National Scholarship Month: Special Needs Edition


Image: A pink piggy bank next to a few stacks of coins (National Scholarship Month: Special Needs Edition Krystal Giraldo Contributor Miami Mom Collective)


It’s that time of the month, Mamas! Not that kind of month: NATIONAL SCHOLARSHIP MONTH. My little one is still too young to be thinking about scholarships for college. But the special needs community is always on high alert for scholarship opportunities. We look for scholarships for school, therapies, summer/winter camps, extracurricular activities, and life training. Before becoming a special needs mom myself, I knew what scholarships were and knew that I needed to apply for them if I had any hopes of going to college. But I never thought that I would need to be on the hunt for scholarships for my almost 5-year old.

Image: A family sitting at a table together (National Scholarship Month: Special Needs Edition Krystal Giraldo Contributor Miami Mom Collective)
Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

It’s no secret that the special needs community should have a world of its own. We’re still working on acceptance and awareness of our world and the search for scholarships is no different. There are some things our children just cannot do the same as the neurotypical community. There are some services and extracurricular that are only a one-size-fits-all. And sometimes insurance is simply not enough.


If you take anything from this, take this piece of advice: EARLY INTERVENTION IS KEY. Now more than ever, our kids NEED this kind of educational intervention. I can’t speak for all children, but I can tell you that my son missed out on an entire school year of VPK and it shows. Although he was one of the lucky ones who continued receiving ABA therapy throughout the majority of the pandemic, he was not as lucky for speech, occupational therapy, and VPK. Since then, my son has been successfully enrolled in the LEAP program in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

It wasn’t until my son’s third IEP meeting that I learned I needed to meet with the school psychologist. And it wasn’t until that meeting that I learned that LEAP is not the same as VPK. The Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program (VPK) is a free prekindergarten program for 4 and 5-year-olds who reside in Florida. This doesn’t include children with special needs. To compromise, the State of Florida offers our kids VPK SIS (Specialized Instructional Services). You can find out more information on what providers and therapies are covered by the state, here


Image: A child smiling in front of a blackboard (Krystal Giraldo Contributor Miami Mom Collective)
Photo by Max Fischer from Pexels

Prior to writing this post, I did a little diving into this section because my son is going into kindergarten next school year. Like most scholarships, these are on a first-come, first-serve basis and applications should be filled out as soon as possible. Also, make sure that you read the fine print. Gather all the necessary documents and keep a checklist handy. This will not only make the process easier, but it’ll save you a lot of time in the long run. 

Step Up For Students

The Step Up For Students Scholarship has a few different options and per their website is a state-approved nonprofit scholarship-funding organization that helps administer scholarships for Florida schoolchildren. The Family Empowerment Scholarship for students with Unique Abilities (formerly known as Gardiner) is a scholarship that allows students of any ability and their families to use the money for different programs or therapies. 

HOPE Scholarship 

Although we have been heading in the right direction on making society more aware and accepting of children with different abilities, the harsh reality is our children continue to be victims of bullying. This particular scholarship assists with funding and/or transportation to school. This can help provide students (and their parents) peace of mind in a better and safer learning environment. ALL STUDENTS should be able to achieve all of their educational success in peace and safe from harm. Find out if your student is eligible here.

McKay Scholarship 

This scholarship allows any child with disabilities with an IEP to attend an eligible public or private school of their choosing. The student must be 5 years old by September 1 of the school year for which they are applying. You can find the answer to some of their most frequently asked questions, along with how and where to apply, here.

Image: A young, smiling woman sitting in a wheelchair (Krystal Giraldo Contributor Miami Mom Collective)
Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels


Whatever you decide to apply for, know that you are your child’s STRONGEST and MOST VALID advocate. There is no harm in trying to apply and asking all the questions. The cool thing about all these scholarships is that there is plenty of information and staff available to answer and assist in any way they can. If your child has an IEP, odds are they probably have a school psychologist or counselor on-site who can also help with the application process.

Either way, we are here for you, Momma. And ready to help in any way we can.

Image: Krystal and her son JJ on his first day of school (National Scholarship Month: Special Needs Edition Krystal Giraldo Contributor Miami Mom Collective)