Having a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be daunting. They are little angels as much as the average child albeit with one difference; they have communication and behavioral challenges, but show me a child who hasn’t displayed these at one time or the other?
All children are potential tantrum throwers. Any time you leave your child at home, you arrange for a babysitter, just like you would for your angel with ASD. The only difference is that you will need to make appropriate preparations for the latter.
If you need some time away due to work-related commitments, travel commitments, or even to have a well-deserved break, it is important to find a qualified babysitter.
The caregiver you hire should have specialized training and must be knowledgeable in handling special needs children. That way, you will have peace of mind knowing that your little angel is in good care.
What is ASD and how does it affect my child?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) symptoms usually appear by the time your little one is two years old. Children living with ASD will experience communication and behavior challenges, which make it essential that a babysitter understands these symptoms for effective caregiving.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics for 2018 reveal that 1 in 59 children are born with ASD (1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls), across all socio-economic and ethnic groups . From these figures, it is evident that this health problem is prevalent. It follows; therefore, there is a demand for special-needs-qualified babysitters.
Where Will You Find a Babysitter for an Autistic Child?
Where does one start to look when the need for a special-needs babysitter arises? Here are my recommended suggestions:
1. Immediate family
Close family members are the ideal babysitters for your ASD child. Older siblings, your spouse or your partner, are the best caregivers. They know the child intimately and have most likely already lived with them. They have an in-depth understanding of the child's behavior and can decipher the child's communication.
It is crucial for a caregiver to understand what the child means in their rather unconventional ways of communication.
2. Close Relatives
If for some reason you are unable to find a babysitter in the immediate family, move on to close relatives. Among the uncles, aunties, and grandparents, you are likely to find one person who is willing and understands reasonably well, the unique needs of your child.
3. Close groups and institutions
This would be the next best bet. Included in this group is your children’s school. Teachers are experienced in dealing with ASD kids and they know what to do. They also could be teachers of your other children who, in this way, can be said to have a relationship with you.
You can also turn to your support group that includes parents with ASD kids. You may need to give a detailed briefing on the needs, behavior, and forms of communication of the child.
Therapists that you have dealt with in the process of the child’s life will come in handy in your search for a babysitter. They are likely to have a contact list of possible caregivers who are qualified for this kind of work, who are located within your town.
Be advised, however, that this source could cost you. The advantage is that they already know how to take care of a child with ASD.
You may be lucky to have neighbors who are kind, understanding, and helpful. However, before you decide on whom among them to approach, vet them carefully. Ensure that you can trust the neighbor. The person should be aware of your little one’s challenges so that they can treat them with care.
6. Internet sources
If you fail to find a suitable caregiver in any of the above groups, the other reference you can turn to is the internet. On the internet, there are numerous websites offering daycare and babysitting services.
Searching for such intimate services from faceless persons comes with many worries. This is understandable, given that the internet has been a harbinger of many evils. However, the internet has also made life easier for people in many ways, and there are many honest people out there. Here are some points to help you in your search and evaluation.
Factors to look out for when looking for a caregiver online
Ensure you contact the references given for an evaluation of the advertiser before speaking to them or engaging their services. This background check is critical. It can save you tears and anguish.
Check if they have certificates that confirm qualifications, skills, and knowledge such as therapy and CPR.
Find out if they have experience dealing with children with ASD.
Meet them in person and ask essential questions as listed in the points above, and other relevant issues like their discipline methods and how they administer medications. You could also ask them to refer you to several satisfied customers they have served.
What Knowledge and Skills Should a Caregiver Have?
Self-regulation refers to the body's automatic receipt of sensory input from the nervous system, which turns into appropriate movements and behavioral responses. A person with ASD has serious challenges doing this, which is as natural as breathing to an average person.
For example, one sensory input is touch. A person with ASD may perceive touch to be a threat and respond inappropriately, such as a panic attack.
