Spectrum Sitters is making it easy to find in-home child care for special-needs children.
By Harshita Avirneni, Photo courtesy of Spectrum Sitters
Making a difference one appointment at a time, Spectrum Sitters strives to provide a reliable and simple service for parents who need specialized sitters for special-needs children. Founded by CEO Mindy Minto in October 2016, Spectrum Sitters is a referral service for on-call sitters and nannies that finds qualified professionals and students in special-education fields to provide in-home child care for kids with any type of disability.
“The idea for Spectrum Sitters was borne out of my own need for sitters for my son, Charlie,” Minto says. “Charlie has autism. As a working mom, I was always struggling with finding sitters that were trained with special-needs children. All I wanted to do is provide an amazing service for families like mine that is easy.”
Serving as a chairperson for Autism Speaks, Minto met many of the therapy providers in Austin, and after the group sponsored an Autism Speaks Walk, word quickly spread about the service. By June 2017, Spectrum Sitters expanded to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Currently, Spectrum Sitters is spread throughout Texas, providing services in Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and surrounding areas. The service has about 200 sitters overall and twice as many clients.
“The hardest part was just making sure that it didn’t grow too fast,” Minto says. “What I didn’t want to happen was to have 800 families sign up and not have enough sitters to provide a service. It was a balancing act recruiting the sitters and getting them referred over to me and at the same time making sure I was providing the service needed for the families.”
All appointments are scheduled through the Spectrum Sitters website. Once a client becomes a member on the site, he or she can request sitters whenever needed.
Minto personally screens each sitter and has met with every single one. She interviews them, performs background checks and consults references. When pairing a sitter and a client, Minto also makes sure the sitter can attend to the specific needs of the client.
“Spectrum Sitters has allowed my son to remain in his safe, comfortable space while I am away,” client Nicole Citro says. “He can be himself in the company of someone who understands his challenges and does not pass judgment on his unique behaviors. For me, Spectrum Sitters has been the biggest blessing I have received since my son was diagnosed with autism six years ago.”
Citro adds her favorite part about the service is the quality of the sitters. She says it only takes two minutes to explain her son’s routine and then she is out the door. With anyone else, she would have to leave a notebook.
Client Nicole Chaney feels the same way.
“We wanted to have someone that we trust with the girls, not only Colette, who has autism, but also with our neurotypical children too,” Chaney says. “The sitters are so attentive and reliable. They are not just there to play; they are actually there to interact. I think [Spectrum Sitters] is really important because a service like this really opens the eyes of the community. It builds up an awareness to open more services like this.”
Although Spectrum Sitters is mostly for younger children, the service has extended to families with teenagers and young adults with special needs. In these cases, the sitters act as peers, taking the teens to a movie or the mall when they don’t want to go with their parents.
“I think it’s incredibly important,” says Jessica Cantu, a special-education teacher and sitter. “I know that my families have a very difficult time finding trusted care for their kids. Oftentimes, kids with autism…have trouble communicating and expressing wants and needs, so they need somebody specialized in working with kids with disabilities that know how to react to their wants and needs. You can’t just hire someone off the street.”
In the future, Minto plans to expand the business throughout the country. Currently focusing on growing the company in Houston, Minto plans to go to Atlanta and Boulder, Colo., next because there’s demand in those cities for the specialized services her business provides.
Minto also serves as the CEO of Spectrum-Ed, a company she founded to help special-needs children succeed in school. She hopes her companies offer parents peace of mind knowing their kids are cared for.
“The people I have met through [Spectrum Sitters] have been amazing,” Minto says. “It’s been nice to make friends with the some of the clients where we can laugh and talk about the crazy things our kids do that other parents might not understand. I love it.”