Autistic child with jigsaw puzzle

How to Babysit a Child with Autism

(13 Tips, Fun Activities, Plus Checklist)

Babysitting is not easy, whether or not you are looking after a child with autism. With the advancement of digital media, it’s challenging to maintain kids’ attention. However, that is one of the reasons you like this exciting job, right?

Autistic children think and process information differently than non-autistic kids. They are charming and exceptional, which makes it interesting to spend time with them. Depending on where the child falls on the autism spectrum, they will have varying abilities and communication levels. Therefore, you should be aware of their needs and take the time to prepare.

This article covers the various aspects of babysitting kids with autism including how to prepare, effective care strategies, safety, and fun activities to enjoy together. Although babysitting an autistic child can be challenging at first, knowing what to do will make the interaction a lovely one.

So, let’s get started.

1. Take Some Time to Learn About Autism

The more you understand the condition, the easier it will be for you, and the more comfortable you will be when caring for the child. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects the development of children. It is known as a spectrum disorder because kids can be anywhere on the autism spectrum. Kids with the disorder start showing symptoms from an early age. The symptoms may continue into their adulthood.

Children with ASD have difficulty relating to other people. Some are not comfortable making eye contact. When they talk, it is usually about a topic they are passionate about. The setback is that they might talk about it for a prolonged period.

Although ASD doesn’t have a cure yet, there is hope through treatment. The aim is to help children to interact and communicate.

What should you know about autism when babysitting?

Quick Facts About Kids with ASD

  • They might have difficulty understanding nonverbal communication. They may not respond to your frown or smile.
  • They find it hard to handle one idea or thought at an instance. They keep conversations simple and focused.
  • They see things differently from how you would view them. Ordinary smells, sounds, touches, sights, and tastes that aren’t quickly noticeable don’t go unnoticed to an autistic child.
  • They take things literally. So, you may want to be careful to say exactly what you mean.
  • They often want to talk about what interests them at that time.

2. Plan a Pre-Babysitting Visit

It is essential to observe how parents interact with the child. Request to visit the family before the set babysitting day so that you can familiarize yourself with the environment.

You can take this opportunity to ask any questions with regards to the care you should give. In case you have some games planned out for the babysitting day, request the relevant toys and tools you will need.

3. Learn the Child’s Specific Requirements

Find out from the parents about their child’s behavior patterns, communication, and preferences. For example:

  • What is the child’s routine and rules?

    Request the parents to write them down so that you can remember and stick to the rules. Some kids might get upset if their routine is interrupted.

  • Does the child have a restricted diet?

    Many kids with ASD don’t eat all kinds of foods. Take time to understand the child’s diet and follow it.

  • What is the best way to interact with the child?

    Some children with autism cannot speak clearly and prefer nonverbal communication.

  • How do you handle problems?

    Ask the parents what they do to calm their child when he or she is upset.

  • Who do I contact in case of an emergency?

    Request the parents to list medical conditions that the child may suffer and their symptoms. Also, find out how you can get help if any issues come up.

Special Needs Child Details (Form)

Special needs child details form

Keep the important information above in one place with our easy form. Simply download it for free, print it out, and ask the parents to fill it in before they leave. Keep it on the fridge or somewhere handy while you babysit so it’s easy to refer to. At the end of your shift, keep it in your babysitting binder for future visits.

Free Download
(special-needs-child-details-form.pdf 49kb)

Also, see our other babysitting forms.

4. Follow the Familiar Daily Routine

Autistic children need routines, structure, and predictability. The fact that they are not used to being around you means that there could be some initial resistance.

Since you are a guest, the child will feel like their routine has been interrupted.

Don’t take it personally if the child ignores you or gets upset with your presence. When he or she gets comfortable, the interaction will get easier. That is why you should arrive at least an hour earlier so that you can bond with the kid before the parents leave.

5. Respect the Common Needs of Children With Autism

Here are some general guidelines to follow when babysitting a child with autism:

  • Show your love and interest.
  • Be patient and understand that it might take some time for the child to get comfortable around you.
  • Avoid making direct eye contact unless the parents allow you to.
  • Be positive at all times.
  • Take it slow at first. Ensure that your approach suits the kid.
  • Ignore irritating and attention-seeking behavior.
  • Allow the child to approach you first and then take the lead.
  • Be affectionate and respectful.
  • Be consistent in your greeting. Do it how the parents do it and maintain it in every other meeting so that the kid knows what to expect from you.

