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How To Choose a Babysitter for Your Child with Special Needs

How To Choose a Babysitter for Your Child with Special Needs

My son has autism, so when I need to leave him with a babysitter, I am extremely picky about who that person is going to be. There are so many things that go through my head as a parent of a child with special needs. Who can I trust with him, especially since he has limited verbal skills? Will his babysitter understand his wants and needs? Will he be happy and engaged while I am gone? Over the years, I have come up with a system for choosing a babysitter that has worked well for us. This is how I do it.


Where to Find Babysitters

There are some very good places that you may not have thought of for finding sitters for kids with special needs. I contact local special education schools and therapy centers, both of which are wonderful resources for this. Try calling them, and you will usually be put in touch with the right person to help you out, such as a social worker or psychologist. When you speak with that person, let her know exactly they type of person you are seeking as a babysitter. Let her know how old your child is, if you have a boy or a girl, and anything else you think may be important to share. You will find that many teachers, teaching assistants, and therapists are looking to earn extra money. The social worker or psychologist can circulate your contact information among the staff. One of the best reasons to get sitters from these places is that they are already fingerprinted and have had background checks done. 

Referrals from other parents with special needs children can also work as a great resource for finding people. I find that we parents are each other's best sources of information. You can fully describe your child to other parent without feeling like you need to hold anything back. With that information, they will know if they have someone who would be a good fit.

RELATED: Find resources and services for your child with special needs.


Meet as Many Candidates as Possible

I like to meet as many potential sitters as I can. You may find that different people or personalities work better in different situations. I have some sitters that I prefer to use if they will be staying at home with my son and others that I prefer to use if they will be doing an outing with him. It is great to have choices, and not everyone may feel comfortable taking him out. 

Another reason I like to meet a variety of people is more basic: We all need back-up. You just never know who will be free when you need someone. There have been times when I have gotten to my fourth call before getting a yes. I certainly was glad I had my list of trusted babysitters to call upon when that situation came up. The bigger the list you can compile, the better it will be in the long term. It is important to know that you have multiple great, trusted people to call upon.


Conducting an Initial Interview

After compiling my list of who I would like to meet, it is time to have initial interviews with them. The first time I meet a new person I prefer to do it alone, just me and her, without my son present. That’s because my son has very good receptive language and I do not like to talk about him in front of him. At these meetings, I like to tell the candidate all about my son--his likes, his dislikes, his routines, what makes him happy, what bowl he likes for his snacks, that he likes ice cubes in his water, everything and anything that might be important to know while watching him.

I truly feel that I cannot give a sitter too much detailed information. I need to be his voice. We can also discuss how much I will pay. This is also the candidates’ opportunity to ask me anything that they want.  Based on how this meeting goes, I will decide if I want to continue the process with each person I meet.


Check References

Now that I have done initial interviews, it is time to check references for those I am highly interested in hiring. It is a good idea to do this regardless of where someone’s full time job is. You may want to speak with someone else for whom she babysits (or babysat in the past) or maybe a supervisor or co-worker at her current job. Have your list of questions prepared before you make the calls.

You should feel free and comfortable to ask anything; after all, this is your child’s welfare we are talking about. Ask specific questions about the candidate’s interactions with children, how she’s handled certain situations, and the like. I always like to ask about punctuality, too. This is the opportunity to get a feel for whether this person may be the right fit and if you want to continue moving along with her.


Meeting My Child

Assuming the references check out, I next schedule a meeting between the potential new sitter and my child. The meeting takes place in my home. I will prepare my son the best I can, by telling him the person's name and that she is coming over to see where he lives and what he likes to play with. Once she arrives I will make the introduction. I will show her around, pointing out where my son likes to hang out and where his favorite snacks are, for instance. I will go over how we do certain things, and our routines. I want all his babysitters to be comfortable handling anything that may arise while I am out. 

This is another instance in which I have a list ready so I do not forget anything that may be important. Discussing all of these details in depth at this time will make it a lot easier the first time I go out and leave him with this person. I will not have to take the time then to go over everything from scratch, and instead we can just do a review.

This is also the chance to see how she interacts with him. I pay close attention and try to feel the vibe. Usually I can tell at this point if a particular candidate would be a good match for my son.


Joining Us for an Outing

For those sitters who might take my son out, I will invite them to go on an outing with us. This is where I will train them on how to be outside with him, which is a very different situation than just staying indoors. There is a lot to know: He likes to scare birds, he may not want to hold your hand, he will constantly ask you how many more blocks you’re going. How will the babysitter react to all of this--or whatever else may come up while outside? His safety must be the priority. This person will need to be on high alert the entire time. I need to feel 100% confident that this sitter is up to this task, and she needs to be prepared for the unexpected with him. I will guide her through this outing and see how she feels, and again ask if she has any questions or concerns.


The Babysitter’s Commute

Where a sitter lives is important to me. Just because you are identifying candidates via a school or center it does not necessarily mean that they live nearby. I need to know that all candidates can independently get to and from my apartment. I need to make sure they understand that they will need to leave enough time for the trip. If you have a younger child, you will not want to have to pack them up to pick up or take the sitter home, especially at night. I find that most sitters can come and go on their own, but this is something I like to confirm before hiring someone. It is always good to make sure you are on the same page about anything that you think is important. 

This is my process, the steps I like to go through when choosing a sitter for my child who has special needs. Every question is important and no detail is too small to mention. Make your lists, and do whatever it takes to put your mind at ease. Who we leave our children with is one of the most important decisions we make as a parent. We need to feel comfortable and confident with our decisions so we can go out and have peace of mind.

RELATED: Find babysitters and nannies in your area.

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Dana Greenberg


 Dana Greenberg is a mom of twins living in Manhattan. Dana's site The Autism Club was created as a way to connect moms who have kids with special needs, like her son Jack--who has autism--and offer them a space to tell their stories. You can follow Dana on Twitter @theautismclub or on Facebook @theautismclub.

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