Meeting the Family

How to interview for a special needs caregiving job

caregiver meeting family

Every child -- and every family -- has a different set of requirements. When interviewing for a job caring for a child with special needs, make sure it's a two-way conversation. Whether or not you have previous experience caring for children with special needs, the parents will be looking at more than just your skills and experience.  They're looking for a person who has genuine interest in their child and not just someone looking for a job.

You need to ask questions that help you get to know the family and understand their child's needs. It's important to always emphasize the possibilities -- and not the limitations -- when talking to the parents. Their child is not a victim, but a whole person with extraordinary qualities. The main point you need to convey is respect for the child and respect for the family's choices. The child is more important that his or her diagnosis. If you have difficulty relating to that idea, then this is not the job for you. Parents will be looking to see if you can see through their child's diagnosis to the "treasure" of the personality and character inside.

Here are some guidelines for discussing the job with the family:

  • Ask what the child enjoys, not what activities he or she prefers.
  • For a non-verbal child, ask about the child's favorite ways to communicate, not "How do I know what she wants?"
  • Don't ask about how limited the child is -- focus on the positive! Find out what the child excels at and how you can support and nurture those skills.
  • Inquire about the nanny's anticipated role within the family. Do family members consider themselves very private? Would they prefer you to be more in the background or very involved with the family?
  • Find out what the family's expectations are of a nanny. Would you support family members who would be the primary caregivers, or would they expect you to take on a larger role? Is there a specific area they would want you to concentrate on, or would your responsibilities be more general? Do the family's preferences correspond to your own?
  • How does the child respond to new caregivers? Would any specific strategies help with the transition?
  • On a practical level, get specific with the family about the child's daily routine and medical needs.
  • Does the child do best with more or less structure?
  • What about food allergies, food preparation and feeding issues?
  • Is there anything in particular to be avoided or to watch for, or any special safety concerns?

These questions will provide important information about the child and also help you determine whether or not this job is the right match for you. After you leave the interview, reflect on whether or not you were comfortable with the family, the child and your expected role. If you are not comfortable with the situation, be up-front with the family. If you think you might like the job but aren't sure, ask if you can spend a little more time talking with the parents or visiting the family in a casual, non-interview setting, perhaps join them for an activity.

If you are comfortable with the job description and want to take the job, remember that children with special needs are just children. They do not define themselves in terms of their disability, and neither should you! They blossom with love, understanding and respect. With the right connection between caregiver and child you will both flourish!

Liz Weinstein is a freelance writer and television producer based in Boston and New York.

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Comments (33)
Kamlawatie G.
thank you so much for this article it will help me for other interview; as you said connection with the child is so important.I love kids and more passionate with those that need my help with their kids.
Posted: March 20, 2014 at 10:56 AM
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Sara B.
Thanksso much for yours informative article, I have been working for the last 10 years I love the children. I cared two adorable girls that was my best time
Posted: November 10, 2012 at 7:54 PM
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Ruth B.
I really appreciate the article , it gave me some insight into interviewing , I found it very helpful, I raised a son with special need's so I can relate.
Posted: November 09, 2012 at 1:34 PM
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Yojany R.
Very important information, thanks so much,I have read it thoroughly and intend to use your tips the next time. Yojany
Posted: November 08, 2012 at 10:57 AM
Deb S.
Thank you . Information of any kind for caring for children is always helpful. No two children are alike. They are like snowflakes each beauiful and different in their own way. I love them all! Gods gift is our best jobs as nannies. How lucky we are to do it .
Posted: November 08, 2012 at 9:51 AM
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Yolanda S.
Excellent information for nanny who wants to work with special needs, I will use it. Thank You, Yolanda
Posted: November 08, 2012 at 9:28 AM
Trieu T.
I will save this article for the next interview. It is really help me.
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 11:58 PM
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Maryann C.
I liked n enjoy reading the feedback
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 10:09 PM
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Diana G.
Thank you soo much for this article. It is really helping me in my interview process.
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 9:15 PM
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Phyllis L.
thank you for the special articals,i really enjoyed reading them.its nice to know that there are people out there that really care about theses special kids that need our love and attention. thank you phyllis leclerc
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 8:43 PM
Piedad R.
I love these section what to ask in an interview, I learn a lot thank you for these information
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 8:23 PM
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Edilene M.
I dont have any experience as a nanny with special need child but i love to explore and share my care to there needs and there families .
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 8:23 PM
Phunchoe S.
It's a great article and so helpful.

I have been take care one special need children for shortly three days.

She inspires me with her beautiful inn soul and i really appreciate by this opportunity to knowing their special spirit.

