Leaving your child in someone else’s hands can be a nerve-wracking experience for any parent. You may ask yourself, will your child be properly cared for? Will the carer have the same child-focused ethos as you? Will your child enjoy the new experience or have separation anxiety? Of course, as the parent of a child with autism, these worries are often multiplied tenfold, with many more added:
Will the carer cope with the child’s short attention span? How will he/she deal with any meltdowns? Will he/she be sensitive to any sensory issues? Childcare spans the gauntlet from an in-home nanny to daycare centers, with many other options in between, so how do you know what will work best for your child?
This may be either based in your home with a nanny, or in someone else’s home with a child-minder. A nanny has the advantage of giving one-on-one care, and often a home environment can seem more comfortable and familiar to the child with autism who may struggle with changes in routine or day-to-day differences. There are disadvantages though: nannies are often expensive, and if you are a work-from-home parent, then it can be difficult to concentrate with a child still in the house.
Children cared for in the home also may not receive as much social interaction, although this can be a positive or a negative depending on where your child falls on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). If he/she has high-functioning autism, then you may want them to get used to being around other children ready for mainstream schooling, whereas a nonverbal child with autism may struggle with the social interaction in a large group. The symptoms of autism are so varied that you need to find someone who will treat your child as an individual, catering to his/her particular needs. A child-minder is often a great midway point between a nanny and a daycare center as they usually only look after a few children, so he/she is often able to give your child more attention than in a group setting. The child-minder’s house can also become a home away from home, somewhere where your child feels comfortable without you, gradually gaining some independence.
Recent statistics indicate that nearly 11 million children under five are in daycare. It may seem a daunting prospect if you have an autistic child, but for some, a daycare facility can be a great option. Many children with autism thrive on routine, which is usually customary in daycare, and it can be a great preparation for the transition to school. Careful research of daycare facilities can also reveal some real gems—you may be able to find somewhere local to you that has experience in working with children with autism, or that employs specially trained professionals. They often also have access to resources (such as being able to refer you to relevant medical services) and links to the community, which can be of great benefit to both you and your child. On the other hand, some children will struggle with large groups, and may find the noise in large centers particularly unnerving.
Key Questions to Keep in Mind
Whatever childcare setting you are thinking about, there are some key things that you will always want to look at, and some questions to always ask, such as making sure health and safety procedures are adhered to and that proper insurance is in place. It can be handy to have these questions written down so that you don’t forget anything when you first visit—it can feel like an overwhelming process to begin with! It’s good practice to also stagger your visits, so that you can assess and get a feel for the setting first, then bring your child along for the second visit when you’ve narrowed down the options. Reputable childcare providers will always encourage this as they will want to ensure they are the right fit for the child. How they interact with your child and how your child reacts to them can be a good indicator whether or not you’ve found the right fit—you know your child best and know how to read how he/she is feeling about the new situation.
You may already be a member of a support group, and they can be a great resource for providing recommendations. As with many aspects of being the parent of a child with autism, though, what is appropriate for your individual child is key—what’s right for one won’t work for another. Remember too that sometimes you don’t know unless you give it a go—so be open to possibilities, ask questions, and try, try, and try again until you find the right environment, where your child will be happy and thrive.
This article was featured in Issue 68 – ASD Strategies in Action