Nanny 911: Child Care Tips for Kids With Autism

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I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve had the best of times and the worst of times with child care.   It’s not like you can place a general ad or hire the first person off the street as if you were Wal-Mart. 

You can’t even start someone until they have some knowledge and training.  At least I can’t.  You see, we have three kids with autism. They’d have ‘em for breakfast.  Consequently, our day care options have become… limited.  If you’re like us, don’t lose hope. There may be some untapped resources you may not have considered.  As someone, who’s had the ups and downs with this particular area, here are five tips for finding child care:

Tip #1: Check with Schools 

Two really good nannies I had were child development majors at a nearby university.  You may be asking yourself, “Why would a college student be interested in a nanny gig?” If you hire a student, they will be working with the very agencies they will be trying to get a job from when they get out of school. Those same two students who worked for us went on to work for agencies that provided services for our kids so you can honestly say, “This job has upward mobility in your career.” 

This is an important advantage for them and you should exploit it.  The advantage for you is they are already familiar with the therapy and will employ the techniques that are required to eliminate behaviors. Find out if your local university has a child development major (Psychology, Education, Occupational Therapy majors are good departments).  Call the department to see about placing a targeted ad.  They may refer you to their career center, which is fine. Check out online pay services for nanny searches.  It’s worth paying for – after all, this is pretty important.

You can tailor your profile and view theirs.  It’s the first step in weeding out people that probably wouldn’t work.  Look for child development courses or experience.  I take practical experience as well as college courses into consideration.  And don’t get suckered in by the really expensive exclusive head hunting services.  I had one try to sell me on a $1000 membership.   I’m not saying they don’t work, but with all the other stuff you are paying for, who can afford that?  If you do go that route, make sure they are equipped to find someone to handle your specific situation and if they have a money-back guarantee if the person quits.

Tip #2:  Check References  

I know, it seems like kind of a “well, duh” point, but you’d be surprised!  I check out all sorts of stuff before I buy – you ask your friends or co-workers if something is good if you know they have it – that’s checking it out.  And you’re planning on leaving your kids alone with this person.

Tip #3: Background Checks

Most online nanny services will provide a background check with your fee.  (You can get it for under a hundred dollars, in most cases.)  If they have to work for a nursing agency (as a respite provider) or a government contracted agency, it’s most likely they will have to do a LiveScan fingerprinting anyway.    If they will be driving your kids around, you should also get copies of their car insurance and drivers license.  God forbid, if something should happen, you need to know that everyone will be taken care of.

Tip #4:  Be Open to Both Genders

Even though it’s 2012, many people still have a problem with a guy working as a nanny. We’ve had a lot of male therapists work with our kids over the years and they all tell us it’s a tough hurdle to overcome.  They get “watched” more closely by parents than their female counterparts.  I never had problems with either gender – although one guy we had was terrible, but gender had nothing to do with it.  He just wasn’t cut out for the job.  Happily, he was the exception, not the norm. Obviously, it’s your kids and you need to be 100% comfortable with the person who watches them while you’re away.  All we’re saying is try to be open to the possibility.

Tip #5:  Hire More Than One Person, if Possible

I know in this economy, that’s a big “if.”  That’s another reason we use college students because they are only looking for part time and aren’t trying to make a living off of what we’re able to pay.  This is especially important when you have special needs children.  I usually have two part-time people working for us.  Caring for special needs kids can be extremely stressful if it wasn’t you might not need a nanny.  Plus, what do you do if your nanny gets sick?  I can’t exactly afford a sick day when I’m not sick.  I don’t know many people that can.  It helps prevent someone from getting burned out, there’s some flexibility and you still get what you need.  And you are the person your child should be the most bonded with.

It can be hard to find someone.  But the last thing you need – or your kid – is someone looking to kill time between working at the Cheesecake Factory and the Dress Barn.  We had a girl do exactly that, after we paid for a lot of overlaps so she could learn the job. It was a mess, in every sense of the word.   Sometimes, you’ve got to trust your gut.

Oh, before we let you go, here’s a couple other things to remember.  When you hire someone, your house has now become their workplace.  Make sure it’s a comfortable one.  What I mean by that is, don’t walk around in your underwear or let your partner leave his/her underwear around the house. 

Second, remember you’ve hired a nanny not a housekeeper.  We always tell our people, “Clean up after yourself and the kids.  If the kids make a mess, teach them how to clean it up.”  Lastly, when it comes to non-child related errands, remember nanny not personal shopper.  Sure I sometimes ask our nanny to run to the store for us but I stay with the kids while he or she is away.  That way they get a change of scenery, a break from the kids and we both get a caramel macchiato (non fat of course). There you go – happy hunting!

Melissa Martinez-Areffi and Andrew Areffi are the authors of the new book “Navigating Autism: The Essential How To By Parents For Parents.” They are also part of an expert panel for the training classes of Los Angeles’ Department of Mental Health caseworkers, clinicians, supervisors and therapists.

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