Yesterday I was speaking with a couple of parents who were having trouble finding respite workers to help them out. If a parent doesn't have suitable family in the area, it can be difficult, but it's not impossible.
Finding someone who can give special needs parents a break is always a difficult proposition. But as challenging as it is, it's also necessary. Even if the "break" is having someone watch your child while you take a nap or read a book in another room, every parent needs some time when they're not in charge.
To deal with a child with autism, a respite worker needs to be steady, not easily freaked out, have a sense of humour and be responsible. That usually lets out hiring the local 12 or 13 year old babysitters.
But there are other places to look:
Algonquin College's applied behaviour program and Ottawa U's early childhood education program. The students in these programs want to work with kids, and, in the case of Algonquin, want to work with special needs kids. They're reasonably mature and usually need part-time work as well as practical experience. The downside is that they usually don't have independent transportation, which can limit their ability to help out. You can place an ad on the "Jobs" billboards or contact the administration to be put in touch with students seeking work.
Local high schools. To graduate, a student needs to put in 40 hours of volunteer work. Respite work for a special needs family counts. Ask the principal to give your contact information to students who are suitable and looking for part time work.
Scouts Canada and Girl Guides Canada. The older groups (Venturers and Pathfinders) are of a suitable age and tend to be of a suitable temperment. Again, contact your local leaders and see if they will put you in touch with potential candidates.
Educational Aides at your local school. Ask the principal of your local elementary school if any of the educational aides are interested in working part time with your family. An EA salary is fairly low, so most of them supplement their income with respite and tutoring work.
I've heard of some families who have success sharing a part-time nanny, but this is usually a more expensive and permanent option.
And one final note, don't be afraid to fire people who aren't working out. I hired one girl who came highly recommended by our local high school principal, but she would spend her time on her phone rather than interacting with the boys. I felt very awkward firing her as I didn't want to burn my bridges with the school. But I did and I quietly explained the issue to the principal and we're still on good terms.
If you find someone good who works well with your family, then that can be a great resource for the future. We're past the stage of needing daily help, but I still have two respite workers who've been working with us for over five years now and who I can count on for babysitting and other help.