A person with Sensory processing disorder, on the other hand, may crave sensory input to the extent where they deliberately bump into things to obtain it.
In either of these cases, the response does not match the data. It is not normal.
Children with ASD are incredibly reluctant to change, yet life is full of changes almost every minute. They, therefore, find it difficult to cope with life. Autistic children need to be stimulated to that level where their brains can function normally and where consequently they can start regular learning.
Knowledge of the use of sensory tools/diets
A sensory diet does not refer to food. It is a set of activities that are regular and are designed to keep the body's sensory system attuned to the correct responses as opposed to an extreme reaction to sensory input.
A qualified ASD therapist strives to provide activities that stimulate the eyes, ears, hands, and body to process movement, place, position, smell, and taste. Consequently, the brain releases chemicals that maintain regulation.
Sensory tools cannot be used generally for each ASD child. Each child will need to have the appropriate sensory toys tailored to their specific needs and a personalized menu of activities that best suit their condition.
Some ASD children are sensory- seekers, others are sensory avoiders, while others are a combination of both. Your therapist will know how to make the correct diagnosis and to make the right prescription.
Knowledge of the use of sensory toys
Every ASD child may be as different from the other as night and day. Although every little angel is unique, their favorite toys are spinning toys, light-up toys, stretchy, and squishy toys.
Sensory toys provide the sensory input that enables the ASD child to calm down and be able to learn the other higher functions of the brain like an average child. Scientists refer to this action as regulation, and sensory toys can help with that.
There are a variety of types of sensory toys you should know about:
1. Touch sensory toys
These are toys that stimulate the skin or contact. Many are called "fidgets" and are designed to keep the hands busy. They help refine motor skill development, finger dexterity, and visual motor skills.
Examples of sensory toys include Play-Doh, Therapy putty, bins filled with a wide variety of materials such as water beans, soil, kinetic sand, pom-poms, shredded paper, cut-up noodles, dried/uncooked rice, foam pieces, and salt ribbon. We also use spaghetti balls, stress balls, tangle fidgets, Jacob’s Ladder, wooden puzzles, light-up squeeze balls, finger paints, Pop-Toobs, rainbow noodle balls, and so many others.
2. Auditory toys
Your child may require sensory toys that regulate their auditory senses. The therapist will advise which tool is best suited to your child's specific acoustic regulation. Among the tools are ear plugs, musical instruments, classical music, noise canceling headphones, white noise machines, flaps/noise putty, therapeutic listening programs, boom whackers, meditation, yoga, various types of drums and sacred earth drums.
3. Oral-motor/Chewing toys
Some adults chew gum or mint to maintain focus and concentration. Oral motor actions such as eating and sucking of clothing and non-food items are a sign that replacement behavior is required.
Oral motor toys include Chewigem, Chew Stix, Chewelry, chew beads, blowing bubbles, whistles, and horns, electric toothbrushes, z-vibe, drinking through straws, and sometimes, encouraging the children to play with their food rather than having them gag.
4. Visual products
Visual products try to mitigate visual sensory overload. Colored, slow-moving sensory toys can help achieve this. These are water beads, ooze tubes, liquid motion water toys, zig-zag water maze, Spirograph, Lite-Brite, puzzles, mazes, eye spy activities, lava lamps, light and movement projectors, and bubble tubes.
Scent can trigger memory, alarm, and identity of people, objects, or food. Olfactory toys can be worn, integrated into play activities, added to play items or infused into the room. They can be scented dough, shaving crème play, Smencils, messy food play, and scented markers. Others are Loomy Bandz, scented bubbles, Scented ARK Chewies, and scented lip balm.
6. Light and deep body touch toys
These sensory toys relate to touch and stimulate tactile receptors, resulting in serotonin release in the brain. Known as the happy hormone, serotonin helps with the regulation of mood.
