Babysitting: Caring for Kids With Special Needs

Babysitting: Caring for Kids With Special Needs

Even experienced babysitters may feel a little intimidated at the thought of looking after a child with special needs. Relax! Knowing what to expect gives you the confidence to do a good job, just as it does when you care for any child.

Here's what you need to know about three common conditions:


Autism is a developmental disorder that makes it hard to communicate or interact with other people. Some kids have autism that is mild; others have autism that is severe.

Children with autism can have trouble understanding subtle directions and requests. They may become overwhelmed by busy and noisy environments. And, sometimes, they do not enjoy being touched.

Because every kid is different, ask the child's parents what to expect and what kinds of things the child enjoys doing.

Here are some things to know:

Know how to deal with difficulties: Ask the parents how to handle it if the child becomes upset or agitated. In general, as long as the child isn't hurting himself or anyone else, it's best to roll with the tantrum. Keep the child safe and close to you. If the child starts to settle down, you might bring out a favorite toy and start playing with it to create a distraction.

Some children with autism might calm down when cuddling a special stuffed animal. Others might respond well to sitting in a rocking chair with you or swinging on the backyard swing set.

Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is a condition in which extra genetic material causes delays in the way a child develops, both mentally and physically.

Like other children with developmental delays, kids with Down syndrome often seem younger than they are. Their skills are often behind those of other kids, but they may enjoy the same types of toys and games. You might need to adapt to play at their level of understanding.

Here are some things to know:

Know how to deal with difficulties: To keep things consistent for the child, ask the parents about family rules and stick to them.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Children with ADHD often have lots of energy and can get wound up quickly. Their attention span for activities might be shorter than that of other children, so plan many activities and use them as needed.

Here are some things to know:

Know how to deal with difficulties: It might help to provide the child with a schedule of what you'll be doing, especially if your visit is lengthy. Children with ADHD sometimes have trouble switching gears. That means playing a boisterous game of tag right before naptime might not work. If you know some calming strategies and have activities prepared for your visit, you and the child can relax and enjoy yourselves.

Children with special needs can be very sweet and loving. And it's great babysitting experience to learn how to care for kids who have different abilities. Seeing the world through a special child's eyes can change the way you look at life!

Reviewed by: Wendy Harron, BS, OTR/L,
Date reviewed: March 2014

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

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Related Resources
OrganizationChildren and Adults With Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) CHADD is a national nonprofit organization representing children and adults with ADHD.
OrganizationAutism Society of America (ASA) The mission of ASA is to promote lifelong access and opportunities for persons within the autism spectrum and their families.
OrganizationNational Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) NDSS strives to ensure that all people with Down syndrome have the opportunity to achieve their full potential in community life. Call: (800) 221-4602
Web SiteAmerican Red Cross Babysitter's Training Course Designed for 11- to 15-year-olds, the babysitter's training course can help you care for children and infants, make good decisions, solve problems, be a good leader, and more.
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