Friday, January 29, 2010

Teenage Babysitters for Special Needs Children? Can it Work?

My friend Penny recently wrote an info-packed blog post about the interventions she has tried to make homework successful. I totally know how she feels. We have the same issues here. When do you do homework? Where do you do it? Where does he sit? How do you handle fine motor work? How do you do it without losing your mind?

The answers to these questions are still a work in progress with Logan but we have the added complication of our second special needs child, Spencer, who is now 3.

He just won't leave us alone. He says he wants to do homework too but won't do it once I give him some "homework" to do. Then I'll bring him back down to the floor and then soon he is climbing on top of me or doing something else disruptive. This is not good for our already distractable Logan. Thus for months, we did homework at night while my husband was home to play with Spencer but I realized that night-time was the worst time for Logan to do work. The lateness of the hour gives you little choice for the when-you-finish-your-work-incentives since he has to go to bed and also like Penny's Luke, the meds wear off by then so you get less done at that hour.

For us, we decided to do two things. First, I moved homework time to the hour that I have when Logan is home alone with me before Spencer comes home from his baby preschool. This is tough because no one wants to do homework as soon as they come home but the incentive for Logan is that he can play with Spencer without having to do any homework as soon as Spencer arrives. So far, the plan is working.

However this is not enough for me. I want Logan to do more than 45 minutes worth of homework especially during the colder months when we can't go outside. Call me crazy for wanting more from an ADHD kid but I do. I want to work on the many activities suggested to us from his teachers and therapists and sometimes that requires quiet one-on-one time but again, Spencer is in the picture too so what to do?

Ever since Logan was four, I have tried to hire teenage babysitters to help out in our home. It has always been disastrous. The ones I hired were too young and I also didn't know any better and wasn't willing to spend hardly any money. These youngsters did not know how to handle Logan and Spencer was so little then, that he refused to be with anyone but me. However, in my two-year quest to find inexpensive and more energetic help for my kids, I managed to meet a nice young high school junior in my building elevator. She said hello to Spencer which piqued my attention because teens don't usually talk to toddlers. I immediately asked her if she babysat. She said no but that she wanted to and soon I found out that she volunteered at the local Catholic school twice a week with preschool children.

Uh, okay, you're hired.

I interviewed her and loved her immediately. She did not care that the kids had special needs. I suppose in her eyes, their special needs did not really stand out. My boys just look really hyper and silly at first glance. However, I could tell that she had a lot of inner-confidence and possessed genuine earnest to do a good job. That is all I can ask from a sixteen-year old. And so she was hired but little did I realize how helpful she would become.

She became the answer to my Spencer problem because Spencer absolutely adored her. This was a real surprise because Spencer is so attached to me but when he finds out that Vivienne (real name withheld because she's a minor) is coming, he stands by the door to wait for her. And then when he sees her, he practically jumps on top of her so excited to play. I also called her to help me during the recent winter break as I was still recovering from my broken finger and really wanted the extra help in the house. She was there to play with the kids and I could relax a bit more.

Having a teenage babysitter is helpful in so many ways, especially when they live very close to your home. The first reason is that it is okay for them not to be so grown-up around your kids. I don't believe that they have to be as strict or as consistent as me. They can be silly with my kids and it's sort of okay because they are young too. I think my kids sense that. There are silly games that they'll initiate only with Vivienne.

Moreover, because she is young and lives nearby. I do not worry if she babysits in the evening and goes home late at night. I know that I can make sure she is safe and that is important to me. Additionally, I don't have to hire her for big chunks of hours because she lives so close. She has worked for as little as 1 - 1.5 hours for me on a school day and it's been fine for both of us. It also doesn't cost that much because she is only watching one child usually.

That one hour in the afternoon on a school day is exactly the time I need to work on a solid enrichment effort with Logan. Right now I'm doing it just twice a week and it is working out okay. Because I'm paying for her time, I take it more seriously too and I get an organized lesson plan ready for that hour. I give her some advice for what she can do with Spencer as well and I've found that she is good with helping Spencer with pretend play, an area in which he needs to improve. So that one hour is a win-win for us all. One day, I am going to ask her to sit in on a session with Spencer's ABA therapist so that she can watch a professional working with Spencer.

Most importantly, because the help is inexpensive but effective, I am calmer and I can be more effective too. My kids are a handful and getting that extra help on days when I have a broken finger, feel overwhelmed or just need from someone to watch Spencer while I take Logan to a swim lesson (I used to take both of them but my finger is still broken and can not get wet), then Vivienne is the answer to our special needs family.

It is not all roses however, don't get me wrong. I have to be observant of how her relationship with my children progresses. Vivienne recently helped me with Logan's birthday party as the main caregiver for Spencer. After a couple of hours , I saw her face and I could tell Spencer was frustrating her. She seemed so perplexed that he would not listen. Poor thing! Spencer's angel face can be so misleading. I had to repeatedly remind her that she was the boss and that he was manipulating her but that she had to watch over his safety no matter what. In the end, she came out alive but it was an important lesson for both of us. I thought she was going to quit working with our family that day but she is still with us. Phew!

I am so glad that I met her and so happy that she won't be going off to college for another year and a half (another factor to consider). I always felt like I should find a young person to help me and all this time, she lived just a few floors below me. Soon, she will even be taking a special needs babysitting class at the JCC. I think this is the coolest program. The teens become certified in CPR and first aid but more importantly, they'll learn about dealing with allergies, sensory issues, finding out about which behavior tactics works for a child..... all that good stuff that average teen sitters don't usually think about.

I found out that there was a small fee to enter the program and I insisted on paying for it as long as her mother was comfortable with that. I feel like a good employer investing in my great employee. I am a little scared that I won't access as much of her time once she becomes certified because she'll be the only person in my neighborhood to have completed this program and my big mouth will likely make sure people get to know her. However, I love watching young people grow professionally so hopefully that feeling will curb any jealousies I have when other parents start hiring her. My family has always been blessed with great people helping us and she is especially important because of her unique big sister-like status. She is huge piece to our little family puzzle and now I can't imagine our family without her.

Photo 1 and 2: This winter, I've seen my boys grow up and change into two brothers who can actually play together. This means they need time alone, no park, no babysitter, and time without mom hovering too. I left them alone for 20 minutes and came back to see that Logan had built Strawz mazes for his brother and himself. Spencer actually really needs this oral motor work so I was extra happy to see it. I took pictures immediately to communicate to Logan how much I liked this generous leader-like behavior. I use my camera frequently for this purpose because actions sometimes speak louder than verbal praise.


BEE said...

i just found your blog and im gonna have to say im loving it

i have a son with autism as well and is on the gfcf diet too

Hartley said...

Hi Jenn,

Do you think she'd travel here to watch my kids? LOL

We too have had great success with babysitters, especially during the day time hours for short periods of time. It is the "witching" hour right before bed that seems to have our babysitters running for the hills.

I also have found good babysitters in the special needs section of You should check it out. :)

Hope your teenage-wonder-babysitter is with you for a long long time.


Penny Williams said...

Hey Jenn! Thanks for the mention. It must be so challenging to do homework with an ADHD child and have a little one that needs constant attention. The babysitter sounds wonderful!

Oooo! I love the strawz too -- never seen them before. What a fun activity!

Hope the finger is on the mend...

Bobbie said...

My daughter is wonderful, sorry I can't ship her, but she is because she lives with her brother. She has dealt with his challenges. She is a great "special" kid babysitter. If you are in a parents or support group, ask who has older kids that might want to babysit.