New Diverse Learners Recovery Fund for Chicago Students with Disabilities

June 5th, 2024

A girl with dark skin sits in a wheelchair and smiles as she plays with blocks inside an inclusive classroom for children with physical and intellectual disabilities.

Eligible Chicago families who have children with disabilities in grades K-12 can apply for a chance to receive a one-time grant through Oct. 30

If you live in Chicago and have at least one child with disabilities enrolled in a public or private k-12 school, you may be eligible for a one-time grant.

The Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and Ada S. McKinley Community Services has launched the Diverse Learners Recovery Fund for students with disabilities.

The program aims to help families who were uniquely challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fund will provide one-time grants of $500 to up to 8,000 eligible K-12 students through a lottery. Students with autism, physical and developmental delays and other disabilities may be eligible.

Families can use these funds to pay for things such as medical expenses, supplemental education resources or other accommodations their student needs.

Parents and guardians can apply for the Diverse Learners Recovery Fund grant at through Oct. 30.

Families applying for the grant must:

  • Live in Chicago
  • Have a student currently enrolled in a K-12 public or private school
  • Have an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a 504 Plan, an Individual Support Plan (ISP), or a doctor’s note verifying a disability diagnosis covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Have a household income level at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level

Families can receive a maximum one-time payment of $500 for one student and $1,000 for two students.

The program will select recipients using a lottery system. All eligible applications will be included in the drawings on:

  • July 1
  • Sept. 16
  • On or after Nov. 30

Submitting an eligible application does not guarantee you will receive the funds. Eligible applications that are not chosen will be included in the following drawing(s).

See the Diverse Learners Recovery Fund flyer for more information on the fund and eligibility requirements. It also has a QR code to apply.

You can also visit the Diverse Learners Recovery Fund for Students with Disabilities website. The site features tools to help with the application process, including:

  • A video
  • Eligibility requirements
  • Frequently asked questions and a chart to help determine the federal poverty level
  • A list of documents necessary to complete your application
  • Contact information (phone and online)

If you’re ready to apply, be sure to set up your Diverse Learners Recovery Fund for Students with Disabilities account online.

The deadline to apply for a chance to receive a grant is Oct. 30.

The program receives funding from The Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLRF) program authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Sensory-Friendly Holiday Happenings in Illinois

November 22nd, 2023

An older, dark-haired boy in a wheelchair smiles at the Christmas trees and holiday decorations that surround him

Fun, inclusive events the whole family can enjoy throughout Illinois!

How will you make memories this holiday season?

There are light displays, sensitive Santa opportunities, parades and more going on throughout Illinois.

Our Special Events page includes a roundup of opportunities designed specifically for youth with disabilities and special healthcare needs.

You can also browse this collection of special programs and event guides for opportunities to create some holiday magic and plenty of smiles:

We will continue to add holiday events and activities, so please check our Special Events page often throughout the season.

If you know of a good sensory-friendly event to share, please email us at

Please note, the University of Illinois Chicago’s Division of Specialized Care for Children (DSCC) is not involved in organizing or scheduling these holiday events. If you have questions about a specific event, please contact the event sponsor or organizer.

Sensory-Friendly Easter Bunny Visits

March 3rd, 2023

Little girl smiles while hugging the Easter Bunny

Hippity-hoppity, the Easter Bunny is on its way!

Sensory-friendly Easter Bunny visits are happening at sites throughout Illinois and the St. Louis area. Individuals of all ages and abilities may schedule an appointment.

The visits will take place in a calmer, quieter environment that supports visitors’ sensory, physical and developmental needs. Autism Speaks is partnering with Cherry Hill Programs to provide these special Easter Bunny photo events.

The Bunny Cares experiences are free. Photos will be available to buy at each event.

You can see the Easter Bunny on March 26 at the following locations (in the “Reserve” section for each location, click on the “Events” button and select “Bunny Cares”):

Reservations are limited. Visit the Bunny Cares website for a complete list of sites and to reserve your spot.

Many communities are also hosting sensory-friendly egg hunts and opportunities to meet the Easter Bunny. To find these events and other family-friendly spring activities, hop on over to our Special Events page.

