Preparing to Use Respite Workers and Babysitters

Now that things are beginning to open back up in some communities, we may start to turn our thoughts to one of the luxuries that may have been unavailable to many of us for the past few months – babysitters! Particularly now, as many of us have been with our children for months, the thought of getting out and enjoying some adult time is especially appealing. And for some of us, it’s a matter of mental well-being. (Insert “raising hand” emoji!)

Before the pandemic, I was much more hesitant to leave my kids with someone who didn’t have a comprehensive working knowledge of my child’s needs. Many parents are finding that their regular babysitter or respite worker is no longer available, or is not yet ready to go into someone else’s home. If you are in the situation of hiring someone new to care for your kiddos, here are some tips to getting back in the babysitter / respite worker game:

Preparation and Planning

Leaving your children after such a long stretch of being together may be unnerving to you – and to them. Carefully consider what you need to do to make this successful – picking the time of day they may be happiest, avoiding leaving during difficult parts of their schedule (in our house, that’s bedtime), and listing the types of activities that are sure to keep them engaged and content (cough-electronics-cough). Being in the midst of a pandemic that seems to be more easily spread indoors than out, you may want to think about having everyone outside for a portion or all of the time the sitter or respite worker is there.

Interview – Be Honest About the Job 

If you are using a babysitter or respite worker you haven’t worked with before, be sure to disclose everything they need to know in order to determine if they are the right fit. Sometimes this part is easy to skip, because the most important pieces are also the parts that are most painful to talk about. Lead with all of the positives about your kiddos, but don’t forget to mention the hard parts – any toileting issues, aggression or other challenging behavior they may need to handle. It’s also extremely important to be crystal clear about the COVID precautions you expect them to take, and what you will be doing to protect them (masks, gloves, handwashing, disinfecting). Some parents will feel more comfortable inquiring about the new babysitter’s social distancing practices, and it’s important to clarify that ANY symptoms that arise requires a cancellation.

Virtual Orientation 

Before the pandemic, many of us would have a new babysitter or respite worker come over and get to know the kids on a day we’d all be together, or at the very least, have them come by early to get the lay of the land. These days, as we focus on preventing the spread of germs, you may want to have a “virtual” orientation to accomplish this. Though you may still want to spend some time with the new babysitter and your kids in person before you leave, getting through talks of where the emergency numbers are and how to handle challenging behavior is easily something you can accomplish via phone or Zoom.

Behavior Plan Cheat Sheet

If your child has a behavior plan for ABA sessions or in school, it’s a good idea to have a short-hand version for the babysitter or respite worker. There’s no need to give them the whole thing, but it’s a good idea to write down the pieces of it that you expect them to keep consistent. Respite workers may be more adept at implementing behavior plans than your typical babysitter, so adjust according to their experience and role.

Arrange the Environment 

If your house is anything like mine, there are toys and other items around that are more likely to cause issues than others. Maybe there are toys your children fight over, or things they need a lot of supervision to use, or non-food items that could end up in someone’s mouth. Do a scan of your house, and put away anything likely to cause an issue.

Prepare the Kid(s)

Every child needs a different type of preparation. It is helpful for some children to have a social story, especially if they haven’t been separated from their parents in a few months. It can also be comforting to others to have a “warming up” period while they get to know the new person in their parents’ presence. I know other moms who prefer to keep the transition short and sweet and “rip off the band-aid” by heading out immediately. You know your kid, consider what will work best and be intentional about how you approach this.

Once your area is safe and you are ready to leave your kids, planning ahead (even just a little bit) can do wonders for your ability to relax. Go enjoy your foray back into the world.

Please note: Different states are in different points in re-opening; this is not an endorsement to get a babysitter if that runs counter to the guidance in your area. 

A Letter From LEARN’s President

Over the last 10 weeks, I know that most of us have experienced some level of fear, sadness, uncertainty, and hardship as the pandemic has swept across the country and changed almost every facet of American living. For many of us, these feelings have been compounded in recent days with sorrow, anger, and confusion as civil unrest has forced us to look hard at the inequities in American society. Especially to members of the Black community that we work with and serve, I send my personal support and empathy, and I want to be clear that we stand in support of the rights, safety and dignity of all people.

As an organization, it’s periods like these that force us to think deeply about our role in creating a brighter future in the communities we serve. Inherent in our mission is the idea that we exist to help children succeed. But now more than ever, it’s important to take stock of who we help and how we do it. I believe strongly that:

  • Our mission is to deliver as much hope as we can, to as many families as we can, equally and fairly within all the communities we serve.
  • We have a duty to serve all families with compassion, respect and understanding of their circumstances.
  • While society as a whole may not be a level playing field, we must do better to create a workplace that is inviting, and model inclusion and diversity.

