We spoke with a couple Bell Family sitters who have years of experience working with children with behavioral challenges or special needs, and wanted to share their tips, so you too, feel comfortable and confident in the same situation.
Bell Family Sitter #1: Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who has been working with children with Autism and other special needs for over nine years.
Working with children with special needs is just like working with other kids in many ways. These children need you to care for them, help them, play with them and more! I think it is important to keep in mind that these children and kids like everyone else. However, depending on their needs, it may be hard for them to communicate, follow directions, get around or tolerate less preferred things.
If you are working with a kid with special needs, always speak to the parents about their limitations so you are prepared. For example, if the child has trouble communicating, they may be more likely to have behaviors when they want to ask for things they need. The more information you can get from the parents regarding the child’s needs and routines, the better! Also, ask about any safety concerns you should be aware of. This is a very important question! You want to make sure you know what to do in case of an emergency since the child may not react like other children, or may be more prone to danger because of his or her special needs.
If you can, try to observe how the parents interact with the child before they leave you for the day. This will typically give you a good idea of the ways to communicate with the child and what the child may enjoy. It is possible the child prefers to be alone and wants to read in the corner, that’s okay too. Let the child show you what they want to do!
Always follow the child’s typical schedule and try your best not to change the routine too much. When transitioning between activities, it is often helpful to give a warning. For example, you may say “Okay, five more minutes until we eat lunch” while the child is playing a video game. Try to use simple language and be direct when you are giving instructions.
Lastly, if your child is having a tantrum, remember to stay calm. You may not always understand the reason but try not to get flustered. Make sure the child stays safe and try to redirect their attention to something else and get back on schedule. Always remember these are just kids so just have fun!
Bell Family Sitter #2: Masters from NYU in Social Work with a focus on clinical social work with children and families. Currently working as a social worker at a hospital in Manhattan.
When working with children with behavioral challenges such as ADD and ADHD, certain adjustments may be necessary to your caregiving practices. Each child has their own set of needs, and what might be a useful practice with one child, might not be helpful with another, and thus it is important to gain a sense of individual differences of what has worked in the past from the parents themselves before you begin your time with families.
Providing rewards and consequences for behaviors that are either positive or negative, providing consistency in routines and expectations, and being extra diligent with safety precautions, are all things to keep top of mind. It is important that when working with children with certain differences, we do not treat them drastically different than we would treat their siblings who are without challenges. We should instead adapt certain practices in order to ensure they continue to learn, thrive, and grow in the safest environment possible. Children who are older and have behavioral challenges may require enhanced supervision, more structure in their daily routines, and more assistance with tasks such as completing their homework.
Look to think outside of the box to find ways in which we can help children – for instance – by taking breaks in between tasks and limiting electronic use until after certain items are completed.
I worked with a family where one child had both ADHD and dyslexia, and completing homework was quite the challenge after school. We initially tried to work on assignments together right when she got off the bus in order to get it out of the way, however, it was clear that wasn’t working when she could barely sit still and complete a single question on the sheet. I realized it was important to allow some time for relaxation and mind stimulation in ways other than homework after a long day in the classroom. We began to spend some time after school kicking around a soccer ball, playing board games, and engaging in other recreational activities. Then, we designated a certain time to begin homework with additional time to wind down in the evening. I found this to be an effective way to meet her halfway, and before I knew it, she was able to focus on the assignments with a clear mind.
Such practices might not be of use with all children, but this is just an example of how we can be flexible and adjust our days with little ones in the hopes that getting through the day for them is that much more feasible and pleasurable.
Written by our Marketing & Social Media Consultant, Taylor Bell