Banishing the Babysitting Blues

Jean Stern, AANE Director of Children’s Services

Parenting children with AS can be a joyous, rewarding and eye-opening experience. It can also be challenging, and at times exhausting. We all need breaks in our parenting hours to rest, refuel, and regenerate ourselves. For most families, that means hiring a babysitter—but where do you find one, and how can you help to ensure that the experience will go well? Here are a few thoughts.

Where to look?

Some younger children may be able to be cared for by a responsible local teen, especially one who might be an older sibling of a special needs child. Ask friends, neighbors, or church or temple members for recommendations. You might ask the high school’s social outreach coordinator if there are students who want to earn social service hours (now important for college applications). However, some of our children will need older, more mature sitters. As an educator I have found these options worth looking into:

  • Contact your town’s special education office and ask if you could post an ad for para-professionals to pick up some after-school, weekend or summer hours. Write a clear job description with the amount you can pay, what services you would like, what specific hours you are seeking, and any specific other details such as whether a car will be needed. Here is an example:
    Seek special sitter for special six year old girl
    3 hours/week on Saturday mornings starting in April.
    Sitter can follow the easy schedule provided by parent.
    Pay is $15 per hour.
    Please provide your own car.
    For more information please contact Myra Frazzle, 617- 123-4567.
  • All towns also belong to educational collaboratives, whose classrooms use para-professionals as well.
  • Colleges may also be a source of more mature sitters, possibly including students who have a particular interest in special education, psychology or social work. BU, Lesley, and Simmons offer special needs programs that specifically address AS. Students often look for flexible hours to fit around their class schedules. They may be looking for a job that can also offer them experience in the field they are going into; a letter of recommendation from a parent might be a welcome addition to a student’s file. Sometimes a parent can even work with the student and a professor to enable the student to gain credit for an independent study designed around the specific care they give your child.
  • AANE members can post that job description on the online parent support group. Some parents may be willing to share their prized sitters if they know that you are only looking for specific, limited hours.
  • You can try: ($10 fee to advertise) or which can be more expensive to use.

Getting off on the right foot

Write out a few interview questions that you can use for each initial phone interview, once you start getting responses, e.g.:

  • When are you available to sit?
  • What experience do you have sitting other children?
  • If they are classroom aides, “What children have you enjoyed working with?”
  • For a student, “What interests are you pursuing, or what career you are heading toward?” Would you feel comfortable with following my child’s usual routine (simple playing, reading, bathing, etc.)?
  • Be sure to ask for and contact references!
  • Briefly describe your child and what s/he is comfortable with, and ask the sitter for thoughts about working with the child. Listen to the potential sitter’s answers to these open-ended questions, and ask follow-up questions as needed. Always listen to your gut feelings about a conversation. If it just doesn’t feel right, move to another person.

If you feel good about this person based on the phone interview, schedule a face-to-face interview, which might include the person spending some time getting to know your child while you stay in the house. Set clear expectations from the start, such as:

  • Let the person know best strategies for a smooth interaction with your child, and how to handle any behavior problems. Explain the child’s Asperger Syndrome in concrete ways, letting the sitter know what s/he likes and dislikes (e.g. light touching, loud voice).
  • Ask the sitter to avoid making or receiving personal calls while working.
  • Show the person around the house, indicating where to find cooking implements, how to work the DVD player, etc.
  • Post written house rules, and a written schedule (possibly with pictures). Include all necessary contact information and the time you will return. Ask the sitter to stick to it because it makes the child more calm and comfortable.
  • Review when and how payment will be made.
  • Remember to be very respectful of the person’s time, schedule, and needs. Consult the person to discuss any changes you might like to make, and express your appreciation. A little pampering may go a long way!

Hopefully these leads can help you find an excellent, reliable sitter, who will enrich your child’s life and also afford you some time to yourself or with a spouse or partner. If you know your sitter will be coming on a regular basis, you can plan ahead to do some of those things you used to do before you became a parent—remember those days?—and look forward to those adult activities. Then you will return to your parenting duties with new energy and a fresh perspective. Enjoy!