Babysitting for Autistic Children
10 Tips for Babysitters Caring for Autistic Children
Every year, autism spectrum disorders become more prevalent; autism is now ten times more common than it was in the 1980′s. Rates are roughly the same for children of all races, though autism is much more common among boys than girls. Babysitting for an autistic child can be a daunting task at first, especially if you’re not sure what to expect; here are some tips to help thing run smoothly.
- “Hands Off” Policy – Some children with autism or an autism spectrum disorder do not like to be touched, especially by people they’re unfamiliar with. Be sure to ask your charge’s parents if he or she is needs to be approached with a completely “hands-off” policy.
- Ask Questions – You should never feel awkward about asking questions pertaining to the best way to care for an autistic child. Because each child with an autism spectrum disorder is as different as people without them, you’ll need to know habits and routines specific to your charge.
- One Task At a Time – This is especially important for very young autistic children. Instead of giving them a list of instructions, give them one simple task to complete at a time. When they’ve finished one task, then move on to the next.
- Keep Their Routine Intact – Even more than other children, autistic kids need to stick to a set schedule. Deviating from their everyday routine even slightly can be the cause of distress and acting out, so do everything in your power to keep their routine intact.
- Know Their Special Interest – Many autistic kids have a particular sort of object or subject that they’re intensely fascinated with. Asking your charge’s parents about that special area of interest is a great way to brush up on the subject in advance; one of the best ways to gain the trust of an autistic child is to interact with them over their hobbies, and to show an interest in them.
- Be Respectful of Boundaries – Sometimes, a child with autism simply does not want to interact with anyone. You should never try to force them to interact or to even acknowledge you; in this case, your job is to keep them safe until the parents return.
- Stay On Your Toes – Children with autism are unpredictable by nature, and can sometimes become violently agitated by a seemingly small trigger. Also, the self-preservation and safety-awareness instincts of an autistic child can be nearly non-existent. When caring for a child with autism, you have to be alert and aware at all times.
- Watch Your Tone – Never, ever, yell at a child with autism. They’ll become even more upset, and you could lose control of the situation completely. In addition to making sure to never raise your voice, you should also be aware of your tone. Anxious, high-pitched tones can sometimes make the child feel anxious as well.
- Be Prepared For Communication Barriers – Depending on the severity level of the child’s specific disorder, they may speak very little or not at all. Some high-functioning children with good verbal skills may only feel comfortable speaking to someone they’re very familiar with, so communicating might be difficult. You’ll have to be on the lookout for non-verbal cues.
- It’s Okay to Call – When the parents of an autistic child leave them with a new babysitter, they almost always expect to get a phone call. A situation that you think is completely out of your grasp might be easily remedied with a little trick that parents can pass along over the phone; don’t worry that calling your charge’s parents will ruin their evening if you’re truly concerned.
One of the most important things to remember about an autism diagnosis is that the term is a very broad one used to describe varying degrees of severity and separate disorders. You should tailor your approach to your specific charge and take your time to establish the strongest connection possible. Communicating any questions or concerns to your charge’s parents is also essential to maintaining a good working relationship with an autistic child and their family.