A Resource for Nannies and Families

Special Needs? Special Nanny

As the childcare industry proliferates and nannies become more educated and specialized in what they can offer families, caregivers for special needs children are in higher demand, according to the International Nanny Association.

Families of children with behavioral, intellectual and developmental challenges are often most in need of additional support in caring for their little ones, and the intersection of these families with the segment of highly skilled caregivers who are trained in catering to special needs has created a nanny niche.


The INA’s website, nanny.org, details the exceptional skill set of in-home professionals equipped to care for children with varying abilities, a set which encompasses health-care certifications, intangible strengths, and knowledge of the particular communicative and behavioral challenges faced by the youngsters in their charge.

Nannies with the greatest degree of specialization may have distinct resumes in supporting children with disabilities such as autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or Down syndrome.

Non-profit organizations like The Arc provide information and support services for individuals with over 100 disabilities, and associations such as the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) and Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), offer similar resources for those living with the conditions for which they advocate.

The basic tools utilized by a special needs nanny, the INA points out, are the same as a well-trained or experienced caregiver of any child. A first aid certification equips a nanny to be a child’s first responder in the event of an emergency, and information on training sessions is available at redcross.org. The Red Cross also offers a CPR certification, which can save lives in the most emergent circumstances.

In addition to these simple crisis-management skills, character goes a long way in caring for children with unique challenges. Patience is more than a virtue; it’s a necessity when providing support and companionship for special needs kids who can, without intending it, test the boundaries of social and behavioral etiquette. And it is compassion that allows childcare professionals to form strong enough bonds with their charges to help them nurture relationships or maneuver through social situations in which they might be at risk.

Education and certification

Specialized professional training is available for a variety of special needs. The Arc offers five courses on understanding and supporting people with autism spectrum disorder. According to thearc.org, children living with ASD can struggle with social communication and exhibit “limited patterns of thought and behavior.” In more severe cases, a charge can be extremely sensitive to light, sound, textures, odors and tastes, and trained caregivers can be more adept at calming and reducing frustration.

The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) offers an autism certification for professionals who work with autistic people, show continued education and can pass the Autism Certificate Competency Exam.

For children with ADHD, CHADD recommends finding a caregiver who is experienced in behavior management. Children can manifest ADHD in three presentations: primarily inattentive, primarily hyperactive, and combined presentation. In addition to these symptoms, children can experience issues with depression, anxiety and self-esteem and can struggle with co-existing conditions. As a result, children with one or more presentations can have difficulty learning, sitting still, understanding expectations and fitting into systems.

A nanny who specializes in behavior management can provide a structured setting, set boundaries and define a model of discipline. By building the relationship between behaviors and consequences, a professional caregiver can help a child build confidence, improve social skills, capitalize on strengths and bolster the positive techniques parents have established in the home. Becoming certified as a behavior management specialist can require masters-level education, but caregivers can reach the status of behavior management aide by completing an associate’s degree in behavioral studies or a bachelor’s degree in social sciences.

According to the NDSS, people with Down syndrome can live with congenital heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems and can be at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, autism, childhood leukemia and thyroid conditions. Among other difficulties, children with Down syndrome can struggle with verbal communication. Like children with other disabilities, children with Down syndrome can range from highly functioning and independent to in need of significant and daily support.

Nannies with degrees in special education, speech language pathology or both may be the most qualified caregivers for the child with Down syndrome, while professionals with years of experience caring for children with the condition might have accumulated a similar skill set through on-the-job training.

Childcare pros who are educated and experienced in caring for children with special needs can be found using sittercity.com.

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