Local Mom’s Website Connects Parents of Children With Special Needs to Qualified Babysitters
Photographer: Brian Brosmer
Two years ago, Marie Maher received an official diagnosis from doctors that her son, Yves, had autism. The diagnosis explained what she thought to be behavioral issues with her son, but it also left Maher with more questions and much to learn.
Prior to the diagnosis, Maher was struggling to find babysitters that could watch Yves, along with her daughter Luella, while she and her husband went out for a date night or when events came up. It left the Mahers in a tough position.
“We were having behavior issues with him simply because we didn’t know what was going on,” Maher says. “We would always get calls from our sitters asking us to come home. They just didn’t know how to handle it. We avoided going out at all because we thought we had a kid with behavior issues and no one wanted to watch him. I couldn’t relax when I went out for anything. My husband and I would go months without a date night or anything like that. Then we got his diagnosis and everything changed.”
For Maher, it was an eye-opening moment. At the time, Maher was running a networking website in which she helped connect babysitters looking for work and parents looking for a sitter to watch their children. With more than 500 sitters listed on her site, she began interviewing new sitters that might be able to watch her son.
She quickly realized how the conversation with these sitters shifted once she mentioned that Yves had autism.
“The moment I would say that my son has autism I would see this person change and get very uncomfortable,” Maher says. “I would text or call them later and never hear back. I started to realize that we needed a different kind of babysitter.”
At the same time, Maher’s son began ABA therapy sessions. As Maher talked with the ABA therapists, she quickly realized that many of them wanted to babysit for parents of children with autism, but they were not allowed to provide that service for kids that attended their center and didn’t know how to connect with other families outside of ABA therapy.
“That is when I had my light-bulb moment,” Maher says. “I thought, ‘Maybe there is an ABA therapist, a speech therapist or a nursing student somewhere else that I could ask to babysit.’ That is when I decided to make the shift in my website and start focusing instead on getting babysitters for the special needs community.”
Synapse Sitters was born. Maher’s new business is an online networking community that provides qualified candidates for those parents looking for babysitters. Sitters use the site to become a member, which lists them as available in the network, and parents use the site for a monthly fee to find and choose the right sitter for their child.
As Maher dove headfirst into this new calling, she quickly found out that she was not the only parent in the Indianapolis and surrounding areas that needed help finding a babysitter for children with special needs.
“I decided, ‘Why don’t we start in Indianapolis and put this on one platform and see what happens,’” Maher says. “The response has been overwhelming, both from parents and from qualified sitters looking for work. We’ve had well over 100 parents join so far. We are just trying to let these families know that we are here and this is available for them.”
All babysitters looking for work can join Maher’s website and become a member, free of charge. Maher also has every sitter go through an extensive background check and pre-qualification process to make sure they meet the requirements needed for the service.
For parents, membership costs $29.95 a month, and families can cancel the membership at any time. The greatest relief of the process is that Synapse Sitters is not a placement agency. Instead, parents and sitters get connected through the site, meet, talk and mutually decide if they want to work together while agreeing on dates, times and pay rate.
“Running a business is hard, but we’ve heard from many parents that appreciate the service and that means a lot,” Maher says. “Everyday I go through our sitter candidates, reach out to employers and verify their education. We also try to monitor the messaging going on between parents and sitters. We are working on ways to get a mobile app going, so it will be more like instant messaging. We can’t fill the gap for everyone, but we can certainly try.”
Yves, who is now six years old, like any other child, has his own quirks and interests.
“He is obsessed with vacuum cleaners,” Maher says. “The first thing he will say to you when he meets you is, ‘Hello, my name is Yves. What kind of vacuum do you have?’ He loves logos of any kind, too. He is starting to realize that vacuum cleaners have logos and model numbers, and he can tell you the model numbers of his favorite vacuum cleaners.”
His excitement has led to many vacuum-themed birthday parties. It also sparked an idea for Maher when she was asked to run for Best Buddies of Indiana Champion of the Year in 2018. While thinking of fun ways to raise money for the campaign, she thought about her son’s birthday one year and the time a friend made shirts that said “Yves Vacuum Sales & Service.”
Maher decided to have more of the shirts made with the profits going to the Best Buddies of Indiana campaign.
“The shirts sold like crazy,” she says. “My goal was to raise $1,000 and, in three weeks, we raised almost $1,100 for the Best Buddies campaign.”
While Maher did not win the Champion of the Year, her campaign raised more than $6,000 for the cause.
Overall, Synapse Sitters has not only changed the lives of others but Maher’s family as well. She utilizes sitters from her site and says it has made a significant impact in her home.
“My husband consistently tells me that Synapse Sitters is the best thing I’ve ever done for our marriage,” Maher says. “We have three sitters that we can call on at any time. I rarely miss any meetings or events now. We don’t get calls in the middle of our date nights anymore, and my kids are happy when I get home. It has been night and day, just from my own personal experience.”