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How to find the right babysitter for your child with special needs

How to find the right babysitter for your child with special needs

If there’s one thing all parents everywhere can agree on, it’s that we could definitely use a break. Whether it’s a work event, a date night, or just a couple of hours to catch that new movie everyone’s talking about, it’s important for both emotional and mental health to switch out of “World’s Greatest Parent” mode and relax away from your child. This can be especially true of parents of children with special needs who may be dealing with heightened demands for time, energy, and patience.

To take that much-needed break, however, you’ll have to find a babysitter. Trusting another person with the care of your child can be one of the most difficult parts of special needs parenting. It can be done, though! We’re here to help with a few tips to consider when looking for an appropriate caretaker.

Know your priorities

Since there is a broad spectrum of special needs, there is also a broad spectrum of individuals who may be able to serve them. For example, the needs of your child may demand the need for a caregiver or babysitter who is CPR-certified. For others, they may want someone who knows how to bathe and care for their child. Still, others may want an individual who is well equipped to handle seizures.

It’s a good idea to write down a list of characteristics that you want in a special needs caregiver. Doing so will allow you to understand where to look, who to interview, and what the needs of your child are.

Where to look

  1. Family

    1. Some of the best places to look for a sitter start with your family and close friends. If your parents, aunts, uncles, or siblings know you and your child well enough and are reliable and trustworthy, it might be a good idea to perhaps start there.
  2. Colleges

    1. Your child might have needs greater than those family members are equipped to handle. If you are looking for someone who specializes or is learning to specialize in occupational therapy, physical therapy, nursing, special education, and the likes, it’s a good idea to start at a college campus. A lot of the times, colleges and universities have a career services department that posts job listings, including babysitting, caregiving, and nannying, to share with their students. Contacting the university to solicit a student is one of the best ways that you can get care for your child. It’s a win-win situation, even for the student, since they get good experience and pay!
  3. Teachers

    1. If your child has a teacher, teacher’s aide, paraprofessional, or any individual that he or she works closely in school, it may be a good idea to ask them to babysit. Of course, check with the school or organization before asking for babysitting, since it may or may not be violating their rules. Always play it safe with that.
  4. Support groups of other special needs parents

    1. If you are in a Facebook group for special needs parents or even an actual support group in your hometown, it’s a good idea to ask special needs parents to help watch your child. That way, you and your special needs friends can trade off who watches the kiddos, and everyone can get a date night.
    2. You can also ask those parents for referrals to companies or individuals who are able to cater to the uniqueness of your kiddo.
  5. Care.com

    1. Care.com is like the Amazon.com of babysitters! Type in your location and specify that you’re looking for a special needs babysitter, and it might pull up some great options! The great part about care.com is that it allows you to know the hourly rates and reviews of each person you are interested in using to watch your child.

Interview

If you’ve decided to bring someone new in as a babysitter, you’ll definitely want to get to know them first through a face-to-face interview. Set up a meeting with your potential babysitter and prepare questions that are specific to your needs as well as the needs of your child. Some good questions to ask are:

  • What is your experience with special needs children?
  • Why do you want to work with special needs kids?
  • Are you CPR certified?
  • Have you interacted with children who have _______ diagnosis?
  • How do you handle conflict?
  • How do you handle meltdowns?
  • Are you a smoker?
  • Do you have pet allergies?
  • What is your typical availability?
  • What are your rates?

Once your interview is over, you’ll hopefully have a sense of whether they’ll be a good fit. If you’re still unsure, ask the candidate if they’d be open to another interview. You might also schedule a trial run of visits to see how well they get on with your child. By scheduling a few hours of care while you’re at home, you can help with the “getting to know you” process with the added bonus of getting a few extra things done around the house.

Whatever you do, don’t rush. Taking your time to find the right fit for your special needs kiddo will ensure a lot more peace of mind for you down the road.

Help them get to know your kiddo

When you’re ready to enjoy a night on the town, don’t forget to write out any and all information you feel the new babysitter needs regarding your child. Write out their age, diagnosis, foods they like and don’t like, allergies, their favorite toys, and pastimes, how to help calm them in the event of a meltdown, and whatever other helpful information you can think of. Make a checklist of bedtime routines, whatever they may be. Giving a babysitter information about how to help your child is crucial in ensuring good communication between you and the sitter.