6. Connect with the child

As a babysitter, a loving, emotional connection with the child you are caring for will make the time you spend together exciting and filled with happy moments. Here are some fantastic tips on how to build a personal relationship with an ASD child.

Learn to self-regulate

Self-regulation is the ability to be aware of your emotions and manage them. If you lack this inner awareness, you might fall prey to reacting to circumstances rather than responding appropriately. In that case, you might lose your “cool”, which makes it harder for you and the child. Do simple exercises like stretching and breathing.

Less communication means more connection

Consider yourself on a “word budget”. Imagine what you want to communicate and then use minimal words to deliver the message. It will make it easier to bond with the child. After saying something, allow him or her some time to process the information you just conveyed. Slow your rate of speech too. You will be shocked at how much impact these tips have on the little one.

Go slow on power struggles

Do you remember the last time you argued with someone? Things got heated, and emotions escalated. As a babysitter, it is crucial to understand that the child has his or her opinions too. Although you are there to offer guidance, sometimes let the child be. That way you will reduce their frustration and increase happiness.

It’s never that serious

You don’t have to be playing or engaging in active activities with the child. It is okay to “be” with the little one. Sit on the couch and do nothing or say nothing. Take some time to observe the child and learn what makes him or her happy and what doesn’t. When you are both in a relaxed state, it will be easier to make an emotional connection and babysitting will be easy for you.

7. Interact While Respecting Bodily Contact and Personal Space

By this time, you have connected with the child and can now start interacting actively. Some autistic kids use nonverbal cues while others speak. Either way, talk to them. Find out from the parents if the kid is comfortable hugging because some are not happy with bodily contact.

Interaction Tips

  • Be sensitive to sensory aspects such as hugging.
  • Interact with the child even if they don’t speak.
  • Note that some toys might cause over-stimulation and avoid using them.
  • Avoid invading the child’s personal space.
  • Do not take toys away from the little one.

8. Engage Kids with Autism in Active Play

Since kids with ASD have a harder time engaging in active play, you may have to put in more effort to convince them to play with you.

Make the unknown familiar

It is advisable to play games that the child is used to. However, if the parents allow you to introduce new games, don’t rush. For instance, if you want to teach the kid how to play with a ball, place it on the table first for a while. Next, play with it by yourself. Once you are sure that the little one is accustomed to the idea of using a ball, you can teach him or her how to play with it.

Celebrate small successes

Don’t shy off from celebrating the little decisive moments in the day. Whenever the child does something well, applaud them for it. When you do this, they will realize that playing has positive results and they will be happy to spend time with you.

If things don’t go well the first time, try again

If your planned activity doesn’t work out as well as you thought it would, don’t get discouraged. Try playing the game again, and your luck might be better the next time you try it. Consider how you can adapt or make adjustments to minor aspects of the activity to make it more interesting than the first time.

Incorporate “favorites” into any activity

Children with ASD have events, characters or items that they are specifically interested in. Make sure you make good use of the things they prefer by including them actively in any endeavor or activity you engage.

Find out from the parents what the child loves and use it in the games you play. For instance, if the little one likes animals, you can do yoga poses that mimic an animal.

9. Try Activities that Autistic Children Enjoy

Craft activities

Many kids with autism are good at building things ranging from small engines to alarm clocks. The skill is highly prized within the craft community. When you guide him or her to engaging in such activities, you will be fostering a talent that will come in handy in the future.

See our list of fun craft activities if you need some inspiration.

Animal care

If the child has a pet, this is the perfect opportunity to help him or her care for the animal. You can feed it together. You may also clean and play with it.

Video gaming

Considering that they come in a range of complexity, video gaming is for everyone who enjoys it. Find out what game the little one likes playing and enjoy it together. You can also request the parents to allow you to introduce a new game. Just ensure you introduce an easy one that doesn’t get the child worked up.

Anime

Most children with ASD enjoy watching anime, which is Japanese animation. Anime is a huge thing that is appreciated widely. You can watch anime, draw anime or read anime.

Solving puzzles

Many autistic individuals are very good at solving puzzles. Even those who depend primarily on nonverbal cues have an easy time putting together jigsaws. Ask the parents if this is something the kid enjoys and if it is, include it in your to-do list for the day.

Science fiction

If the child has an interest in a particular aspect in the universe, watching science fiction is a good idea. Ensure the science fiction video you watch meets the child’s ability level.

10. Help children with ASD to Fall Asleep

A good night’s rest is not assured for anyone, but children with autism are more likely to have sleeping disorders and have trouble falling and staying asleep.

Between 44 and 86 percent of autistic kids have significant challenges with sleep [1]. It is not clear what causes the issue yet it remains the least research symptom of autism.

