Finding Respite Care

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How To Get A Respite From Caring For Your Special Needs Child

Caring for a Special Needs child is a Full Time job with no vacation and no breaks.  The stress and isolation takes a toll on your physical and mental health.  Finding Respite Care will give your mind and body a much needed break.



Yes, I need a break.  Now what? 

In Why Respite Care Is Important we determined the importance of getting a break, but how in the world can we get one? 

How To Find Respite Care

A break can range from getting a friend or relative to watch your kids for a while so you can go shopping and actually walk down every aisle at Target . . . all . . . by . . . your . . . self or can be an actual service that provides professional respite care.  There are even camps where your child with special needs and sometimes their siblings can all go for a week. 

I’ve done all of those when my now almost 18-year-old was younger. 

Enlist Your Spouse To Get a Much Needed Break

There were times my husband got home from work and I met him at the door with the kids and told him “I’m going to Target, dinners on the stove,” which is code for “If I don’t get a break I’m going to explode” or something similar.  He was wise enough to say “Have fun honey” and step out of the way.   

One of my favorite gifts from my husband was a night away by myself in a hotel while he took care of everything at home. 

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help

But what if you do not have someone at home to tag team with? What if you truly are doing this all by yourself?  


Ask Family If They Can Help With Your Special Needs Child


This is when we must get over your fear of asking for help and actually ask for help.  That is hard for most caregivers to do, but Mama, for your sake you need to do it.  Call a friend and swap babysitting, hire a babysitting if you can afford it, and if you need to, stick in a movie and sit back with headphones in and listen to some music, do a craft or read a book while your kids are occupied. 

I used to buy movies from the $5 bin and hide them away for those moments when I needed a break, but no one was able to help.  The new movie kept my kid’s attention for at least a little while.   

See If Grandparents, Aunts, or Uncles Can Babysit

Every other year we spend Christmas with my parents.  When we are at their house, my husband and I get away for one night in a neighboring town.  We walk around a mall, go out to eat somewhere with adult food (no chicken nuggets) and just reconnect and enjoy each other’s company.  I have also done this by myself. 


Grandparents, Aunts, and Uncles Are Great Caregivers.


If your child has complex medical needs that a friend or grandparent would have a hard time handling, start with them coming to your house so you can get that thirty-minute bubble bath alone.  You are still readily available but can have at least a short break. 

Can I Get Free Respite Care?

My son qualified for 4 hours a week.  I used that time to go shopping, to a doctor’s appointment or lunch with a friend.  The program that we used had federal grant money that paid for these services, but some agencies will also have a sliding scale.  There are also options that you would have to pay out of pocket for. 

Special Needs Camps

My favorite break I had was when my kids went to a camp specifically for children with special needs and their siblings.  Each child with special needs had a one on one helper as well as each cabin had a nurse to oversee any medical needs.


Camp Barnabas is Great!


Imagine a camp where a ropes course is fully accessible even for young people in wheelchairs, dance parties and games every night, a swimming pool with  a huge zero entry area and water slides wide enough to go three side by side so children who need extra physical help can go down as well.  A place where every child with a special need has the opportunity to do all the same things other kids do at summer camp. 

What made this a true respite was the fact that they had a sibling camp that ran concurrently.  The siblings got to do all the fun stuff the other campers got to do, but also spend time with others who shared the distinction of having a sibling with disabilities. 


Sending Special Needs Children To Camp


My older son came back with such a great perspective from that first week that when he aged out of the sibling camp he started going as a volunteer, first just helping serve meals and cleaning bathrooms, to his final year as a one on one helper to a camper with special needs.   


Whether living with, near or far away from your loved one, you may still experience some of the physical, emotional and social impacts of caregiving. These include high blood pressure, increased risk of stroke and heart attack, greater chance for depression and social isolation, amongst others.

~Easter Seals Website


Where Can I Find Respite Care?

Respite care is simply short-term care for a child with special needs so that the caregiver can have a break. I was able to choose people I already knew and felt comfortable with to provide my respite care. 

Check into services offered by your county, state or an agency affiliated with the specific special needs of your child.  One county we lived in offered services including respite care for families with children with disabilities. 

If you do not know anyone to provide this service, these agencies will have a list of qualified people who they have done background checks on and in some cases have specific training for any complexities of your child’s diagnosis. 

People you might ask about finding a special needs sitter:

  • Occupational Therapists
  • Speech Therapists
  • Special Education Teachers and Assistants
  • Local Colleges
  • Other Parents With Additional Needs Kids

Choosing a caregiver will depend on the amount of care your disabled child needs.  Some kids may just need supervision and someone who enjoys the outdoors or playing games.  Other children with medically complex diagnosis will need certified medical staff.


You Need A Break From Your Disabled Child.


Resources for Finding Special Needs Sitters

As we look for places to receive respite care lets start looking with a wide lens at nationwide organizations. 

Arch Respite has search capabilities to find respite, as well as links to state respite registries.

Easter Seals has links to camping and recreation as well as inclusive daycare.

My kids have attended Camp Barnabas for several years if you are looking for one with a religious base. 

Zoom in a little bit and look at organizations both nationally and at the state level for your child’s specific diagnosis.  Sometimes those organizations will have good information about respite care or camps that will meet your child’s specific needs. 

Join groups on Facebook and visit websites specific to the disabilities that you are dealing with.  Sometimes those parents are the best resources. 

Autism Speaks

Cerebral Palsy

 Next zoom in all the way and look locally.  Check with your child’s specialists and other parents of children with special needs to see what organizations they go through to receive respite care. 

 Mama, your wellbeing is an important part of taking care of your family.  Make taking a break a priority so that you can be at the top of your game and can give 100%.

More articles about being a Special Needs parent:

Sending Your Special Needs Child to Camp

Find Your Tribe

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How To Get A Break From Caring For Your Special Needs Child

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