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What Should I Know About Babysitting a Child With Autism?

What should I expect while babysitting a 4-year-old boy who has autism?
– Emily*

You're already on the right path — you care enough about the little guy to learn about his particular health condition. Here are some tips on babysitting a child with autism.

Before You Babysit

Ask the parents about their son's communication and behavior patterns and preferences. Find out how they typically handle any problems. Ask them what they do to comfort and calm him when he is upset. Also ask if there are things you should avoid doing. Some kids with autism don't react well to being hugged by non-family members, for example.

Be sure you're clear on his schedule and routine. If you need to, take notes to help you remember what to do. Don't worry about asking too many questions. Autism affects kids in different ways, so no two children with the condition are alike. Most likely, your questions will only reassure the parents that you are a reliable caretaker for their son.

Find out what the child really likes to do and how often he is allowed to do it. For example, the little boy may have a favorite movie, but only be allowed to watch it once during the babysitting time. Stick to these rules: Some kids with autism can get upset if their routines and rules are changed.

See if you can spend time with the child and parents together before your first babysitting session. This will let you get used to his behavior patterns and see firsthand how the parents handle the child. It will also allow the little guy to get to know you with the comfort of a parent present.

While Babysitting

Try to stick to the child's usual routine (feeding times, nap times, etc.) as much as possible. Give him simple instructions, one at a time, rather than giving him multiple things to do at once. Wait for him to finish a task or activity before giving instructions on another.

Avoid bringing friends or your own family members to the house while you are babysitting. If you take the child on an excursion outside the home, try to visit only places he is familiar with, such as a nearby park or anywhere else that's comforting.

As with any babysitting experience, focus on the child. And make sure you have contact numbers for emergencies, including ways to reach the parents if needed.

Reviewed by: Wendy Harron, BS, OTR/L
Date reviewed: September 2010

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* Names have been changed to protect user privacy.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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