How to Find a Babysitter for Your Child With Autism
Parenting a child with autism often requires being “on” 24/7, and it is essential to take time for yourself to recharge. You will be a better caregiver with more patience and understanding when feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. Self-care is vital when caring for a child with autism to maintain your spiritual, mental, and physical health. It is crucial to balance your child’s needs with your own as well as the needs of the rest of your family.
Finding time for yourself is essential regardless of your family or home situation. This can look different for everyone. It can include time to run errands by yourself, take an exercise class, get your hair done, go to a doctor’s appointment, date night, or have coffee with a friend. All of these instances can require the services of a babysitter.
This babysitter can be a family member or close friend or a professional. There are options for finding a babysitter for your autistic child to ensure that you make the necessary time for yourself.
Where to Look for a Babysitter
Children with autism crave routine and familiarity. In this sense, looking for a babysitter in your close circle can often be beneficial. A family member or close friend who already knows your child can be a wonderful option to give you a much-needed break. You can even work out a trade with another parent of a child with autism to offer each other babysitting services.
Other options include talking to your therapist or ASD provider to ask for resources. These professionals often know individuals or services specializing in caring for children with autism. There are also a host of professional services where you can hire a babysitter who has experience working with children with autism, such as Care.com and Sittercity. The benefit of a service is that you can preview the sitter’s experience and references and have extra peace of mind knowing that they have already been through a comprehensive background check and vetting process.
Local colleges often have resources for young adult babysitters as well. Students who are studying to be teachers or therapists — including occupational, speech, or ABA — can be a great fit. They have some knowledge about what to expect and are often looking for options to gain real-life experience — and a bit of spending money. For short-term, temporary care you can also look at respite care in your area.
What to Look for in a Babysitter
It is essential to find the right fit when looking for a babysitter for your child with autism. The babysitter should have the following traits:
- Patience. This is essential when managing a child with autism as their needs can be wide-ranging and significant.
- Calmness. A child with autism can become agitated easily, so someone with a calm demeanor can help diffuse tension.
- Empathy. When the sitter can relate to the child and offer compassion and understanding, the encounter will go more smoothly.
- Knowledge. The more the sitter knows about autism and how a child with autism is likely to react to certain situations and stimuli, the better equipped they will be to handle any situation that may arise.
- Attention to detail. Children with autism thrive with structure and routine and can be reactive when overstimulated, and it is beneficial that the sitter can stick to a schedule and understand how to recognize escalating behaviors.
- Quick thinking. The sitter should be clear-headed and able to think fast on their feet to help manage and diffuse potential complications.
It can often be helpful to hire a babysitter with experience sitting for children with autism or personal experience spending time with children with autism. They will be more aware of common pitfalls and better able to keep things calm and moving along smoothly.
How to Prepare Your Child
To ensure everything goes well for your child and the babysitter, prepare your child ahead of time. Children with autism are more successful when they know what to expect. It can be beneficial to start talking to your child about the experience early on. You can use social stories to help depict the proper way to communicate and what the expected behaviors are.
Have a pre-meeting or a trial run before the babysitting event. You can be present and help your child navigate the interaction during the initial introduction. This can help ease tension and help your child become more comfortable around the sitter. It also allows you the chance to prepare the sitter and observe the way they interact with your child.
Tips for Setting Up the Sitter for Success
Just as it is important to prepare your child for a babysitter, it is also imperative to support the sitter and give them the tools they will need to work with your child successfully. Even if they have experience babysitting children with autism, they have not been with your child. Each child has their own nuances and particular circumstances to consider.
The introductory period before the first time they are alone with your child can benefit both your child and the babysitter to help with expectations and promote a better understanding of each other.
Some additional tips to help set up the sitter for success include the following:
- Provide any information that can help the sitter get to know your child better. This includes their likes and dislikes, potential behaviors that can indicate an oncoming meltdown, stimuli that are uncomfortable such as bright lights or loud noises, and their primary methods of communication. This includes verbal communication, sign language, or a picture exchange system.
- List food preferences and aversions as well as any dietary restrictions or allergies. It is helpful for the sitter to know what to feed your child as well as what not to feed them.
- Explain your child’s daily routine during the time the sitter will be with them. Your child will be more at ease if they are following their normal routine, even with a babysitter. If your child does better with visual cues, it can be helpful to show the babysitter this and how to use the visual aids.
- If your child has a specific area of interest, share this with the babysitter. If the sitter can engage your child in something they are keenly interested in and excited about, the visit will go smoother, and your child will connect better with the sitter.
- Leave emergency contact information. In addition to your cell number, the sitter should have numbers for close family and friends as well as your child’s doctor.
The more information you can give your sitter ahead of time about how to care for your child, the better prepared they will be. And you will be able to have some time for yourself while enjoying peace of mind.
The Importance of Self-Care for the ASD Caregiver. (July 2020). Autism Parenting Magazine.
Taking Care of Yourself. (August 2018). Autism Speaks.
Autism Child Care. (2022). Care.com.
Find Special Needs Caregivers Near You. (2022). Sittercity Incorporated.
Resource Guide Respite Care. (2022). Autism Speaks Inc.