Shopping for a babysitter when you have special needs children
What’s more extraordinary than the mind of a child with autism is the parent who loves and cares for him or her. However, that child can still press your buttons, and adult company and some time away helps you be a better parent when you have to face the challenges that come with your special needs child. The problem here, is not when or how or where to go for a break, it’s who’s going to look after your child and his/her challenges while you’re out?
If you have a great support network in your family, then a sibling or your parents might be willing for a couple of hours. If not, you have to shop around for sitters who don’t mind the challenge and are knowledgeable in your son or daughter’s diagnosis. Chances are, that’s not going to be a teenager who lives down the street unless that teenager has a sibling with special needs too. It’s a real catch-22; get out and take care of yourself so you don’t crack under pressure, but find someone who can be an adequate stand in while you’re out or you have to stay home. While it’s very noble to do the latter, most parents even with “normal” children need a break and a moment of sanity, and you might be surprised to find that , while reaching for sainthood, a break or two is exactly what will boost you up.
Where do you turn then?
While it’s not allowed legally for teachers from school to babysit, daycare providers are allowed a little more flexibility. If any of your other children find themselves in daycare, you could ask around to see if any of the teachers there have the training and the will to take on a few extra hours for a little extra pay. (I’d highly recommend that you check to make sure they have taken courses in child development and special needs children, at the very least). If any of them have an Associate’s degree in child development, and seem to have a good rapport with children, those are the people who should be on the top of your list to ask first.
If that should not be fruitful, there are a few websites out there that are very good. Many sitter sites screen all of their applicants before allowing them to place an ad for hire on their site. Some of them even have search engines that allow you to type in the area where you live and the specific nature or reason for your search. One of the best out there is http://www.sittercity.com. No matter where you are in the U.S., this site can find you mother’s helpers, nannies, sitters, and even au pairs that are qualified to handle your special circumstances with your special needs child. All you have to do is connect by email, interview, and choose which one or more work for you. http://www.sitter.com is another, although you will have to do your own background screening and references with this one as it’s more of a “Craigslist” for babysitters than anything else. However, it will post sitters fairly close to you, which may be helpful if you don’t want to run a babysitter to and from long distances.
Nanny agencies are also good places to find the help you’re looking for. Generally, a nanny has had many years experience with just a few families, and those that are hired by an agency are run through rigorous testing to make sure they are drug-free, have no criminal history, and clean driving records. Agency nannies tend to be pricey, so you might want to use this as a last resort.