Finding a special needs caregiver can be challenging. If you have a child with disabilities, here are tips for vetting and hiring a fantastic babysitter.
Parenting is an often beautiful—and sometimes scary—undertaking that’s worth every tear, bead of sweat, or belly laugh it brings. When you have a child with a disability, it’s not unusual to experience both the stresses and joys of parenthood more intensely. And because your parenting practices are likely different than the status quo, at-home childcare can feel inaccessible. However, there are babysitting resources that can help connect you with a trained special needs caregiver. Moreover, they’ll give you peace of mind when hiring childcare help.
It takes a village to raise a child; your village is unique to your family and community. Whether you want another set of hands while you work from home or someone to be with your child while you take a much-needed night off, you can find a special needs caregiver to become an integral part of your village. This guide will help you—both families and potential caregivers—take those first steps toward a happy and safe childcare arrangement.
A Parent's Guide to Choosing the Right Caregiver for Their Special Needs Child
Locking down reliable childcare is a challenge for any family. But when you have a child with a disability, hiring a babysitter may seem completely out of reach. Depending on your child’s needs, you’ll probably require more than the high schooler who lives on your block. What you need is a caregiver who’s trustworthy—and experienced. At the same time, you might be intimidated by the limited pool of candidates and the price tag that comes with quality care. But your family deserves accessible support as much as the next one!
SELF-HELP TIP: Find childcare resources in your area on this list of disability and special needs organizations.
Finding a special needs caregiver doesn’t have to be an insurmountable obstacle when there are reliable resources at hand. For example, at Call Emmy, all our childcare professionals undergo a rigorous background check as a part of our safety protocol.
Here, we help you get started by breaking down how to find the right caregiver into four clear stages.
1. Know the Specific Types of Care Your Child Needs
The first step to finding a caregiver is identifying the type of care your child needs. As a parent, although some of your care practices may seem second nature to you, they require specific skills from a childcare provider. Disability can affect physical, sensory-processing, behavioral, or emotional development and varies from child to child.
To find a caregiver who offers the appropriate expertise, it’s essential to identify how disability presents in your child and the particular types of care they need. For example, a child with a hearing disability needs a caregiver who understands how to adapt activities by setting up soft materials to absorb sound, using visual cues, and incorporating sign language and finger play into both conversations and story time. Alternatively, if a child has a physical disability, they would have an entirely different set of requirements—for instance, toys, tools, or art materials that have added textures or grips to make them accessible to all bodies.
Only considering professionals who understand your child’s disability will help narrow down your options. That said, remember, children with disabilities are children first. They need the same love, space, and active engagement that every child needs.
2. Explore What Special Needs Care is Available
The next step is to understand your options. Depending on your child’s needs and your capacity, there are several routes you can take. Generally, you would select either in-home support or send your child to daycare. Ask your therapist or a teacher at your child’s school for specific options in your area. They likely have a list of qualified caregivers they can connect you with.
SELF-HELP TIP: Your local government has services available for children with disabilities. Learn about resources in your area, financial support, and education opportunities.
You have a few alternatives if you’re looking for someone to work in your home. A close family member who knows your child may sometimes be better equipped than a trained professional. That’s because they know your child’s needs and have already built a relationship.
If you don’t have family in the area, a traditional nanny can—with proper training—be a great fit. One approach is to have them shadow you initially to learn your routine. However, not everyone has the time or capacity for this option, and you might find a caregiver with relevant experience that better fits the bill. Maybe they’ve worked formally as a special needs caregiver in a facility or as a nanny for other children with disabilities. And while they might charge a higher rate, the upside is that they’ll require less training. For children with more complex medical needs, there are options for in-home care provided by a nurse or therapist.
For some families, sending children to daycare is a more affordable option. All private childcare centers are legally required to accommodate children with disabilities. Though your child likely won’t get one-on-one support, daycare can be an excellent place for them to practice their social skills.
3. Thoroughly Vet Your Special Needs Caregiver Candidates
When hiring a special needs caregiver, you must interview the candidates thoroughly. It doesn’t have to be super formal, but you do need an open conversation to exchange questions and learn about their skills. The list below includes some of the qualities and skills to look for.
Patience and a Level Head
In any childcare profession, patience is key—especially for children with disabilities, whose triggers can be less predictable. Look for a caregiver with a patient and stable personality who won’t feel overwhelmed or taken off guard quickly.
Empathy and Sincere Interest
Compassion and understanding go a long way in a candidate. These qualities demonstrate that they aren’t just applying for the paycheck but actually feel driven to look after children. Include your child in the interview process to see if they connect with the caregiver—and whether you’re happy with how they treat your child. For example, speaking directly to the child instead of the parent when asking about their likes and dislikes shows their genuine interest in your child.
Willingness to Learn
Everyone wants a caregiver whose resume is full of relevant experiences. But these candidates are in short supply and tend to charge higher rates. While it’s always a good idea to establish the candidate’s experience in working with children with disabilities, a willingness to learn can be a real win. Someone open to training and excited to get to know your child might be just what you need.
