DEAR HARRIETTE: I just started baby-sitting a new family in my neighborhood. The family has two boys, both under age 10. The first day I was there, I noticed that the younger boy seemed to be on the autistic disorder spectrum. I learned about some of the signs in my child psychopathology class in school and immediately associated them with the boy. I had a great time baby-sitting the kids, and I am looking forward to working with them again. The only thing that is bothering me is that the parents did not let me know this beforehand. Not that I would have a problem with babysitting a child with autism, but I think I would have appreciated it if the parents had told me that before.
Now I am wondering if the parents are aware of this at all. Do you think it is appropriate for me to bring up this topic with the parents? -- Worried Baby Sitter, Denver
DEAR WORRIED BABY SITTER: Tread lightly here. First, know that many families do not detect that their children are on the spectrum until late. Doctors say that it is best to detect and treat early so that you can help your child to learn to function at the highest level possible. According to the American Autism Association, these are some signs of autism: will not play “pretend” games, avoids eye contact, has delayed speech, has obsessive interests, avoids physical contact and demonstrates little safety or danger awareness. For more signs, go to: nationalautismassociation.org/resources/signs-of-autism/.
If you have noticed some of these signs, you should mention to one or both parents that you have concerns. Explain that you have been studying this in school and have noticed symptoms that made you question whether this child might need some support. Be careful not to use judgmental language. Be positive and empathetic. Do not push them if they are unwilling to consider your thoughts right now.