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Babysitting

Those willing and able to babysit a child with autism may include:
•    The child’s Special Education Assistant
•    Respite Care Providers
•    Babysitter suggested by other parents of children with autism
•    Relative – older niece/nephew, aunt, uncle, grandma, grandpa, etc.
•    Someone who the child already knows and is comfortable with
•    Someone suggested by community support services, such as your local autism organizations, community   integration services, or your social worker if you have one. They may be able to provide a list of qualified babysitters.

Finding a babysitter that meets the individual needs of your child is important not only for the safety and well being of your child, but also for your peace of mind. When selecting someone to babysit your child/children, it is important that they understand your child’s interests, strengths, and challenges. By being upfront about this information, you will be able to equip your babysitter with the knowledge that they need to succeed.1 Below is a list of questions and things to keep in mind to make sure you find a babysitter who will be a good match for your family. 

Questions To Ask:
•    Have you babysat previously? If so, please describe your experience.
•    Have you received any specialized training for child care (i.e. first aid/ CPR, babysitter course, related school courses)?
•    Do you regularly work/volunteer with kids? If so, please describe (such as helping out with young dance classes, serving as a sports assistant, etc.).
•    Do you know what autism is? Do you know anyone who has autism?
•    What babysitter qualities do you have that should make me want to hire you? (A good babysitter may talk about kid activities or art projects already planned, fun and games, a strong sense of humor, etc.)
•    Do you know how to administer medicine? (If your child has a cold, for example, and needs some medicine or is on oral antibiotics, you want to make sure the babysitter is comfortable in not only giving the proper dosage, but doing so safely.)
•    Do you enjoy working with children?
•    Do you have a list of references? (If you have not already spoken with someone about the babysitter beforehand, be sure you call and talk with references before entrusting a person to care for your child.)
•    What will you do if the kids are not getting along? How will you handle separation anxiety (if this is a potential issue)?
•    What was your worst babysitting experience, and why? (See how the candidate worked through the problem.)
•    Are you comfortable being in my home at night or for an extended period of time?
•    What is your hourly rate of pay?
•    What hours and days of the week are you available to work? (Ask if there are any particular times/dates a potential sitter cannot work.)
•    What can I do as a parent to help make your babysitting experience with my kids a success?2

Things To Consider:
Once you have selected your babysitter, tell him/her everything they need to know to be successful. Before the first session, meet with your sitter to go over any specifics about your child that could be challenging such as:
•    Social Skills: Is your child very shy? How does he/she relate to others?
•    Memory: Can your child remember several instructions at once or does he do better if directions are given one at a time?
•    Activity Level: Is your child high, medium, or low on the activity scale? Does he/she need to be constantly supervised?
•    Impulsiveness: Does your child often act before thinking?
•    Language skills: Does a language-based learning disability affect your child’s understanding of what the babysitter says? How might it influence the way your child communicates with the sitter?
•    Go beyond the bare facts about your child, and let the babysitter know about tricks and routines that keep the family running smoothly. Tell her about potential trouble spots and how to manage them. Use specific examples: It can be hard for Andre to switch from playing to mealtime. It helps if you warn him fifteen minutes in advance and again when he has only five more minutes to play.
•    Create a Caregiver Cheat Sheet. This includes information such as important phone numbers, discipline strategies, medication directions, allergies, routine information and comfort items.
•    For the first couple of times, it may be best to keep the babysitting sessions short. This will allow your child and the sitter to get to know each other without being overwhelmed. This will also let you see if the babysitter is a good match for your family.

Prepare Your Child For The Babysitter:
•    Talk to your child about what will be the same and what will be different while you are gone.
•    Have him/her pick out favorite games to play, toys, and videos.
•    Work together to reduce anxiety (i.e. if he worries that the sitter won’t know what he likes to eat, plan a menu with him).
•    Plan a special activity your child can enjoy with the sitter. Keep in mind his/her attention span, ability to focus, and energy level. Such activities may include: baking cookies, watching a movie, building a fort in the living room, etc.
•    Tell your child how long you plan to be gone, and, with the sitter present, what the rules are while the sitter is in charge.1,2

Options:
There are a few options when looking for a babysitter for your child/children.
•    Ask other parents who have children on the autism spectrum for a referral.
•    Using Respite Care services.  (Visit our Respite Care section of this website.)
•    Does your child go to preschool, daycare, or any type of speech, occupational, or physical therapy? If so, ask the provider if they ever babysit. If they do not, ask them if they know someone who does.
•    Having their child’s Special Education Assistant babysit occasionally.
•    Older niece/nephew or any other relative.
•    Someone who the child already knows.
•    Calling up Community support services such as Autism society, Community integration services, or your special needs social worker if you have one. They may be able to provide a list of qualified people who are looking for more work, even occasionally.

1 Greatschools™ Involved Parents. Successful Kids., “ Preparing the Babysitter for Success-What to Do After Selecting a Sitter,” (June 2002) http://www.greatschools.net/cgi-bin/showarticle/2550 (26 December 2008)
2 About.com:Child Care, “Key Questions to Ask a Potential Babysitter,” n.d. http://childcare.about.com/od/occasionalcare/a/sitterquestions.htm (26 December 2008)