Speaking of communication, if you feel the need to call or text every fifteen minutes, do that! Don’t be afraid to come off as clingy or untrusting. It may take time for you to feel comfortable with your new situation and that’s okay. A good babysitter will understand your separation anxiety, and, over time, you’ll become more relaxed about being away from your child, especially if they’re in good hands.

Enjoy Some Time for Yourself

Please keep in mind that every child, situation, and babysitter is different! While these tips and suggestions might work for some, they may not work for all. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to discern whether a babysitter is right for your kiddo.


The Difference Between Weight and Compression items, explained.

The Difference Between Weight and Compression items, explained.

For kids with special needs, ASD, or SPD, proprioceptive feedback can be crucial to their development and help normalize the sensory input of their environments. One of the best ways to administer proprioceptive feedback to an individual with special needs is through weighted or compression items. We have all seen them, from weighted vests to squeeze machines, there are a lot of products out there to help administer proprioceptive feedback. We want to help you understand the ins and outs of why your child might need weight rather than compression, or compression rather than weight.

What is proprioception?

In the simplest terms, proprioception refers to the sense of your body’s position and movement in space. It’s how your brain knows where your arms are when your eyes are closed, how balanced you are, how fast you’re moving when you run, and, most importantly for this discussion, how much pressure and weight is pushing against your body. We won’t go in-depth here, but if you’d like a slightly deeper look at proprioception, you can read our article on proprioception here.

What can these items do?

Individuals that need a little extra proprioception or sensory input that is not being attained from their environment are often helped by a weighted or compression item. These items are not limited to vests but can include weighted blankets, sensory swings, and wrist or arm weights. They simply give the individual the feedback they are lacking, which can ultimately help with calming and focus.

What’s the deal with weighted?

Weighted feedback can help with regulating sensory input and output. In an article from Research Autism, it is stated that “Some people think that the pressure of the weights helps to calm people with sensory problems by changing how they process sensory information, allowing them to better feel their movements and understand where their bodies are in space.” By providing feedback to the body through weight, it can help an individual focus on the task at hand, instead of paying attention to the need for feedback.

Research Autism also states that the studies on weighted items are a bit flawed, due to too small a sample size in studies that did not provide extensive insights into the effects of weighted. That being said, there are many individuals, occupational therapists, teachers, and moms who note that weighted items have exponentially helped their child in times of need.

Occupational therapist, Emily Martin, recommends weighted items to help a child calm down before or after a meltdown. Since administering weight can release serotonin and dopamine, it can help calm high strung emotions post-meltdown.

We’ve all heard about weighted blankets, and these are tried and true ways of helping kiddos get to sleep. The body responds positively to the “hugging” feeling weighted items provide. That feeling tells the brain “I’m safe and secure,” allowing the user to calm themselves naturally. Again, these feelings of calm can release serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which can help soothe anxieties and whisk the little ones off to dreamland.

As a rule of thumb, weighted vests or weighted blankets should be 10% of the user’s body weight + 1lb. For example, if the user is a 40-pound child, a 5-pound blanket will work nicely. If the user is a 140-pound adult, the best choice is a 15-pound blanket. If you want to know the ins and outs of weighted blankets, we explain it in our Weighted Blankets article.

For other weighted items, like weighted vests or wrist weights, occupational therapists suggest that these items should remain on the person’s body for no longer than one hour with an hour between uses. Simply, weighted vests should spend an hour on the person, and an hour off.

What’s up with compression?

Compression, or items that administer deep pressure, are the counterpart of weighted items. There is a lot of discussion about compression and pressure therapy or items. Many individuals who have a loved one with autism believe that it helps a lot with calming. But why? you may be wondering.

According to Applied Behavior Analysis, “When you apply deep pressure to the body, the body switches from running its sympathetic nervous system to its parasympathetic nervous system. This is the so-called switch from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’.”

In a study by Occupational Therapy International, there were clear statistic benefits from their sample of children. The study claimed that many children found deep pressure rewarding. The results also noted that “research…seems to have used deep pressure as a means of improving mood and adaptability to the environment.”

Martin, OTR, stated that compression is a great tool to use with children to reduce anxiety, help regulate their sensory input, de-stress, improve proprioception and body awareness.

Compression can begin as easy and simple as a good, consensual, long hug or hold of your child. However, different settings call for different types of compression. Squeeze machines and sensory swings can be good for home, school, and clinic use. Compression vests and compression sheets are a great way to administer sensory feedback in a safe way for an extended period of time.