The toys in this category include weighted blankets, weighted lap pads, Harkla Hug, and weighted compression vest. Others are SPIO compression garments, under armor or snag fitting T-shirts and undergarments, ball pits and massagers that vibrate. Therapy catalogs have them in all sizes.
There are also rolling massage tools, rolling a tennis ball on the back and all over the body, and scalp massagers. We also have back-scratchers, cozily knitted seamless clothing and weighted vests. Your therapist should recommend which one and a suitable wearing schedule.
4 Steps to take when you find a babysitter
1. Arrange for a pre-visit
Once you have narrowed down the candidates to the people you think are most suitable, have them visit your house several times while you and the child are present.
Experts recommend that the introduction of child and therapist should take place at the place where the child is most comfortable. It is also the best place to teach the therapist the child's desired routines, likes, dislikes and any specific behaviors that he or she will need to know how to deal with while you are away.
Remember, ASD children do not like abrupt changes to their environment. The smooth hand-over in the same situation will make it easier for the adaptation of both therapist and child when you are gone.
2. Train the caregiver on using sensory toys
If you already have sensory toys for your child, and the babysitter is not a qualified therapist, ensure that you go over their usage with him or her. These actions should be done, preferably in a realistic setting with the child.
These little details make all the difference towards the success of the relationship between child and babysitter.
Key Information - Include your address and contact number, your doctor's name and contacts, police department contacts, the nearest fire department and the name and contacts of the closest kin or friend to who he or she can turn to in case of emergency.
Also, make sure that you have spoken with the relative or friend to let them know what the arrangements are and that you have left their details with the therapist or babysitter.
Key Instructions - Be sure also to leave written instructions on the critical details such as what kinds of food to feed the child at what times, dosages of medicine, and when to administer it.
Also, the type of clothes to dress the child in at different times of the day and any other details that you feel will be important for the well being of your child.
4. Mind the babysitter’s Welfare
Do not forget to plan for the welfare of the babysitter as well.
You do not want him or her either leaving the child alone to go out and get something important or even going out with the child into an environment which is not conducive with their condition.
You should plan and agree for the babysitter’s food, sleeping arrangements, and access to a telephone.
Tips for dealing with the guilt of leaving your special-needs care child with a babysitter
Now that you have found a babysitter for your little one, the next step is to deal with the feelings of guilt that are likely to arise.
The first thing to realize is you aren’t alone. 61 percent of preschool going children who are under five years are in a regular child care arrangement . Here are tips to manage the guilt.
Take the time to choose the right caregiver
Whether you have chosen a relative or a professional to look after your young one, make sure they are the best fit. Ask yourself these questions:
Does the caregiver’s style align with my parenting style?
Are they trained in CPR and first aid?
Can the person follow my child’s routine?
Is the caregiver trained on communicating with a special needs child?
Prepare to feel
When putting your child in another person’s care for the first time, you are bound to experience intense feelings. You are transitioning to a new phase and someone else other than you is watching over your baby. That might make you sad.
Take the time to feel and understand that this is expected.
Engage in positive self-talk
Although it seems insignificant, one of the best ways of handling these feelings is to get rid of negative thoughts. Say things like:
I am a wonderful parent.
My child is under great care.
My feelings of guilt are normal and I can control them.
I will see my baby soon.
Understand that it is good for your child
There are many ways why extra care is beneficial to your child. They include:
Childcare is good for both parents and children because it gives them a break from each other and helps avoid burnout.
You have the opportunity of nurturing your professional and personal growth.
It enhances a child’s learning and development.
Feelings of anxiety, guilt, and relief are normal. If you are overwhelmed by the separation, consider talking to a professional about it. They will help you manage the anxiety.
Remember that your health is paramount as it dictates how well you can care for your little one.
I hope you are now equipped with everything pertaining to how to find a caregiver for your autistic child.
Kidsit Founder, Editor, Illustrator, and father of three beautiful kids in Sydney, Australia.
Published: 25 June 2019
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