The Top 3 Challenges to Finding a Babysitter for Your Special Needs Child — and How to Overcome Them

How to Find a Special Needs Babysitter Online

For most parents, “free time” is a thing of fairy tales. From the moment that sweet bundle enters your life, your time is no longer your own. From diaper changes to dance class to driving to and fro, it can seem as if every second of every hour of every day is spoken for weeks, months, and years in advance.

Parents of children with special needs often have even less time for themselves. Because, while parenting a child with unique physical, emotional, or learning abilities is accompanied by immense amounts of joy, the experience also has its share of additional challenges. Daily tasks, like preparing special meals for a child with food allergies or helping a child with sensory issues get dressed, can take hours each day. Factor in the amount of time you spend traveling to and from medical appointments and educating yourself about your child’s diagnosis, and there aren’t many minutes left over to enjoy a cup of coffee and a good book, watch a movie with your partner, or plan a night out with friends.


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The truth is, all parents need time away from their children. Like anyone else, you need at least a few hours each week to practice self-care, nurture your relationships, and tackle important tasks without distraction. So, whether you’re running errands or taking a kid-free vacation, that means you need a babysitter.

Any parent will tell you the search for a babysitter is difficult and stressful at best. (We won’t even talk about what the process can be at its worst.) Finding someone you can trust to care for your child while you are away — even for a short time — can seem overwhelming. Once again, while this is something every parent struggles with, it can be an even bigger challenge for parents of children with special needs.

Even if your babysitter doesn’t need any special medical skills or expertise, he or she must be equipped to deal with your child’s specific needs. That may include health concerns, like food allergies or administering medications; behavioral challenges, like frequent outbursts or being nonverbal; or unique habits, like a special bedtime routine or an aversion to loud noises.

That’s why parents of children with special needs have to work extra hard to find someone they can trust, who understands, and who is available on your schedule so you can take time away.


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Finding a Special Needs Sitter You Trust

Trust is a must when it comes to leaving your child in someone else’s care. For that reason, parents rely heavily on grandparents and other family members. But what happens when Nana and Pop Pop aren’t available? What if you live far away or your family members aren’t well enough to care for your child? Of course, not everyone even has family members they can call.

The good news is that there are trustworthy people out there who aren’t related to you. They will love and care for your child in your absence, giving you the peace of mind to actually enjoy your time away without worry or fear for your child’s health and safety. In fact, there are sitters who will become like family over time. The challenge is finding them and vetting them.

According to HealthyWay, the process of finding a sitter should be more formal than you may think. You can start with these five steps:

  1. Develop a job description. Writing down what you expect out of a caregiver will help you figure out what’s really important to you. In addition to the typical information, like schedule, age requirements, special certifications or training, and experience levels, you should also include information about how this person will be interacting with your child. Do you simply need a playmate for your little one, or will your sitter need to drive, administer medications, and/or help your child do homework as well? A good job description, whether you post it online or pass it around your network, can also help you streamline the process by weeding out unqualified applicants.
  2. Set up an interview. Babysitting is a job, and an in-person interview is imperative to getting to know someone. Use the time you spend together to talk through hypothetical situations with your children. If possible, let your prospective sitter hang out with your kids for a few minutes to see how well they get along.
  3. Do your research. Ask for references, and then actually call the names they list. Once you’ve verified past employment, ask about timeliness and dependability. You should also ask whether the sitter still works for the family. If not, don’t be afraid to ask why.
  4. Ask your kids. Invite your top candidate over for a longer visit, where you will remain in the home as a silent observer. Let him or her interact with your kids, and then, when the visit is over, ask your kids about how it went. Kids are great judges of character, and they will be honest about how they feel.
  • Pay them more. Be prepared to pay an experienced sitter more than the teenager down the street. Even if it means you get fewer hours per week or have to cut date night a little short, it’s worth the price.


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Finding a Sitter Who Understands Your Child’s Special Needs

A dependable, trustworthy sitter can be hard to come by, but a sitter who understands the specific needs of children with physical, mental, or emotional challenges can seem almost impossible to find. Their level of understanding can come from one of two things: experience or training.

For families of children with special needs, the experts at HowToFindANanny.com advise hiring a sitter with the following qualifications:

  • CPR training
  • A solid understanding of your child’s condition
  • A clean driving record and his/her own transportation
  • Working knowledge of cooking and/or food preparation
  • A confident, caring personality

It’s also important to remember that your perfect sitter may not fit the stereotype of a babysitter. The person who “gets” your child may be old or young, a man or a woman. Furthermore, his or her childcare expertise may be from experience, education, or special training. By opening up your mind to sitters of all backgrounds, you are increasing your chances of finding someone who understands your child’s specific needs.

Finding a Special Needs Sitter Who is Available

Once you know what traits and skills to look for in a sitter who is trustworthy and qualified to care for your child and his or her specific needs, you can start your search. But where do you even begin to look?

You could start with who you know. After all, it makes sense to reach out to fellow parents of children with special needs, and let them know you are looking for a caretaker for your own child. Don’t expect them to give you the name and number of their own sitter — they may not want to share that information. They may, however, be able to connect you with some local organizations or ask their sitter for references.

In the internet age, it’s actually easier than ever to connect with professional nannies, part-time sitters, and caregivers. Web-based services like Care.com and SitterCity.com let you connect with people in your area with the exact skills and availability you need. These websites let you search and sort by the frequency, location, and type of care you need. With a few clicks, you will be that much closer to a kid-free adventure… even if it’s just to the grocery store.

Parenting is full of challenges, not the least of which is finding time for self-care. For parents of children with special needs, finding that elusive balance can be even more difficult. Luckily, with some planning and preparation, it’s possible to find a sitter you trust, who understands your child, and who is available on your schedule. What’s more, you may just find a new member of your family, and your child may find a new best friend.