Lack of sleep in a child exacerbates specific behavioral characteristics such as lack of concentration, aggression, and hyperactivity. If you are babysitting and the child doesn’t want to sleep, consider a few sleep-inducing techniques like reading a book, turning on soft music, giving them a gentle massage and using a weighted blanket.

Weighted blankets are effective in inducing sleep for autism children. They are a form of occupational therapy technique known as sensory integration therapy. The blanket creates deep pressure and helps with self-regulation. You should, however, be careful in that the little one doesn’t misuse the blanket because its misuse is can be fatal.

See our guide: How to get kids to bed when babysitting for other helpful strategies to get children to sleep.

11. Monitor Their Behavior

Most children with ASD show unusual behavior such as shouting, laughing and crying for no reason. Sometimes they might be overly obsessed with an item, and they might throw tantrums. However, it is crucial to understand that they are not doing this intentionally. That way, it will be easier for you to address it [2].

Behavior Tips

  • Get a positive outlet for the behavior. For instance, shouting indoors might seem unforgivable but doing so in the park is allowed.
  • If the child cannot read, draw the rules in pictures.
  • Say “no” firmly without shouting.
  • Talk with the parents and find out the discipline tactics they use and know which ones you are allowed to exercise.
  • Don’t let the child look at you when you are angry.
  • Praise appropriate behavior.

12. Learn How to Manage Meltdowns in Children with ASD

The following tips can help autistic kids when they are having a tantrum:

Identify and get rid of the sensory trigger

If you suspect that an item is triggering the meltdown in the child, the first step is to remove it. It could be a toy or even a television program. At first, you may have a difficult time identifying the item causing distress, but over time you will understand the child’s sensory stimuli.

Distract the child

This strategy works if you notice the signs of a meltdown before it occurs or the kid losses complete control. Distract the little one by doing anything that makes them happy. The aim is to find something that comforts the child without over-stimulating him or her.

Make the child feel safe

If it was loud music that caused the meltdown and you switched it off, the next step is to assure the child that a quiet environment will prevail. Take the little one in a calm environment and then cradle him or her.

Stay calm

Regardless of how bad the meltdown seems, stay calm. Any aggressive actions or sudden movements might be perceived as a threat by the child. You should try talking in a soft, soothing voice and move slowly.

Explain your actions

One of the effective ways of preventing a meltdown from escalating is to explain what you are about to do before doing it. For instance, you can say, “I would like to hold your hand for safety.” A calm explanation will avert future impulsive reactions.

13. Watch Out For Their Safety

Children with autism are usually unaware of the dangers in their environment. It is, therefore, your responsibility as the babysitter to remove all the hazardous items from their surroundings.

Take extra initiative to protect them even from the dangers that seem like common sense. They include water temperature, water depth, confined spaces, and slippery slopes.

Kids with ASD are also excellent runners, therefore, they will repeatedly want to leave the space they are in.

Safety Tips

  • Lock all the doors and ensure fences are secure.
  • Introduce yourself to the neighbors and ask them to contact you in case they see the child wandering in the estate.
  • Request the parents to give you a recent photograph and the child’s description so that you can trace him or her in case they get lost.
  • Take additional precaution around water bodies like pools, streams, and baths (Read our water safety tips for babysitters for more information.)

Refer to our guide: How to be a safe babysitter for more kids safety tips.

Conclusion

Every child deserves love and attention. If you are called upon to babysit a child with ASD, prepare well and get ready for an adventurous day!

I hope these tips help you enjoy your time with the little angel.

Babysitting Autistic Children (Checklist)

Babysitting autistic children checklist

Make sure you never forget any important steps when babysitting children with autism.

Print out our handy checklist and keep it in your babysitting binder so you always have the information with you.

Free Download
(babysitting-autistic-children-checklist.pdf 104kb)

Also, see our other babysitting checklists.

Written by:

 Annabelle Carter Short

Annabelle Carter Short

Annabelle is a mother of two from Los Angeles, a freelance writer, and a professional seamstress of more than 7 years. Annabelle likes to make crafts and DIY projects with her kids.

Annabelle is passionate about autism and she homeschools her autistic son. She also works with organizations to provide the best resources for raising and educating special needs children.

When not working, she’s spending time with her family or putting pen to paper for her own personal pursuits.

Edited & Illustrated by:

 Matthew Taylor

Matthew Taylor

Kidsit Founder, Editor, Illustrator, and father of three beautiful kids in Sydney, Australia.

Published: 8 May 2019

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