A Break for Caregivers: Respite Care

Respite care is, very simply, substitute care. A respite caregiver is a person who takes over when the primary caregiver takes a break. Sometimes the break is just a few minutes or hours and sometimes it's as long as a week or more.

Caregiver showing child drawing
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Why Caregivers Need Respite Care

There are many situations for which, as a caregiver, you may need respite care, including:

  • You need to get to the doctor for your own checkup.
  • You have another child, a spouse, or a parent who needs you.
  • You're close to your breaking point and unable to do a good job of caring for your autistic loved one.
  • You haven't had alone time with yourself or a partner for far too long.

Taking care of a child with autism is stressful. Without respite care, you run the risk of losing your health, your relationships, and your sense of humor. Without those critical tools, you'll be no help to your loved one with autism.  

Giving Yourself Permission to Take a Break

It can be hard as a parent or caregiver to justify taking a break from your child or loved one with autism. You may feel that you should be there for your loved one and that no one else can do it like you can. While this is true on one level, taking a break is important and necessary for your own mental health so that you can be at your best for your child or loved one's sake, as well as the rest of your family. One study even showed that parents had less stress and better quality marriages with every hour of respite care they used.

Occasionally having someone else take care of your child or loved one also helps them develop stronger relationships with other people, an important part of life. So go ahead and plan that afternoon, evening, or week away and know that you're actually doing something good for everyone involved.

Options for Respite Care

Options for respite care vary depending upon your respite needs and the needs of your autistic loved one. If you just need an evening out, it's often possible to call on friends, family, or a competent adult babysitter. If those people aren't available, other options may be accessible through your place of worship or through your state’s Developmental Disabilities Council or Family Services Agency.

The National Respite Network

The National Respite Network is a nonprofit dedicated to helping caregivers find competent, trained respite care. Their locator database can give you a good start in the process of finding the right person for you. The site also includes fact sheets and information about respite care.

Funding Respite Care

Unless you're lucky enough to have friends and family able and willing to look after your autistic loved one, you will have to pay for the service. Many states have Developmental Disabilities Councils, The ARC of the United States, Easter Seals, and other respite care programs that may be helpful.

Consider the Possibilities

When you first seek respite care, you may be envisioning a caring adult coming to your home. But respite comes in many shapes and sizes. If you're flexible, you may find a wider range of possibilities. For example, you may find that a well-run summer camp program is a better option for you and your child than an in-home care provider. You may also find that just a few hours away can make a world of difference to your health and outlook.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Whitmore KE, Snethen J. Respite care services for children with special healthcare needs: Parental perceptions. J Spec Pediatr Nurs. 2018;23(3):e12217. doi:10.1111/jspn.12217

  2. Harper A, Taylor Dyches T, Harper J, Olsen Roper S, South M. Respite care, marital quality, and stress in parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. J Autism Dev Disord. 2013;43(11):2604-2616. doi:10.1007/s10803-013-1812-0

Additional Reading

By Lisa Jo Rudy
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.