Son’s diagnosis leads mom to fill a specialized niche in home day care

Michelle Campbell stands next to her son, Joseph, who was diagnosed with autism as a toddler.

By Geneva Fonda
Special to Delaware Business Times

Your bundle of joy arrives, but a defining moment alters the journey. For Michelle Campbell, that journey began in 2007 when her two-year-old son, Joseph, was diagnosed with autism.

Joseph’s doctor recommended that he be placed in a day care with a small group of other children to help him acquire social skills and learn to interact with his surroundings. Finding no such care in spite of an exhaustive search, Campbell made a career change and opened a specialized care center of her own.

Since then, Campbell’s journey has taken her places she could never have imagined.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, autism, is “a group of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by repetitive and characteristic patterns of behavior and difficulties with social communication and interaction.” In layperson’s terms, autism is a neurological condition that affects how an individual interprets his surroundings and interactions.

Roughly 1 in 68 children is diagnosed with autism, according to the Autism Society, a leading autism advocacy organization. The Autism Society estimates families incur an average of $60,000 annually in autism-related costs.

To address her son’s needs while also looking for ways to minimize expenses, Campbell opened Back 2 Basics Daycare in 2013 in her Newark home.

To ensure she was well prepared, Campbell received certifications in CPR/AED first aid, and medication administering. She also provided state-required educational documentation before receiving a license and approval to open her day care. As a result, her day care accepts children diagnosed with ADHD, and Campbell can administer medications as prescribed. She also follows state-mandated regulations for home-based child-care facilities and has a staff of four substitute teachers.

On average, the day care serves up to six children daily and offers meals and snacks. It is permitted
to enroll up to nine children.

In partnership with Delaware Stars, an education-based early learning initiative offered through the Delaware Department of Education, Campbell creates child-specific learning curriculums to complement teachings in local schools, ensuring children are reaching their developmental goals. This also helps to minimize any stress-induced meltdowns.

To date, annual revenues for the day care are $36,000. She plans to offer more services in the coming year. In addition, she grows her own fruits and vegetables in her home garden, which she uses as part of the children’s meals from June to November.

Though Back 2 Basics primarily serves children with special needs, it also accepts children with no known conditions. As a trained observer of children and a mother of a special-needs child, Campbell has been challenged when sharing her developmental concerns with parents. Some parents have refused to explore the conversation with their child’s doctor.

According to Campbell, the rewards of providing a special needs-specific day care outweigh the challenges. One of the best rewards is that she’s able to spend time with Joseph each morning before he leaves to catch the bus to middle school and meet him each afternoon when he returns. And, at 12 years old, Joseph is happy to share details of his school day, express his feelings on a variety of topics, and ask his mother about her day.

Campbell is also grateful to provide families of special needs children the comfort and services her day care offers. “I’m glad to take the frustration of my journey and turn it into a positive outcome for others,” she said.

Campbell’s faith, and asking for and accepting help, sustain her. She says in addition to her family, local agencies and some of Joseph’s former special-needs elementary teachers, have all played integral roles in supporting her and Joseph. Plus, she receives 24 hours monthly of respite care from the Brennen School Delaware Autism Program.

Campbell hopes to open an expanded day-care facility between 2018-2019 to provide additional specially trained teachers and to serve more children and their families. In the meantime, she is preparing for her return to college where she’ll complete her degree in early childhood education.

And Joseph is a thriving seventh-grader, who is integrated in the mainstream classroom, and enjoys cooking, reading, telling jokes and being tech-savvy. He plans to become a chef and a movie director.

“Joe has really been healed in a way that is unexplainable. Taking such a journey and leap of faith to establish a child care for special needs children has been a joy. To see children and their behavior change gives me a deep satisfaction.”

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