Santa Making Sensory-Friendly Stops Statewide

November 23rd, 2021

Santa with his bag and blowing magic snow out of his hand

Free Santa visits for children with autism and other special needs

Are you ready for some Santa magic?

Autism Speaks has partnered with Cherry Hill Programs to provide sensory-friendly Santa experiences nationwide.

In Illinois, Santa will be spreading joy and holiday cheer on Dec. 5 and 12.

Join Santa in a calmer, more subdued environment. He is planning stops in communities that include:

  • Aurora
  • Champaign
  • Chicago
  • Gurnee
  • Moline
  • Northbrook
  • Orland Park
  • Peoria
  • Rockford
  • Rosemont
  • Schaumburg
  • Springfield
  • Vernon Hills

These sensory-friendly Santa experiences are free. Keepsake photo packages are available to buy.

You can reserve your spot for the Santa experience online. (The organizers strongly encourage reservations.)

For more upcoming holiday events for children with special healthcare needs in Illinois, be sure to check our Special Events page often.

Autism Webinar Series

April 8th, 2019

Logos for UIC Institute on Disability and Human Development and The Autism Program of Illinois

Learn from experts in the field about assistive technology, post-transition, behavior planning and early detection and intervention.

The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute on Disability and Human Development and The Autism Program of Illinois (TAP) are kicking off a series of webinars in honor of Autism Awareness Month.

The webinars will discuss many aspects of autism, including interventions and strategies to improve quality of life and important information on the systems that affect individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

The webinars will feature experts from across the field. Continuing education units will also be available for all webinars.

To register, visit

Schedule details are available below by topic:

Assistive Technology Series

  • April 10, 1-2 p.m.
    “AT Tools for Independence – Electronic Aids to Daily Living”
  • April 29,  1-2 p.m.
    “AT Communication Tools and Strategies”
  • May 9,  1-2 p.m.
    “AT Tools and Resources for Latinx Families”
  • May 16, 1-1:30 p.m.
    “AT Creating Individualized Communication Profiles”
    (.5 continuing education units available only in conjunction with one other ATU webinar)


  • April 11,  1-2 p.m.
    “Accessing Adult Services in Illinois”
  • May 23, 1-2 p.m.
    “What Happens after High School? Transition to College for Autistic and Disabled Youth”
  • May 30, 1-2 p.m.
    “ABLE Accounts”

Behavior Planning

  • April 18,  2-3 p.m.
    “Understanding and Improving Behavior: A Sensible Approach”
  • June 20, 1-2 p.m.
    “ABA Basics: Recognizing Good and Bad Behavior Plans”

Early Detection and Intervention

  • June 13,  1-2 p.m.
    “Early Detection of Autism”
  • June 27,  1-2 p.m.
    “A Look at Alternative Interventions”

Questions? Please contact Susan Kahan at

Sensory-Friendly Santa Stops from Autism Speaks

November 27th, 2018

Santa Claus with bag of presents

Free Santa Experiences welcome children of all ages and abilities!

Autism Speaks is once again partnering with Cherry Hill Programs this holiday season to provide free, sensory-friendly Santa Experiences for families across the country.

All families of children with autism and other special needs can enjoy a visit with Santa in a more subdued and calm environment.

Santa stops in Illinois begin Dec. 2 and are scheduled for communities including:

  • Aurora
  • Chicago Ridge
  • Fairview Heights
  • Gurnee
  • Joliet
  • Lincolnwood
  • Lombard
  • Orland Park
  • Peoria
  • Schaumburg
  • South Barrington
  • Springfield
  • Rockford
  • West Dundee

Go to the Autism Speaks website for the full list of Cherry Hill Programs Santa Photo Experiences in Illinois and to reserve your spot.

Sensory-friendly Santa events are free and keepsake photo packages will be available for purchase.

For more Santa visits and other Christmas-related events for children with special healthcare needs in Illinois, be sure to check our Events page.


Free Child Care for Children with Autism or Developmental Delays

October 12th, 2017

CST Academy logo, Chicago ABA Therapy logo

CST Academy and Chicago ABA Therapy are offering a monthly night out for parents to enjoy themselves.

CST Academy, a Chicago therapeutic preschool program, and Chicago ABA Therapy are sponsoring an initiative to provide free child care for children with autism or other developmental delays so their parents can enjoy a night out.

