What to Look For When Hiring a Sitter for a Child with Special Needs
Your sitter should love and care for your child like you do—especially if it means going the extra mile
Having a child with special needs in your family is one of the most joyful, enriching experiences a parent can have. As a proud sibling of someone with autism, I would never want to see who I would be without my brother Michael because he’s made me a better person in every single way! It also means that finding the right sitter often takes a little extra finesse—there are likely a few extra childcare factors that must be considered so your kiddo has all the support they need.
While at first it may seem daunting to put your trust in another person to care for your little love the same way you do, remember: That’s what a sitter is there for! I’ve rounded up some of the best tips, tricks and expert advice to help guide you through what to look for when hiring a babysitter for a child with special needs—and how to let love in along the way.
Create a List of Your Family’s Needs
Finding the right sitter for any child, regardless of needs or ability, always requires some soul-searching. Whether you work from home, are looking for a traditional nanny set-up or are somewhere in between—what is it that you hope to get out of this relationship, both personally and professionally? Do you need an in-home sitter? Occasional sitter? After school help? Assessing your family and your child’s needs becomes even more important when looking for a sitter for a child who requires some additional care. Sit down and talk with your partner or support village (or both!) about what those needs are and write them down. This is key!
“Kids with special needs usually need care beyond what the average babysitter can provide,” according to KidsHealth.org, a doctor-reviewed health website.
For example, if a child has medical complications, it’s important to hire a sitter who will be fully able to handle a medical emergency at any time. Perhaps they have a vision or hearing impairment that requires knowledge of Braille or sign language. Think about what you want as parents––what will bring you peace of mind and keep your child safe––and then (if your child is unable to fully express themselves) think about what your child would want in a sitter. These things will serve as your roadmap along the way.
Research Your Options
When you’re ready to start looking, don’t feel like you have to go it alone: There are plenty of professional resources out there to help inform and educate you on what it takes to be a sitter for a child with different needs, and to connect you with professionals in your area.
Places like Understood.org, ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center, the American Autism Association, United Cerebral Palsy, and local chapters of The Arc and Easter Seals all provide a wealth of specialized knowledge and research on a range of special needs scenarios and care options.
Sites like Care.com and SitterCity.com are referral services that can connect you with sitters in your area who match your search criteria—such as special certifications or prior experience caring for a child with disabilities.
Consulting with your child’s school and support team, physical therapists and medical team and even your church or spiritual community can also broaden your base of expertise, resources and care connections.
This is where your village comes in handy—ask people in your network about their personal experiences and for good referrals. Knowing another mom who has walked the path before you can be super reassuring!
Set-up an Interview
Interviewing potential sitters will be the meat and potatoes of the process; it’s where you’ll be able to put qualifications to a face and personality.
During the interview, make sure to:
Ask questions! Bring up specific scenarios the sitter would be likely to encounter and ask if they are capable and comfortable. Ask follow-up questions to their qualifications—are they CPR-certified or willing to be? Can they detail their previous experience in this realm? Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions either—this is about providing a high level of care for your babe, so you want to make sure everything is out on the table from the get-go. Get started with a list of essential nanny interview questions here.
Talk about salary. If your child has special needs or behavioral or health issues, you may want a nanny with professional training or experience. Higher-education degrees are incredibly valuable in childcare professions, and you can expect to pay your nanny more because of his or her education! This may mean paying $16 an hour instead of $12 an hour, or something different, depending on your family’s needs and your sitter’s qualifications and level of special training.
Do due diligence. This may come as a no-brainer, but checking out a potential sitter’s background is essential—especially when it comes to caring for kids with extra vulnerabilities. This may mean running a background check, calling references, and checking certifications and licensures.
Include the child. If your child is able to express themselves, then make sure you get their input in private. This will be their sitter, after all! Knowing they are comfortable and approving makes everyone feel more at ease. Conversely, if your little one isn’t feeling it, maybe the candidate isn’t meant to be.
Ultimately, the sitter you choose should demonstrate a “willingness to learn the specifics of your child's medical or behavioral needs and be trained on them, while partnering with you in developing a care plan that reflects your needs," according to Dr. Lynette Fraga, vice president of Early Care & Education and Special Populations at Care.com. A great way to get a real feel for how the relationship will work is through a trial period—essentially a test period where the sitter interacts with your family and performs duties while you both assess the situation to make sure it works before fully committing.
Consider Your Comfort Level
At the end of the day, finding a sitter for a child with special needs is all about trust—in yourself and in another. Give yourself permission to ask for help and lean on others who are caring and well-qualified to take the reigns for a while. Be willing to let love in and ask your village for support when you need it. Finding the right sitter for a child who needs a little extra love and care is about finding someone who will give you peace of mind while empowering you and your child both to live happy, loving lives full of support and independence. You deserve it, and so does your kiddo!