Parenting can be tiring; parenting a child with special needs is just plain exhausting. Give yourselves a break; book a babysitter and have some time out! It’s do-able with good preparation and communication.
As a parent of a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), you may place hiring a babysitter in the ‘too-hard basket.’ Think it’s too hard for both your child and a sitter to handle? Think again. Wherever your child’s diagnosis sits on the Spectrum, you can enjoy a much-needed break with a good babysitter, a little planning and a clear brief.
Most local babysitters will be able to manage a child with a high-functioning ASD such as Asperger’s Syndrome, while many firms will offer qualified Special Needs babysitters and nannies if your child’s issues are more severe.
While no two ASD kids are the same, this briefing checklist will cover many of the characteristics they may share.
If your child is overwhelmed by new people, arrange for the babysitter to come to your home to meet your child before your outing so they are familiar with each other beforehand. Even half an hour will help. Perhaps ask your child to show the babysitter around the house. Add the time to the babysitting fee.
Most ASD children will be preoccupied with a particular subject of interest which they will know in incredible detail. A babysitter who engages with child’s specific interest is well on the way forging a bond with them. Tell the sitter that they’ll mostly just need to listen patiently as the child will probably love to talk endlessly about their topic, whether its steam trains, reptiles, Star Wars or car engines.
If your child has difficulties with changes and has obsessive routines, make sure you write these down for the babysitter. These can include having a rigid ‘order’ of bedtime ablutions and activities, or have toys in a certain place. Explain to the sitter that these things may seem small to us, but they loom large in your child’s world.
Let the babysitter know of any sensitivity your child has to sounds, tastes, smells or sights. For example, ask the sitter to be mindful of turning up the TV or their music if your child is upset by loud noises.
Due to their neurological differences, children with an ASD can be accused of being rude or demonstrating bad behavior, when in fact he or she does not perceive these differences at all. Forewarn your babysitter of any such behaviour, such as if your child does not make eye contact, shouts randomly, or doesn’t respond or walks away when asked a question.
Depending on where you child falls on the Spectrum they will have different communication levels and abilities. If your child is speech impaired, let the babysitter know the best way to communicate with them, such as drawing pictures or via a Talk Tablet.
Some ASD kids’ behaviour when thwarted, distressed or anxious can pose a safety risk to themselves, and sometimes others. If the child has a tendency to abscond, ensure the babysitter knows to keep doors locked and hide keys. Some children hit their heads on walls or tables, so instruct the sitter how to calm your child should this happen while you’re out.
In case of dietary requirements or allergies, have food and any medication prepared for the babysitter with accompanying instructions. Ensure the babysitter has your number in their phone. These are standard practice for babysitters whether your child has issues or not, so do not feel as though you are burdening the babysitter with too many details.
Now go out and have a guilt-free, good time. You will be amazed at the benefits having a break from your kids will bring to your sense of wellbeing and to your relationship with your partner. Even if the first time is a bit rocky for the children or challenging for the sitter, it’s important not to give up. Each time will get easier – on all of you.
Ros Layton Butler is a journalist and a mother of three, two of whom are on the Autism Spectrum.