When Catherine Pascuas of EdxAutism emailed to ask if she could interview me about hiring “paraprofessionals” – I have to admit, I answered a little too fast. I’m always eager to help young women establish themselves professionally, so I said, “Of course!” before really thinking.
“Paraprofessional,” it occurred to me – and maybe to you – is a term that I generally associate with the extra caretakers more often needed by nonverbal kids, or those whose autism requires more intensive support. That wasn’t my experience – so, could I give her what she really needed?
Later that same week, a reader wrote in on our Facebook page asking:
“ I am wondering how to find baby sitters for kids on the spectrum.. I am having a really difficult time finding anyone who understand ASD… We have 3 children 4, 5 and 7 on the spectrum and are desperate to find some sitters…. any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.. thanks! – Denise”
Put in that light, where “Paraprofessionals” was synonymous with “mother’s helper” or “babysitter” or just “an extra set of hands,” then, YES! I had TEN YEARS of tips to share with Denise, the reader, with Catherine, the interviewer, and with YOU, too.
First, here’s what I wrote back to Denise:
My kids aren’t much older – and I agree, it is a challenge. But not an insurmountable one Here’s what I’ve learned:
- The neighbor’s kid is a good choice for other families. Not so much for ours (although mother’s helpers are good, too, and that’s a possibility here).
- Check local teachers’ colleges – contact the faculty members who, in particular, run special education classes and/or advisory groups, and ask them to make some suggestions. You can offer both pay and references for these students when they apply for jobs.
- Contact local autism chapters to see if they run any respite groups.
- Don’t be shy! Ask for references AND CALL/EMAIL them! Also, do a criminal background check. THESE ARE YOUR KIDS – don’t feel that you are being rude. You’re being SMART.
- Be really clear about eloping (wandering) issues – the more articulate your child, the less likely adults are to expect the very real possibility/dangers.
- Ask instructors at local children’s activities (art studios, dance, sports) if they are interested in “on the side” hours. That’s how we discovered a wonderful gal who worked with us for over a year….(and even ended up being the primary photographer for The Asperkid’s Launch Pad and The Asperkid’s Game Plan!)
- Have structured activities ready to go. Just as for play dates, task-oriented fun guarantees more success than “open play” free-for-all (The Asperkid’s Game Plan is chock FULL of these!)
- Be very clear about explaining your disciplinary expectations, and when, if, and how you’d like the helper to be part of them.
- Encourage open communication ALL the time. Ask questions – don’t make assumptions (that goes both ways!)
In general, you’ll need to offer good pay and – quite possibly – some training of your own, having folks shadow you to get the hang of routines and the behavior management methods you employ.
Hope this helps!
Catherine and I spoke soon afterwards, and her entire post is ready to read at “Creator of Asperkids on Hiring Helping Hands.”
I really do hope you’ll read it – the tips are so important – the fruit of first-hand experiences. For example?
“Make sure your children understand that you’re not bringing in extra help because they are too much for you. Take that pressure off your child.”
And take it off of YOURSELF, too! Let go of the guilt – let go of the fear – let go of the all-or-nothing-perfectionism we don’t want haunting our children, too….
YOU will not be replaced in your child’s heart (my deepest fear) by adding positive relationships to his or her life! You’re actually showing your child that you are not the only safe person in the world – so fear needn’t be such a ruling force when you aren’t around.
Just as important…
You are NOT A FAILURE and NOT UNLOVING if you want a little extra help. Think of this as the air mask in the airplane: you have to preserve yourself first in order to take care of your child…
Even if preservation simply means that you get to shave BOTH legs on the same day without a bathroom visitor. XOXO, Jennifer