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Parents of Special Needs Children: What special instructions do you need to give to your sitters that you typically don’t for your other children?

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

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

We recognize that caring for a special needs child is often a team approach, and we ask parents to be honest and up-front about their child’s abilities and limitations.  Their 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 testing equipment, medicines, or special equipment that the child needs, and teach the nanny how to use it.  They 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, artificial limbs 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.

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 special needs 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? 

  • 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.

2 comments to Parents of Special Needs Children: What special instructions do you need to give to your sitters that you typically don’t for your other children?

  • Here’s what I tell babysitters regarding special needs children:

    You need to be trained by the parent. And only when you feel comfortable taking care of the disabled child by yourself, and the parents feel comfortable leaving their child alone with you, should you agree to take care of the child when both parents are away. Here are 5 steps to help you get started.

    1. Ask if you can help. Ask a parent with a disabled child if they would be interested in you helping them with their child. Make sure they understand that you have no experience taking care of a disabled child, but you are willing to learn.

    2. Spend some time learning. Have the parent teach you how to care for the disabled child. Ask a lot of questions. Find out as much as you can about the disability and how the parent takes care of the child. Watch what the parent does. Ask what the child can do and what she needs help with. Take notes.

    3. Take over some tasks. Ask the parent if you can take care of the child while the parent watches. There’s no better way to learn than to do it. This is the time to make mistakes so the parent can correct you.

    4. Spend time alone with the child. When you are comfortable taking care of the child with the parent next to you, ask the parent if you can take care of the child by yourself. Ask the parent to be close by and listen for your screams – I mean, calls for assistance.

    5. Be on your own for a short time. After you feel comfortable taking care of the child by yourself with the parent close by, ask the parent if you can watch the child while the parent is away for 15 minutes (minutes may vary according to the severity of the disability). Get comfortable being alone with the child. Put the parent’s cell number on your speed-dial just in case.

  • [...] is more likely to generate the behavior you seek than “Please sit here.” Lightly touch your child often as you interact with him. He will likely rebuff your touch, but persevere. You need to help [...]

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