One of the challenges of having a child with Autism, is that there are very few people who we trust to care for him. Outside of our immediate family, there is only one person that we know who can handle our five-year-old son Max, and that is his respite worker Sarah. She is a trained behavior therapist, and has known Max for over a year. In fact, she started out as his therapist and quickly became his favourite person in the universe. When she told us she was leaving the clinic where Max receives his therapy to work at another clinic, we were actually happy. This meant that she could now be his respite worker!
Sarah typically spends Saturday or Sunday afternoon with Max. Our three-year-old daughter Cameron has decided that Sarah is her best friend, so Sarah also watches Cameron for us (though we made sure that Sarah was comfortable with this before throwing Cameron into the mix). We haven’t had a respite worker for Max for over a year, so it has been wonderful getting some relief on the weekend. Truth be told, when Sarah isn’t available on the weekend, we really feel it. I dare say that Sarah has become part of the family and we are working on plans to take her with us on a mini test vacation to see how Max handles a few days away from home.
When hiring a respite worker, these are the things you should consider to ensure it is a successful relationship:
1. Make sure the person you hire has experience and training in working with children with Autism.
2. Take time to build the relationship between the respite worker and your child. They will need time to pair and bond and this will not happen over night.
3. You get what you pay for. Respite workers are not the same as babysitters, so expect to pay more for their time.
4. Get a police background check done. This is not only reassurance for you, but if you want your respite worker to accompany your child on school field trips, many schools require this.
5. Set up a regular schedule with your respite worker to ensure that he or she is available when needed and that your child gets used to having this respite worker as part of day to day life.
6. If your respite worker will be driving your child anywhere, or picking your child up without you, provide a car seat or booster seat and also written documentation in advance to the person who will be releasing your child into your respite worker’s care.
7. If you have more than one child, find out whether or not your respite worker is comfortable caring for them. Remember, your respite worker is there to work with your child with Autism, not necessarily all of your children.
8. Start with sessions that last a few hours and work your way up to longer visits. Only move to overnights and weekends away once you are 100% sure both your child and the respite worker can handle this successfully.
9. Don’t take your respite worker for granted. Treat him or her with the professionalism they deserve and make sure they understand how much you value them.
10. Find out if your respite worker is willing to travel with you and your family. Having extra support while on vacation will make your trip a lot more enjoyable for everyone, especially your child with Autism.