Why I prefer babysitters who have NO background with autism

My kids are both on the autism spectrum. That’s not news to any of us. Weirdly enough, though, their whole identity is not “autistic kid.” So when someone comes into our lives and treats them like their identified difference is the most important thing about them, it puts ALL of us on edge.

We’re in the process of interviewing new babysitters. I met with three women, and set up times for them to come by my place to meet with the kids. It’s important for me to have their feedback on potential longterm sitters. After all, I’m not the one who has to spend significant time with the new person, right?

So someone came over today. When I initially met her last week, something rubbed me the wrong way. She seemed almost … too excited that my kids were on the spectrum. I’ve gone out of my way to not hire traditionally-trained respite care workers, as I’m not interested in my kids having “therapists.” I just want someone fun and responsible who gets along with the kids and can appropriately put out any fires. Do they have some behaviours I’d like to modify? Sure. And guess what? I’m sure I have some behaviours they’d like me to modify too.

I should probably backtrack for a moment here, throw in a disclaimer. My kids are, for the most part, extremely “high-functioning.” They’re verbal, they can do many things independently, and other things with reminders and support. They are weird and quirky and extraordinarily nerdy (the boy especially). At almost 10 and 8, they basically just need a warm body who has a passing interest in kids, good references, and who won’t rob me blind. Other parents have other needs for their childcare providers. Sometimes folks who have their kids in an intensive behavioural intervention program bend the rules a little, and hire “respite” providers who can also throw in some therapy. I have no issue with that. That’s just not what I’m looking for, because it doesn’t fit my philosophy of living with autism (which is admittedly based on living with two kids who are highly capable).

Back to the main story. This individual has a history of working with children with a variety of disabilities, and is very interested in getting some experience in working with children with autism in particular. Laudable, but perhaps not a good fit with our family. I decided, though, to let the kids make the call on this one, and arranged to have her come over this afternoon.

The kids were not impressed. Within two minutes of coming in the door, they disappeared into their rooms, refusing to have any contact with her at all. After a brief talk with them in which I explained the importance of their feedback in this process (and letting them know that doing it this way was a lot better than if I chose a sitter without their feedback, and that a sitter would be hired regardless), they played nice and gave her some time.

I stayed out of the way, but listened to the interactions from afar, to let her figure out how to interact with them. Meh.

In talking with them after she left, the girl admitted that she was very uncomfortable with the amount that this person touched her (not once asking if touch was acceptable). The number one rule I’ve enforced with my kids is to not let anyone touch them (or them touch anyone else) without asking permission first. That she noticed that enough to mention it says that she will not be comfortable with this sitter. Done and done.

As for the boy? He’d likely just stay in his room anyway, but he agreed that he didn’t get much out of the interaction. He asked instead if a friend of mine who hung out with them the other night could be their regular sitter instead, not realizing that she hadn’t been there for an interview, but was just doing me a huge favour.

But, my friend treats my kids like kids: nerdy weird kids, not autism in little person packages. And the kids can sense that. We don’t have secrets about autism in our house, but we also don’t live every moment like autism is what we’re all about. The kids will meet another individual tomorrow night. This one has no experience whatsoever with autism. Sounds good already.


1 Comment

  1. 'Vandyke Brown' said,

    May 24, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Your kids are quirky, intelligent, sparkly humans. They can be challenging, but that’s ’cause they are KIDS, not just remarkably short humans.

    They also seem (I say ‘seem’ b/c I’m still getting to know your kids) to be happiest around people who listen to them, ask them questions about stuff: how did you learn how to do that awesome cartwheel, how DO you build a space station, how does nobody figure out that Miley Cyrus is Hannah Montana, what colour is Tuesday, etc. They, like all children, want to be acknowledged, listened to, and cheered.

    Oh, and pushed on the swings.

    And while I’ve only hung out with your kids a little bit, they’ve always been delightful: polite, happy kids while in my care. Crazy, yes, but awesome.

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