Comfort with Job Duties
Although this tends to come with experience, you must be realistic when sharing the job description with potential caregivers. Think of specific situations that can be challenging for your child. Giving the candidate an accurate depiction of their responsibilities also gives you a chance to gauge their reaction.
4. Work Closely With Your Child’s Caregiver
Once you find a special needs caregiver to work with, giving them plenty of support is necessary. Communication is essential to navigating this new relationship. Develop a list of clear expectations and responsibilities, so they know exactly what the job entails. This could include a “cheat sheet” of helpful tools and strategies to calm your child and expectations for communication and feedback. Even if the caregiver has the experience, every child is different.
After you’ve provided guidelines for the position, you don’t have to commit straight away to a full-time hire. Starting with a trial period gives the family and the caregiver an opportunity to see whether the position is a good fit.
Finally, be ready for conflicting emotions. As much as you may love and trust the candidate, it’s pretty normal to feel a little sad—even guilty—about leaving your child with someone else. Remember that you’re not alone. Around 61% of children under the age of five are in childcare, so give yourself some positive affirmations and focus on the benefits that a caregiver brings.
A Babysitter’s Guide to Caring for a Special Needs Child
If you want to work as a special needs caregiver, that’s wonderful—we need more of you! Here are some steps to make sure you’re prepared for the role.
1. Know if You Have What it Takes to Become a Special Needs Caregiver
Before deciding to work as a special needs caregiver, check whether your skillset aligns with the job. As with any childcare position, working with children with disabilities requires a mix of hard and soft skills. Here are some of the criteria that families will look for:
- Background Check. All childcare professionals require a background check that screens for a criminal record, employment history, and driving records.
- CPR and First Aid. Be on top of your certification and renewals every two years! It’s possible that you may need to administer medicine. If that’s the case, ensure you have the training to feel comfortable doing this safely and effectively.
- Communication. Open communication helps build trust in any relationship. Remember to ask specific questions and convey information clearly as a special needs caregiver. Closely observe the child when you’re with them, and be ready to communicate any updates or questions to the family.
- Patience and Empathy. Understanding and empathy for the child’s situation can go a long way. Children with disabilities can frequently master the same skills as other children—they may just need more time and support.
- Physical Capabilities. For children with physical or mobility disabilities, you should feel comfortable lifting them, supporting their weight, and helping with tasks like bathing. For some positions, adequate physical strength may be a prerequisite.
2. Research the Child’s Condition
Before applying for a job as a special needs caregiver, be aware that there’s a broad spectrum of disabilities and that every disability is a bit different. Research the child’s condition before interviewing. This will help you prepare for the job and show the family that you’re passionate and willing to learn.
For example, someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder may have trouble with nonverbal communication or experience sensory stimuli differently. This knowledge will help you plan activities that interest them.
A child with an attention disorder will benefit from opportunities to expend energy and a consistent schedule, so they know what to expect from the day. Alternatively, if you’re working with a child with Down syndrome, learn how they communicate and stick to the boundaries and routines that the family has set up.
3. Learn the Child’s Specific Requirements
Although a general understanding of the child’s condition is a good starting point, you should also get to know their unique needs. For instance, learn their routines and boundaries, dietary restrictions, and favorite activities.
Don’t be afraid to ask the family-specific questions about how to interact with their child—some may use a combination of verbal and sign language. In contrast, others may have nicknames for certain things that won’t be intuitive. This is also an excellent opportunity to learn about the family’s expectations for conflict resolution and strategies to help the child regulate if they’ve become upset. Lastly, ensure you have the emergency contact information—including the numbers of family members and doctors—and an emergency action plan.
4. Connect and Engage With the Child
Remember that a child with a disability is a child first, with the same need for learning, love, and safety. They just might need to go at a slower pace or, say, have different expectations around touch or eye contact. When working as a special needs caregiver, treat them with the same compassion and joy you’d bring to any childcare gig—just frame your interactions according to their needs and boundaries.
Play games that they’re familiar with. Once you’ve built a stronger relationship, you can slowly start to bring in new material and activities. When communicating rules or transitions, consider how the child processes information. Maybe they learn through repetition or visual cues.
Finally, always be warm but firm. Be consistent with routines and boundaries, but give yourself some grace and flexibility too. You’re starting to build a special connection with the child! There will be moments that feel easy and others that feel hard; the important thing is to remain calm and positive through it all.
Find the Right Fit With Call Emmy
Our bread and butter is connecting the best childcare professionals with the families who need them. We don’t want to leave anyone out—including children with disabilities. Whether you’re a parent hoping to find an exceptional needs caregiver or a childcare professional looking for work, this guide provides some steps to prepare for the next chapter.
At Call Emmy, we vet all our sitters and nannies to provide you with qualified candidates and quality jobs. We pride ourselves on making lasting and powerful connections between families and caregivers. Give us a call or send us a message to get started finding candidates or potential jobs.
* We would like to thank Angela Wilson, CEO and Founder of Exploryst for taking the time to sit with us and talk through this topic. We appreciate the insight given into this important topic.