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How to Find Good Quality, Safe Child Care for Children on the Autism Spectrum

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What is child care?

Child care is the caring for and supervision of a child. Some families need regular child care to keep their children safe when the parents or other family members are not able to provide supervision for regular periods of time, for example, when they are at work or school. Families may also need intermittent child care for short periods of time while they go to a doctor or dentist appointment or when they plan a well-deserved afternoon or evening out.

How do I find good child care?

In finding a child care provider, a family raising a child on the autism spectrum may have concerns above and beyond those of families with typically developing children. Because of behaviors or other special needs a child on the autism spectrum may have, parents may have some of the following concerns:

  • Will the care providers know how to appropriately care for my child?
  • Will my child be included in activities, or left on his or her own (which he or she may prefer)?
  • Will my child have a meltdown and will someone get hurt?
  • Will the care providers be kind, even if my child is more difficult to care for?

Word of mouth is one of the best ways to find good child care, particularly when the person making the recommendation knows your child well or understands the challenges of caring for a child on the autism spectrum. A few good resources for finding child care are:

  • Parent Support Groups – If you belong to a good parent support group (one that meets in person or on-line, if it has local members), the members may already be your “go to people.” They are the members of your community who have faced every hurdle and jumped through every hoop before you. So rather than break new ground, it is best to ask for their wisdom and advice.
  • Teachers, counselors, special needs coordinators, therapists, etc. – These are your next line of defense. They may know of other families in similar situations that have figured this out and may be able to put you in contact with those who have achieved success. (Or they may be interested in providing intermittent child care themselves.)
  • Places of worship in your neighborhood – The church, synagogue, mosque, or temple that you belong to may house a daycare, nursery school, and/or after school program. This personal connection often feels better for families, and the familiar environment feels better for children on the autism spectrum.
  • Community Centers – Places like YMCAs and neighborhood community centers sometimes have child care that can be accessed for short periods of time, or for teacher in-service days and some school holidays. They may also have regular daycare and after school programs.
  • Local colleges and universities – Students from schools of nursing, education, special education, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychology, or social work may be interested in part-time work. They may have more experience and/or training working with children with special needs than the average student. Additionally, students often have irregular schedules and may be available during the day. To get in contact with local college students, go to the school’s website and call the number for the particular department. Some colleges may also have an on-line job posting service.
  • CCIS – Child Care Information Services – Pennsylvania CCIS provides a service to members of the community to locate appropriate child care resources in their community.
  • Girls Scout troops and local libraries – These organizations often sponsor “babysitting” courses which may contain lessons about handling emergencies. They may maintain a list of those who attended the class for you to call.
  • Care.com® – This is a national website that has a search engine for finding local child care providers. Note that there is a subscriber fee to join and maintain membership in this organization, even before you know if they have staff available to interview.

How do I choose a child care provider for my child?

The following is a set of practical questions that may be useful for you to use when interviewing child care providers.

  1. How much experience do they have caring for children? Do they have experience caring for children with special needs?
  2. Can they change a diaper?
  3. Can they prepare a meal?
  4. Are they comfortable getting the child ready for bed?
  5. Have they taken any first aid, safety, or babysitting classes?
  6. What do they like best about babysitting? What do they like least?
  7. What would they do in an emergency?
  8. How would they spend their time with your child? Any activities planned?
  9. How much do they charge?
  10. Do they have references?
  11. Do they have state child abuse clearances?

Consider completing the Care Binder found on this website and have this information available for your child care providers. A care binder is a tool for families who have children with special health care needs to help keep health records and important safety information organized.

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The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.