Babysitting Options for Children with Autism
July 27, 2018
July 27, 2018
As parents and caregivers, we love our children dearly. We do everything in our power to bring them joy and often sacrifice pieces of our own lives for them. We would give them the world, if we could. But sometimes we need a break!
There’s just one problem. It can be difficult to find someone to look after a child with autism in order to give parents a night – or even an hour – to themselves. Whether it’s due to unwillingness or inability of others, strapped finances or our own fear or lack of trust, it’s often easier just to take our kids with us than have some alone time.
At Hopebridge, we know kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental delays require extra care. We also know you do too, which is why we polled our parents and did some investigating to develop a list of respite resources when you’re in need of some R&R.
1. Talk to your child’s therapist
Simply asking your kiddo’s RBT, BCBA or other therapist is often a good place to start when trying to find a babysitter. While it can be a conflict of interest for him or her to handle directly, this person understands your child’s needs and is likely to point you in the right direction. The therapist could know about external resources and contacts to share with you.
2. Ask your family members or close friends
This one seems like a given, but that’s not necessarily the case for everyone. You may feel uncomfortable putting the pressure on your family, but we often hear they are honored to be asked and happy to take on the job. A huge benefit is the built-in trust and familiarity with your child, plus it’s a great option for those who are financially conscious. If you want to find a way to repay them, you can offer to buy them dinner as a thank-you!
“My family is my biggest help,” says Hopebridge mom, LaSonya.
Here’s a quick rule we like to use for family members: promise each other you will use open, respectful communication during this time. That way, you are both are comfortable discussing changes or even if it doesn’t end up working out, all without the risk of altering relationships.
“A friend occasionally watches our kids; my parents every once in a while, and another mom who runs a daycare. We go out to dinner sometimes, see friends and enjoy adult conversation and sometimes we do nothing except watch some Netflix and enjoy the quiet,” said another Hopebridge mama, Holly.
3. Plan with other parents
Consider teaming up with other Hopebridge families. If anyone understands your situation, it’s parents of children on the spectrum. While each child is different, they are familiar with some of the behaviors and needs that will come into play. You can offer to watch their kiddo for an hour in exchange for childcare to watch over your own another day. If that doesn’t yet feel right to each of you, a group play date can at least get you some adult conversation, plus you might learn they have access to a babysitter they’re willing to ‘share’ with you.
“I do find play dates take some of the pressure off because more than one person is watching each kid,” said Hopebridge mom, Jen.
4. Research reputable websites
You’ve likely heard of sites like Care.com and Sittercity.com, but did you know they have special sections to find nannies and babysitters for children with special needs? They cover a range of areas from Terre Haute and South Bend, to Cleveland and Columbus, to Lexington and Louisville. Even better, many of these potential sitters have direct experience working for kids with special needs. Most have worked in autism-related facilities, are parents or siblings of children with ASD or served as a nanny for children with similar behavior challenges.
Another option for our Indiana families is SynapseSitters.com, which strictly focuses on serving special needs individuals in Indianapolis and surrounding areas. The site was founded by a mother of a child on the spectrum and touts that it is simple, secure and affordable. Understanding that even teens and young adults with ASD may need extra assistance, options are available for those up to age 20.
Rates for these sites seem to average $11 to $15 per hour. They also charge membership fees, which could be a turn-off for some, however the cost goes towards carefully vetting potential caregivers for you, which is worth it in the long run. If you choose to go this route, we still recommend interviewing candidates and checking several references before entrusting them with your kiddo.
5. Take advantage of Parents’ Night Out
Here’s an option both you and your kiddos will enjoy: Parents’ Night Out. We hear from Hopebridge parents that it’s a night of respite for you, plus a blast for the kids. Siblings are invited too! These monthly opportunities offer a few hours of sensory-friendly fun, games and refreshments from experienced professionals in an atmosphere your child already knows and loves.
“Last month the location that my son goes to held a parents’ night. My son had a blast and my fiance and I were able to get to things we needed to get done. We are big movie buffs so sometimes we will go see a movie, go to dinner, or our favorite, laser tag,” said Hopebridge parent, Crystal.
There may be other similar activities in your community. We Rock the Spectrum in Columbus, for example, offers PNO events and ‘We Rock Care and Break Time.’ The autism-friendly play space allows you to schedule your kid for group care or one-on-one time.
6. Look into your faith community
Some Hopebridge families share with us that their places of worship were good places to find help, either through direct asks or posting a bulletin on the community board. They’ve found that even if these individuals had not directly worked with children with autism in the past, many were caring, patient and willing to learn.
“Some of the retired women from our church have watched after our son. They are laid back and relaxed, which works well for our boy. Structure is good, but we also need someone who is able to manipulate structure, when needed. We are lucky to have found caring people who have been able to do that for us,” said Hopebridge parent, Angela.
7. Contact local college-level special education programs
If there is a local school that offers certifications or training in areas such as speech therapy, occupational therapy or applied behavior analysis, it is worthwhile to give the office a call. There may be students who are educated in the needs of someone with autism and is interested in working with you to gain more experience.
8. Seek out support groups
While this may not be the type of babysitter you were originally intending, support groups can provide an untraditional yet healthy chance at respite for you. Some of our Hopebridge parents have therapeutic recommendations that include childcare.
“I own a non-profit organization in Marion, Ohio that provides a support group twice a week. Starting in September, we will be providing child care twice a week for parents, grandparents and caregivers to come get that support and a break from the kiddos,” said Becky. For more information, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crystal, our parent whose family loves Hopebridge’s PNO, also shares this: “There is a support group in Jeffersonville, Indiana. It’s called Reach In. It’s for parents with children who have disabilities. They also have childcare.”
No matter which route you choose, it helps if your child is familiar with the sitter. If she or he doesn’t have experience with your kiddo or other children with social or behavior challenges, we suggest inviting the sitter for an informal ‘play date’ where he or she can observe and interact while you are present. You can also use this time to be up front about your child’s needs and challenges.
As a final rule, we also highly suggest checking two or three references before hiring anyone outside of your close friends and family.
Have other ideas we missed? Please visit the Hopebridge Facebook page to share your tips with us and other parents!