Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

A Young Woman's First Job Benefits Two Families

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

A Young Woman's First Job Benefits Two Families

Article excerpt

After six years of being home with Amy children, I returned to work in 1991. My son, Benjamin, was six and a half, and my daughter, Anna, was two and a half. Making arrangements for Anna was easy; she began attending a daycare center. But what would I do with Ben? Ben has severe mental retardation. He is non-verbal and nonambulatory, and has a seizure disorder (under control). At the time, he still wore diapers.

Because of his sensory integration problems, the noise and commotion of a daycare center would make Ben miserable. I also knew that the teacher-student ratio would not be adequate. My husband and I also decided against a family daycare home because Ben is very difficult in other people's homes. He is very unhappy unless he is watching his videotapes. He also would not be interested in playing with other children. We needed a sitter in our home.

Ben attends Kirk School, which serves students with mental retardation and multiple disabilities in the suburban Chicago area. My husband, Alan, a computer consultant, arranged his schedule to be home in the morning so he could take Anna to daycare and put Ben on the school bus. For after-school care, we advertised at the local high school, and found a student to come to our home until I returned from work. Over the next year and a half, we used two other high school students. When our last sitter graduated, we found ourselves in a bind

While fretting over where we would find a sitter, I began thinking about what the job really entailed. The sitter needed to get into my house, take Ben off the bus, put him on the toilet, and turn on the television and videotapes. Ben never varies from his routine. It was not a "difficult" job. I just needed a reliable person who could phone my husband or me in case of an emergency.

Stunned, but thrilled

I decided to ask Glady Sander, one of our neighbors, if she thought her daughter, Dawn, might want to babysit for us. Dawn attends the special education program at our local high school. She had always enjoyed coming over and playing with my kids.

Glady was stunned at my request, but phoned four days later to say she and her husband would be thrilled for Dawn to have her first job. However, they were worried that this might be too big a step for her. They were concerned about my son's needs and the responsibility Dawn would be assuming.

They eventually decided to let Dawn work for us, feeling they would never know Dawn's full potential unless she was given the opportunity to try. Glady is home in the afternoons and would be able to stay with Dawn for the first few months while Dawn learned the routine. Glady would also be available whenever a problem came up. When we asked Dawn what she thought about working for us, she was so excited. She immediately said, "When I go to their house, I can bring in their mail!' We all felt this comment was a good sign because it showed her initiative.

The next Saturday, Dawn and Glady came to our home, armed with a clipboard and a list of questions. I showed Dawn how to unhook Ben's bus harness, how to put him on the toilet and how to work the VCR. We talked about what to do if Ben soils his pants, what to do if he is unhappy and what he likes to eat. We also agreed that Dawn would not answer the doorbell or the telephone.

This first meeting made me realize how complicated this "easy" job really was. …

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