The key to babysitting a child with special needs is to have knowledge and a better understanding of his disorder and needs so you can provide care with confidence. Here we will give you an overview of three common behavioral, learning and emotional disorders – Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and ADHD. Pairing information with ongoing, open communication with the child’s parents will help you to become a trustworthy, competent sitter who can provide the extra care and attention any child deserves.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

Flickr /
Flickr /

Autism Spectrum refers to a range of developmental disorders including Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Children on the spectrum have developmental delays and difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.

It is common for ASD kids under the age of three years to show lack of eye contact, seem to not hear you, and not like being touched or held. For little ones one to two years of age, they often show lack of gestures, prefer to be alone, do not typically point to objects to indicate interest, and are easily frustrated.

Symptoms may appear in different combinations and in varying degrees of severity. Two children with the same diagnosis can have a very wide range of skills and abilities, so it’s crucial that you learn as much about the child’s needs from his parent.

Common spectrum disorders include:

  • Autism – What is Autism, exactly? Autism is a disorder of neural development that is characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior.
  • Asperger’s Syndrome- Those with the disorder characteristically have poor social interactions, obsessions, odd speech patterns, and peculiar mannerisms. Kids with AS often have limited facial expressions, have difficulty reading others’ body language, may engage in obsessive routines, and often have sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Kids with AS display many of the same characteristics as those with high functioning Autism.

When talking with parents about their child’s needs related to ASD, be sure to ask about communication and behavior patterns and preferences, how they handle their child’s aggression and how they recommend comforting the child when he is upset.

Other helpful tips for babysitting a child with an ASD are to develop or stick to the family’s usual schedule and routine, especially at bedtime and meal times; ask about a favorite toy so you can play alongside the child, but knowing he may prefer to play alone; and keep a calm environment free of disruptions, unexpected visitors or crowds.

Flickr / Steve Corey
Flickr / Steve Corey

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Children with ADHD are often hyperactive and have difficulty focusing or paying attention for long periods of time. There are many variations of ADHD, some tied to aggressive behaviors and trouble fitting in socially.

Talk with parents for recommendations on activities you can do with their child and which you should avoid. Also talk with them about calming strategies, and routines they may already have in place.

It’s wise to plan several short activities to do together, making sure not to do anything too boisterous or active right before nap or bedtime, and not to switch activities too quickly. Be specific with directions, as a child with ADHD often has difficulty following directions.

Treatment for children with ADHD often includes medication. Make sure you have clear instructions on how and when to give a child medication, if you are asked to give him medication while babysitting.

Open Communication & Training

There are many different areas of special needs, including the ones outlined above, as well as disorders such as Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and a child who is blind, mute or has a speech impediment. Each has unique challenges. Upfront dialogue and training from a child’s parents is the best way to learn how to care for a child who may require special attention.  Depending on the needs, you may need to learn how to help a child with a wheelchair, how to communicate, calm them when they are upset or agitated and simply meet daily needs, such as feeding, dressing, and using the bathroom.

Learning all you can about what makes the child you are babysitting unique, and candidly talking with his parents to understand their child and what you can do to provide the best possible care, will have you well on your way to becoming an understanding, loving sitter for a special needs child.

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