Advice for choosing care providers for kids with special needs

Your child has been diagnosed with a health condition, disorder or challenge that you know nothing about. You need to find a doctor, therapist, specialist or other clinician to help. But how do you find someone qualified, who you trust and who your child will want to work with?

This can be quite challenging–even for the most resourceful parents. These guidelines will help you choose the right person for your child.


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  • seek out recommendations
  • interview your top five prospects
  • make an appointment to learn more
  • ask for your child’s input
  • trust your instincts
  • respect the clinician’s time

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  • choose a clinician who ignores your input
  • believe you can do it by yourself
  • stay with a clinician who is not working
  • trust blindly
  • expect miracles

Sarah C. Wayland, Ph.D.‘s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do seek out recommendations

Get as many recommendations as you can. Anyone in the medical field is worth asking, such as a pediatrician, general practitioner, ear, nose and throat specialist or allergist. You never know who might have a friend who has a friend. Also ask friends and colleagues who you feel comfortable telling. Don’t forget to spread a wide net.

Do interview your top five prospects

Call the top five people on your list and do a brief phone interview. The kinds of questions you should ask during the initial phone call should be along the lines of:

  • “How much do you charge?”,
  • “Do you take insurance?”,
  • “What is your area of expertise?”
  • “What will treatment look like as we work with you?”, and
  • “What kind of availability do you have?” (If they don’t currently have any openings, ask whether they have a wait list, and how long it is.)

Do make an appointment to learn more

If you like what you heard during the phone interview, make an appointment (paid) to meet with the doctor by yourself.

Do ask for your child’s input

If you are hiring this individual to work with your child and you like him/her after your meeting, make an appointment to meet with your child. After the appointment, see what your child thinks. Your child's opinion matters a great deal because he/she will be working with this clinician over the long haul.

Do trust your instincts

Remember, as with any practitioner, it is all about goodness of fit. Just because someone else really likes a clinician, does not mean he or she will be a good fit for you or your child.

Do respect the clinician’s time

Good clinicians are busy, and they have to earn a living. Don’t expect them to do unpaid work for you. If you need to talk for longer than 10 minutes, you should make an appointment and pay the clinician for their time. Even if you don’t end up working with them, they will be more able to devote their full attention to you during a scheduled appointment. This will give you a more accurate picture of what your work with them will be like.

Sarah C. Wayland, Ph.D.‘s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not choose a clinician who ignores your input

Keep in mind that you know your child best. You want a clinician who views you as a team member, with valuable input regarding your child’s care. As your child’s parent, you will be the primary care coordinator for your child’s entire life. And clinicians come and go. You are in it for the long haul, so trust yourself.

Do not believe you can do it by yourself

Even though you know your child best, clinicians have specialized training. Trust them. Give them a chance to do their work. Work collaboratively to achieve your goals.

Do not stay with a clinician who is not working

Sometimes, even with the best planning, the person you have selected does not work out. This does not mean this individual is a bad clinician. It just means that he or she is not a good fit for you and your child.

Do not trust blindly

Before you begin therapy, ask what issues the intervention will target. Measure these targets at the beginning of the therapy and again on a regular basis during the therapy. This will help you determine whether the therapy is having a positive impact. Ask your clinician how long it will take for you to see changes.

Do not expect miracles

Many interventions take time and lots of hard work. There will be false starts, re-evaluations and changes in direction. This is normal in any complex case that requires intensive treatment. As your child gets older, new challenges will be revealed. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Be sure to pace yourself.


Caring for your child is a lifelong obligation. By assembling a team of care providers whom you trust and can rely on when things are tough, your family will be able to navigate the challenges with confidence. This will help you make good choices that will result in the best outcomes for your child.

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