Autism: Tips for Babysitters

Health Writer

Whether you are an experienced babysitter or just beginning, babysitting a child with autism may be a new experience for you. While in many ways it isn't any different than any other babysitting job, in other ways, it is more complex and requires you to take a different approach.

The following tips should help you:

Before you babysit:

  • Read about autism. Ask the parents for helpful resources, such as websites they find useful or books, to help you better understand what autism is and what to expect. Remember though, autism is different in each child.
  • Set up a time when the parents are home for you to come over and meet the child. Plan on spending some time being in the house so he or she gets used to you. Take the time to observe how the child behaves and interacts with his parents and siblings. Ask questions to help you better understand. You may want to visit again, "babysitting" while the parents are home in order to begin to develop a relationship with the child.
  • Ask the parents questions to help you prepare. You may want to know about his or her schedule, what activities he likes to do, how behavioral issues are handled, what types of things you can do when he is upset. You should be aware of any triggers - especially any of your behaviors that can upset him.

While you are babysitting:

  • Stick to the child's routine and schedule as much as possible. This includes meal times, naps or watching a favorite video at a certain time. Children with autism often get upset when their routine is disrupted.
  • Ask the parents before taking the child out of the house. Your first few times babysitting, the parents may prefer you stay in the house or yard until you better understand the child's behaviors and are better equipped to handle situations, such as wandering.
  • Follow the parents' instructions. There may be rules you don't understand or think don't make sense, but accept that these rules are in place for a reason. Be respectful of the parents and always follow their wishes and instructions.
  • Show interest in what the child likes. Many children with autism have very specific interests and may spend most of their time involved in that one interest. Show interest in whatever activity the child enjoys; don't try to change activities because you feel he should do something else.
  • Respect the child's wishes. Some children with autism don't like to be touched, others like to keep their distance from other people or prefer to play alone. Follow the child's lead, letting him or her play alone or stay on the other side of the room until he or she feels comfortable enough to approach you.
  • Use the child's preferred communication method. One of the hallmark symptoms of autism is difficulty communicating. Some children with autism don't speak at all, others may use only limited language while others have highly developed speech. For those that have no or limited speech, pictures or sign language may be used to communicate. If the child is used to communicating via pictures, don't insist that he say something or use sign language. Use the communication method most comfortable for him.
  • Keep instructions simple. If you are giving a command or instructions, keep it simple, giving one instruction at a time; when they have completed that, move on to the next step.
  • Stay alert. Children with autism, even older children, don't always understand safety. As a babysitter, you should be aware of what types of behaviors to watch for, such as wandering off.

As with any babysitting job, while you are there your focus should be on the child. Avoid watching television, texting or talking to friends. You should be aware of the child at all times. And, if you run into any problems, call the parents. It is possible that whatever the problem, they may have a way for you to remedy it quickly. Keeping communication between you and the parents open is important.