Farms and an adaptive sled at Catamount. The third component is adaptive classes. Almost every season there is an adaptive sports program that runs about six weeks and is free or greatly reduced in cost. Currently, we are participating in Spectacular Ski School which has been so amazing. The fourth and final part of Kayla’s Directory is the friends on the go social group which meets once a month at a variety of recreational places within the Chittenden County area, including Davis Studio, Wildflower Studio, and apple picking at Adam’s apple orchard (most social group activities are free or reduced cost as well.)
The Kids’ Rehab Gym provides physical and occupational therapy for young children. The Kids’ Rehab Gym just moved to an incredible state of art facility in Williston. The facility includes a multi-level pool, climbing wall, and specialized kid size treadmills and ellipticals. In addition to the state of the art facility, the staff at the Kid’s Rehab gym are top notch. My son participated in weekly occupational therapy sessions for two years and greatly benefited from his therapist’s expertise.
Ssshhh… I am going to tell you about one of the best-kept secrets in Vermont, Bonnie Benson. Bonnie is a Red Cross water safety instructor and is AAHPERD (adapted aquatics) certified. She instructs her swim lessons out of her enclosed four foot deep, heated pool which typically stays at 89 degrees. Each lesson is private and runs for a half an hour. Bonnie teaches children with and without disabilities how to swim. Besides having lessons take place under ideal conditions, Bonnie is also an amazing instructor who knows how to meet children where they are at while also holding them to a high standard.
Essex Cinemas believe that movies should be enjoyed by everyone. In order to accommodate community members with sensory sensitivities, Essex Cinemas turns the sound down, keeps the lights on, and allows children to move and talk as they please in the theater during sensory-friendly screenings. Sensory-friendly screenings are great for children with special needs and younger children who might not be ready to sit still for a full movie just yet. Check out the Essex Cinemas website to see what sensory-friendly movies are currently playing.
The Special Olympics Young Athletes Program is a pre-sport program for children with and without intellectual disabilities ages 2 through 7 years-old. The program is designed to provide opportunities for young children to be active, have fun, and learn foundational sports skills. There is no cost for your family to participate in Young Athletes. The Young Athletes Program offers one-hour classes that typically meet for 6-8 weeks. For more information and to learn about a Young Athlete Program near you, check out the Special Olympics of Vermont webpage.
I hope that you enjoyed my list of resources for special needs families. Like I said above, there are so many opportunities for special needs families in Vermont, however, I find it is often a struggle to know what is available. I know this list is brief and I’m sure I left some very valuable organizations out, so please let me know in the comments about your favorite special needs resource.