The program aims to offer parents a monthly, scheduled “date night” or “parent(s’) night out.” Children can be dropped off at the program’s play space, where team members watch, engage and entertain them while parents have time to themselves.

Their team is a group of therapists and aspiring therapists with extensive expertise in speech and language development, occupational therapy, feeding therapy and ABA therapy.

The program is free to parents. A small donation to offset their costs would be appreciated but is not required.

Interested parents should click here to request more information.



Autism Grant Available for Central Illinois Families

September 29th, 2017

Grant from the Autism Society of Central Illinois aims to improve the life of an individual or child with autism.

The Blake Penner Memorial Grant was established by the Autism Society of Central Illinois in 2005 in honor of one special child. The grant program is designed to help families purchase items or services that will improve the life of an individual or child with autism. Examples of  grant uses include adaptive bicycles, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, educational consultant fees and social skills training.

Grant beneficiaries must be a person with autism spectrum disorder who lives within the central Illinois area (must live in Sangamon or Menard county or other qualifying zip codes listed on the Autism Society of Central Illinois’ website at

Applications are available here and must be mailed in by Nov. 3. Funds are limited, so apply early.

Free Webinar Series on Transition

September 27th, 2017

“Next Steps to Adulthood: Planning for Transition” includes a free webinar series and in-person workshop.

The University of Illinois at Chicago Institute on Disability and Human Development (IDHD) Developmental Disability Family Clinics present “Next Steps to Adulthood: Planning for Transition,” a free webinar series and workshop. Families and professionals may register for all or select individual webinars to attend.


  • Healthcare Transition of Young Adults with Autism and other Developmental Disabilities to Adult Systems of Care
    : Wednesday, Oct. 4, 10 to 11 a.m.
    Presenter: Kruti Acharya, MD, UIC Department of Disability and Human Development
    Dr. Acharya will review the most recent data about healthcare transition for adolescents and young adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities, describe standard of care for health care transition and highlight strategies to support the transition to adult-centered health care.
  • Understanding the Components of Transition Planning for Youth with Autism
    Date: Wednesday, Oct. 18, 10 to 11 a.m.
    Presenter: Meghan Burke, Ph.D., BCBA-D, UIUC Department of Special Education
    In this presentation, Dr. Burke will outline the components of transition planning for your child with autism. Specifically, she will discuss transition assessments and goals, student involvement and transition outcomes including post-secondary training and education, independent living and employment.
  • Employment Policy and Services for Transition-Aged Youth with Disability
    Date: Wednesday, Nov. 1, 10 to 11 a.m.
    Presenter: Kate Caldwell, PhD, UIC Department of Disability and Human Development
    This presentation will give an overview of current policy affecting transition-aged youth with disabilities in the workforce. It will also discuss trends in the field, as well as strategies and best practices in disability employment services and supports. Finally, it will provide resources for those wishing to learn more.
  • What Happens Next? Exploring the World of Adult Services
    Date: Thursday, Nov. 9, 10  to 11 a.m.
    Presenter: Kathy Carmody, MSW, Institute on Public Policy for People with Disabilities
    This presentation will discuss the community service system for adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities in Illinois, including eligibility requirements, funding options, service models and strategies to promote maximum effectiveness and satisfaction with services.  Kathy brings over 30 years of experience in Illinois and an extensive background in helping families understand and navigate the adult I/DD community system.


  • Transition Perspectives
    Date: Friday, Dec. 8, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
    Location: First Floor Auditorium, 1640 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL 60608 (UIC’s Disability, Health and Social Policy Building)
    This in-person interactive workshop combines insights from all three webinars to discuss how transition planning impacts daily life, healthcare and employment opportunities. This is your opportunity to learn from three experts on transition best practices. Bring your questions!


Questions? Contact Susan Kahan  at or (312) 413-2652.

Continuing education credits are available with a $10 fee for professionals in the following disciplines: Advanced Practice Nurses, Registered Nurses, LPNs, Clinical Psychologists, Illinois Teachers Professional Development, LCSW, LSW, LPC, and LCPC, Licensed Dietitian Nutritionists (RD), Nursing Home Administrators, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Qualified Intellectual Disabilities Professionals and Speech Language Pathologists.

Click here for more information.