Weighted vs. Compression

Whether it’s weight or compression, it may be best to consult an occupational therapist. Since every child, diagnosis, and situation can differ, it is best to ask a professional what works best for your child. They can help set you up with the right tools and trials to understand whether or not your child may respond better to compression instead of weighted items.

Where can I find these items?

eSpecial Needs carries a variety of weighted and compression items for soothing and addressing proprioceptive sensory needs. Talk to your doctor or therapist for suggestions on what items might be best suited for your situation, then take a look at our weighted products or deep pressure and compression items at eSpecialNeeds.com


Proprioception, explained.

Proprioception, explained.

In the special needs community, there is a lot of talk about proprioception and proprioceptive feedback. Although the word sounds like a prehistoric dinosaur, it’s a pretty big neurological part of everyone’s lives.

In short, proprioception is knowing where one’s body is in space. But it doesn’t stop there.

What’s up with proprioceptive feedback?

Proprioceptive feedback entails the physical interactions with our environments that allow humans to build a sense of where their body begins and end in space, even without vision. A simple example of proprioception is this: blindfold yourself and try to find your nose. You know exactly where it is, right? That is because of proprioception. Pretty cool, right.

What is going on in the brain?

Here we go, more big words! This is a good summation from an article published in a medical journal called the Functional neuroanatomy of proprioception.

Proprioception is the sense of body position that is perceived both at the conscious and unconscious levels. Typically, it refers to two kinds of sensations: that of static limb position and of kinesthesia. Static position reflects the recognition of the orientation of the different body parts, whereas kinesthesia is the recognition of rates of movement. Proprioception is based on a multicomponent sensory system. There are various peripheral receptors that detect specific signals and major sensory afferent pathways that carry the information from the spinal cord up to the cortex. There are parallel pathways, some of which serve conscious proprioception, and others that serve subconscious proprioception. Conscious proprioception is relayed mostly by the dorsal column and in part by the spinocervical tract. Finally, the organ of perception for position sense is the sensory cortex of the brain.

In short, proprioception is a multi-faceted sensory experience that relies on many of the physical senses to help our bodies know how our body interacts with our environment.

If you really are needing a quick little definition of how the brain works with proprioception, here it is (from Very Well Health)

Proprioception is a constant feedback loop within your nervous system, telling your brain what position you are in and what forces are acting upon your body at any given point in time.

Why do special needs children struggle with proprioception?

Many individuals with special needs particularly struggle with proprioceptive feedback because many they have difficulty with sensory processing. Proprioception requires the brain to understand the senses in a matter that is conducive to the integration of those senses, so it can be difficult for a special needs individual to process.

Does my child need proprioceptive feedback?

The following list of proprioceptive dysfunction indicators has been adapted from a helpful blog called The OT Toolbox, and another blog called Brain Balance. Please note that this list is not designed to be a diagnostic tool. Individuals who have difficulty with proprioception may exhibit some, but not all, of these behaviors. Please leave the diagnosis of your child or loved one to a medical professional.

  • Clumsiness
  • Fidgeting in school or when asked to sit still
  • Seeks intense proprioceptive input by crashing into things
  • Flaps hands
  • Uses too much or too little force on pencils, scissors, objects, and people, sometimes unknowingly
  • Can be overly fearful of walking down steps/jumping
  • Looks at their hands and feet when completing simple tasks
  • Fluctuates between over-reacting and under-reacting in response to stimulation
  • Poor Postural Control (slumps, unable to stand on one foot, needs to rest head on desk while working)

What helps improve proprioception?

Proprioception can be improved mainly by giving a child more sensory feedback. Whether it’s from weighted vests, compression vests, cozy swings, or letting them go crazy with a crash pad or ball pit, sensory input is a good thing to help them build a mind a senses map of their environments and bodies.

Why do these items help?

Items that administer proprioceptive feedback can help because they help provide the sensory feedback that an individual may be missing. It works kind of the same way that eating a protein-packed breakfast helps kids focus on testing. It fills a need in one place so that a kiddo can focus on something else.

Going Forward

Proprioception is always talked about but rarely explained. We want to help you understand it in the best way possible. Over time, scientific findings might provide more clarity in the overall scope of proprioception, but this is what we know as of right now. Again, please leave diagnosis and treatment to a medical professional. While these tips may work for some, they will not be effective for all.