Thank you
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 7:54 PM
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Melinda W.
Thank you for this informative article. Love this site. It is so helpful.
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 3:04 PM
Leslie C.
Leslie R Cota Great article! It gave me inspiration and encouragement! Reminding me, of what I had forgotten, I do know already! AND! Giving me new tools to use in the future. The last paragraph brought a character(who is a possum) from the book "Leo the Lop" to mind; he said to Leo the Lop, who was hanging up side down on from a tree branch with rocks tied to his ears, thinking this would make his ears stand up straight like all the other "normal rabbits." The possum said,"Normal is what you are Leo. You are perfect just the way you are." Thanks again for the article
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 3:02 PM
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Catalina D.
I thins, Im part of the family.when .I need help, you are there,THANKS WITH ALL MY HEART GOD BLESS YOU for good work.
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 2:35 PM
Dhanmatee G.
hi thank you i have little experience with special need kids most of me i foucs on the kids i have big urge to help all love dhanmatee
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 2:35 PM
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Cassi T.
hi, in high school. I worked all type of special need children. They were all different ages. I helped them with swimming, getting dressed before and after swimming. Watched them in the pool. Helped them get to gym, music. Helped get their meals. They learned how to cook in the classroom and I helped with that. Then they needed help on and off of the bus. I also took pictures and shared with the classroom. I was the teacher son's high school buddy. And now I work on saturday's from 11-1:00 in woodinville WA. But if you need me durning the week I am free.
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 1:58 PM
Patricia H.
I am trained in working with Children who have special needs. I have no one in my family who has special needs but I dearly love those children.I have been working with them from 2001 and they are very special.
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 1:49 PM
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Cynthia R.
Hello. I walked away from my interview thinking, " Okay, I covered everything and specifically know what my potential client wants me to do. " waiting on my coffee 5 minutes later at the nearby Starbucks, it hit me. They were clear enough. It was I that continued to explain some other issues that were not even mentioed by the potential client. Maybe I was bragging, nervous, or (what I think ), made an assumption. As soon as I left I realized it! Why did I make something simple and clear. complicated and ambiguous? Man, I could kick myself! And about focusing on the child--That was the other stupid thing that I'd done wrong almost immediately. I realized that the third mistake I made right after the interview, was why on earth did I state any of my personal barriers/reasons for NOT being able Make our schedules work. Man! Why did I do that??? I am such an idiot ! I had thought that one over ahead of time and made a conscious mental note to self to specifically NOT do that! Why or why did I screw up such a good and sure thing? Why ? Your advice is so specific to my interview yesterday. My first thought after reading was, WOW! She must have to YOU what happened, so you sent me this article to help me! Or Were you guys in the next booth at the restaurant, critiquing my interviewing flaws so you could tell me what I did wrong later? (Ha ha) Thanks for the help, in any case. It's just that right after the meeting, -- I knew what I did wrong. I don't think I can fix it now. Oh well... Next time. Sincerely, Cindy R.
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 1:40 PM
Marie S.
Very important information, thanks so much,I have read it thoroughly and intend to use your tips the next time I go for an interview for working with special needs children.
Marie Stanislaus.
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Catherine W.
my name is Catherine Wilkinson and i am a special needs care provider.
i worked for a family that had a handicap boy, who was diagnosed when he was a toddler, with epilepsy. Definitely special needs, but the famkly (a single mom and two kids, inc. the boy) was really warm and receptive to me, and i worked for 15 years in Switzerland. So i hope you ever read this can see how well i can handle that kind of situation.
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Shirin S.
I'm really impressed with your good article (Meeting the family),so many helpful suggestions.I enjoy learning all the new information,and different points of view.
Thank you,
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 12:12 PM
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Julia R.
thank you so much for this article it will help me for an interview; as you said connection with the child is so important.I love kids and more passionate with those that need help with their disabilities.
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 12:11 PM
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April K.
thanks, special needs are not the so usual types of child care and need special concerns and training to help in all situations of each that needs care. April
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 11:20 AM
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Pardiss B.
Thank you for browsing my notes. I have had very little experience with specieal needs kids in the past but I Have studied enough about some. I am also interested to meet them as well as their families.
I have a big urge to help people with disability.
Thank you
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 10:01 AM
Riana B.
Very helpful for me at an interview
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 10:00 AM
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Melinda L.
I appreciate how hard you all work at to gather and offer
so many helpful suggestions. I enjoy learning all the new info. and the insight s offered from a different point of view. I have often wanted to care for those who have special needs as I had a downsyndrome patient at one of my previous work places. She was one who's visit I looked forward to! She taught me more than I could have ever taught her! However, I don't have experience in that area. I am extremely sesitive to others needs and compassionate (almost to a fault). I have a son who has a mental illness and that has had a profound affe t on how I view the world now-I can empathize. Thank you so much for jump starting my thought process this morning;) Melinda L.
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 9:20 AM
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Lauren B.
I enjoyed the article just wish you would use child first language (children with special needs not special needs children). Thanks!
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 9:05 AM
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Jacqueline K.
I know how to take care of children with special needs, Because I have one myself.And yes they are unique in their own special way.
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 9:00 AM
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Judy A.
This is a good article. However, as a nanny/caregiver make sure you are not being asked, nor represent that you are going to be doing something that is beyond your training of basic first aid.

I do like how the author said the child is not their diagnosis. This is true, so true, for all children. We need to understand a child on a personal level and care for them on a potential level.

If you do an interview like this get all of the facts you need and make an informed decision. Ask the parents for websites and books you can read to know more about the child's special needs. This will assist you prior to the interview, at the interview and when you accept the job.

Nanny and Educator
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 8:41 AM
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Yingxin S.
I love the children;I like this job.
Posted: November 07, 2012 at 7:36 AM
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Caterina N.
I'm really impressed with your wording in this section, "Meeting the family", interviewing for special needs child.
Sincerely, Caterina
a special needs child's mom
Posted: November 04, 2012 at 6:22 PM
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