So what’s next?

  1. We will be re-evaluating how we train and support the clinical competency of our clinical and administrative team to ensure that our services are compassionate for all
  2. We will be tasking our Diversity & Inclusion Committee with generating new ideas on how we can better promote a diverse and inclusive workplace
  3. We will continue to proactively seek to expand our services to underserved communities in need

Every step forward counts, and if we can make small progress every day towards our ideals, we can deliver results that will continue to make us proud to work for LEARN as we do our part to contribute to a brighter future for all.



Keeping Kids Connected to Loved Ones Via Zoom and FaceTime

As some states cautiously move into the initial phases of re-opening, there may be more places to go within your community, and more opportunities to see people you haven’t been with for some time.  Even so, it’s likely there are people in your child’s life that you are still unable to see, whether it is because they are higher-risk individuals who are self-isolating or because travel between states has not yet fully resumed.  We are moving in to our fourth month of diminished contact with our loved ones, and as ever, looking for ways to keep up connections with those who are in our hearts, even when they can’t be in our homes.

Our children, too, have felt the isolation.  We want to make sure that our children continue to maintain important relationships with family members and friends they’re not able to see in person.  When your child has autism, this can be even more of a challenge.  As we continue down this road of reduced in-person contact, it’s important to help our children preserve their ties with others.  Video conferencing, such as Zoom or Skype, can be one way to keep these bonds strong.

Maintaining a wide network of support for our children within our communities is another reason to stay connected.  Even if relating to others is difficult or connecting via video conferencing isn’t particularly meaningful for your child, it can serve to keep your child at the forefront of the thoughts of others.  Helping your child’s community to keep them in mind, make regular contact, and show their love and support can have long-term benefits on both sides of the relationship.

Here are some tips to help make video-conferencing with family members a little more successful:


To reduce stress on yourself as the mediator, shortly before the call, take a minute to remind yourself that the most important goal is for the two parties to quickly connect and know they still care.  Let go of any expectations that there will be a sustained interaction.

Prepare for a zoom session just long enough to allow everyone to say hello, and have a brief connection; too long of a session may put stress on you, your child, or the person on the other end.  Unless your child is an avid zoomer and the person on the other end is dying for a long session, you will want to plan for a fairly short call.  Really, just a few minutes on a regular basis is enough to spark recognition and rekindle the sense of connection that your child has with this person.

Your child may be at the point where they don’t yet have a spark of connection with very many people, and that’s ok.  It’s still important to maintain familiarity.  Remember that setting up short but frequent interactions with other people in your community can also strengthen the rapport that the other person feels for your child, which may boost opportunities for further social interaction in the future.


To improve the chances of a smooth experience, you may want to prepare your child, and perhaps prepare the other party.

Choose one or two things to talk or items to show the person.   Children can present a favorite toy, or art project that they have done.  If your child is verbal, you might review something they’ve done recently that they can share, practice a song they can sing, or prepare them to tell a favorite joke.  If there is a new skill that your child has that s/he is particularly proud of, this is a great time to show off.  If your child may be tough to engage via video, you might consider showing the other person an interaction between you and your child, for instance, a game you play together, or something you do that boosts your child’s mood.

Some of the people you may be connecting your child with already know them well and will have excellent ideas about how to engage.  Others, especially older relatives, might not be familiar or comfortable with video conferencing, and may have difficulty coming up with ideas, so it can also be useful to prepare them.

Think about things that will be most likely to catch your child’s attention.  If your child likes music, for instance, zoom friends can sing them a song, play an instrument for them, or play a song that they could listen to together.  If your child is interested in electronics or visual stimuli, the zoom partner could use a custom background that might be particularly interesting to your kiddo, share their screen to look at photos together, or use effects on the screen to share stickers and drawings.  For children who are more verbal, you might prepare their zoom partner to tell them a joke or a story, or give them a softball question to ask your child about something they will be excited to share.  If your child likes books, reading a story is another great option.

The Call

During the call, let go of the expectations that your preparation will go exactly as planned, and return your focus to the underlying goal:  a short hello to maintain a link to an important person.  Remember that it doesn’t have to be a long, chatty affair, it can be a 5-min operation start to finish.  Give it your best effort to help your child attend, but don’t put pressure on them to sustain the interaction longer than they are interested.  Go in with an attitude of flexibility – do what works, let go of what doesn’t.

Keep in mind that each conversation is just one small interaction that continues to build upon their history of rapport. Short, frequent contacts with others can help your child continue to recognize and identify those they are not seeing frequently, and can support the ongoing relationship.  Put in the preparation and keep the interaction short and sweet.  And of course, if you don’t feel successful the first time around, remember that practice makes progress, and keep on going.