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Hiring a Babysitter for Your Exceptional Child

Exceptional Parents are constant caregivers who not only deserve time away, you need it! Regularly scheduled date nights can help your marriage, your mind-set, and your ability to handle parenthood with ease.  Your first order of business, however, is finding a qualified and trustworthy babysitter for your child.

When considering a babysitter, parents of exceptional children need to ask specific questions about each caregiver’s experience with children with disabilities, as well as what they can do to accommodate your child’s specific special needs.   

And, of course, you want a babysitter that will focus on your child as a person, rather than on his disabilities.

When interviewing candidates to care for your child, it is best to conduct initial interviews without your child present. There is no need to confuse your child by introducing them to multiple caregivers who they will likely never see again.  Once you determine the strongest candidate, the next step is to introduce her to your child and observe their interaction.

Caring for a child with special needs is often a team approach between parents and the caregiver.  As parents, it is important for you to be honest and up-front about your child’s abilities and limitations.  Your babysitter should know about daily routines, including any physical or occupational therapies, medication schedules, doctors’ appointments and so forth. 

Parents should give the babysitter any medicines or special equipment that the child needs, and teach her how to use it.  You should also explain if the babysitter will be responsible for regular procedures, such as finger prick tests to check blood sugar levels.  Let the babysitter know if your child needs help putting on, taking off or using braces, prosthetics or other equipment.  Teach the babysitter about your child’s seeing-eye dog or other type of service animal.  And explain if your child needs special medications, such as a shot in case of an allergic reaction.  If your child is prone to seizures, be clear about the protocol during these episodes. It is always a good idea, whenever possible, to conduct a demonstration and be present for a run-through with your child and the new babysitter.

Before hiring a babysitter, ask if she’s ever dealt with an emergency special needs situation. If so, what was the situation and how was it handled?  Be sure to familiarize your babysitter with your family’s emergency procedures, and provide her with a list of the medical team personnel that cares for your child in case of emergency.

Your exceptional child should have a competent, patient and nurturing babysitter caring for him.  And you should have open, honest communication with the babysitter, to assess how your child is doing.  In an ideal situation, the babysitter will support your efforts to help your special needs child thrive.

Finding the right babysitter for your child is tricky enough without adding special considerations into the mix.  Once you’ve found the right babysitter for your special needs child, though, what special-needs-specific information do you need to communicate to the babysitter to help her relate with your child and keep your child safe?  A brief list follows.

  • Capabilities of child (Can the child speak distinctly, feed him-/herself, correctly perceive dangers in his/her environment, etc.?)
  • Behaviors to expect in the child (For example, is the child prone to tantrums?)
  • Could the child be physically assaultive? If so, how should the babysitter respond?
  • How to effectively relate to the child (Does the child need structure? Should latitude be shown? Should the babysitter attempt to snuggle the child at first meeting? Should she allow the child to gradually warm up to her instead? What manner of communication works best for the child? What manner of redirection works best?)
  • How much patience will likely be needed and in what contexts?
  • Safety preparedness (i.e., ensuring that all exterior doors are locked, in the case of autism)
  • Allergies or other sensitivities (i.e., diminished immune response in the case of AIDS)
  • Favorites or fascinations (i.e., spinning objects, in the case of autism)
  • Illness-specific care instructions (i.e., how to feed your child, in the case of multiple sclerosis)
  • Things to look for (i.e., pre-seizure indications, in the case of epilepsy)
  • Emergency response protocol
  • Doctor’s name and contact information

Of course, what specifically needs to be communicated to the babysitter within each of the foregoing points depends on the specific child, his/her health condition, and the preferences of his/her parents.  Parents of a special needs child have likely spent a great deal of time getting to know their child, have been to enough doctors’ appointments to know their child’s condition thoroughly, and have learned via the sometimes tricky trial and error process how best to relate to and safeguard their child.  Parents can and should communicate as much of this information as possible to the babysitter to prevent the babysitter from having to go through the same trial and error learning curve that the parents went through:  the babysitter will still have a trial and error learning curve of her own, but giving her as much information as possible, proactively, will shorten the learning curve and make the adaptation process easier for the child, babysitter, and parents.

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