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Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Fat

This guest post is by Laura Shumaker. Laura is the author of “A REGULAR GUY: GROWING UP WITH AUTISM.” Join the discussion about her book on Facebook.

I needed a babysitter, and I was at a loss.

At the time, my three boys were eight, six, and one and a half. Finding a sitter for three young children is not easy under the best of circumstances, but since our oldest Matthew has autism finding help was always a tremendous challenge.

Our usual choice was Rocky, my friend Laurie’s fourteen-year-old son. He was a great kid who handled Matthew’s odd behavior with humor, and was loved by all three of my boys. I knew that if he were in a pickle, he could call his mom for advice or rescue, but he never needed to.

My husband and I had an all day company party to go to, and since Rocky wasn’t available, I asked his mom if she knew anyone else who might be able to handle our quirky crew.

She said she’d ask Anna, a friend of hers who had just moved from England to be a nanny for a family in our community. Anna had worked at a school back home for disabled children and was looking for work on her days off.

Jackpot.

I phoned Anna, and explained our situation. She bubbled back with her amazing qualifications, including a special education teaching credential and CPR certification. She had decided to take a year off to be a nanny in the United States and was interested in finding babysitting jobs on the weekends. I immediately had fantasies of a weekend away, which we badly needed, while this perfect person took care of the kids.

Saturday arrived, and I was polishing the kitchen feverishly having spent a better part of the day cleaning the house to impress the English nanny when the doorbell rang.

I pulled the door open, and there stood Anna with a big smile, beautiful blue eyes, dangly earrings and — 100 extra pounds.

Matthew appeared in front of her, and got right down to business.

“How big are you?”

“Matthew!” I said, horrified, but not surprised.

Anna seemed unfazed.

“Hello, Matthew. I’m Anna! Would you like to show me your room?” By now, Andy and John, Matthew’s younger brothers, were standing behind me, looking worried.

“How big are you?” Matthew repeated. I was about to jump in again when Anna signaled to me that she could handle it.

“I am a bit chubby, I suppose.”

“How fat are you?” Matthew persisted.

Why didn’t Laurie tell me?

“In England, we call it chubby, so I guess you would say I’m quite chubby!”

“So you’re big and fat.” Matthew concluded calmly.

My husband appeared, and introductions were made.

“I’m going to give Anna a little tour. Will you watch the boys?” Wide-eyed like the boys, Peter took Andy and John into the other room. As he walked away, Anna and I could hear Matthew say, “She must eat a lot of food.”

It was difficult to convey to Matthew that it is not kind to comment on peoples’ appearance. On trips to the grocery store, he spoke loudly and bluntly about shoppers around him.

“He shouldn’t buy all those donuts” or “How black are those people?”

****

“I am so sorry.” I told Anna, wondering if I should call the whole thing off. The weekend getaway of my dreams would have to wait. “Don’t worry. The little ones always comment on my size, but once they get over it, we have a jolly old time.”

But I knew Matthew wouldn’t get over it, and that it was going to be a long day for poor Anna.

I had a hard time relaxing and getting in the spirit of the party, and finally shared our story with a few of the guests, who laughed uproariously. It was 1996, and autism was still considered a rarity-tragic, yet exciting.

“When did you find out he had autism?” one of the guests asked. “I hear they’re brilliant”, said another. “What will he be like when he’s a man?”

We left the party early, and when we arrived home, Anna looked ragged, and relieved to see us.

“How’d it go?” I asked cautiously.

“Anna ate pizza and ice cream”, Matthew reported.

I quickly ushered Anna out to her car and folded a big check into her hand.

“I don’t know how you do it,” she said.

I thanked her, and said I’d hope she would come again. What else was I going to say? He hadn’t meant to, but Matthew had hurt this woman, and I felt terrible. Now I would have to go in the house and have a talk with Matthew, try to explain once again.I could say, “How would you feel if…” or simply say “Anna feels sad because you told her she was fat.” His reply would be, “ but she is fat.”

And as Anna drove away, I thought, tears coming suddenly, how do I do it?

*****

From that day on, I introduced Matthew to new helpers ahead of time.

But how can you find motivated and qualified people who you can trust? After years of trial and error, I figured out some great resources. This is what I recommend:

  1. Call your local college and talk to a psychology or education professor. They can refer you to many students who would love to learn from your child (While making money at it!) I have found many great helpers this way, many of whom are still in touch with Matthew.
  2. Once you find this wonderful people, treat them like family.
  3. Your child’s speech therapist/physical therapist/etc. might like to work with your child, or might have friends in their field that would.
  4. When your child is, as my son Matthew told me at age 14 “too old to have a babysitter” hire mentor/friend types.
  5. Last but not least, Autism Speaks has the best resources pages that I have ever seen. If you can’t find exactly what you are looking for by clicking one of the many links provided, phone your local Autism Speaks chapter and ask for recommendations!

Do have a success story regarding childcare? Share it in the comment section below – we will choose five of you (on Monday, August 2) to receive a copy of Laura’s book.


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  1. Jessica
    July 29, 2010 at 11:28 am

    The blessing is that he was verbal enough to say those words to express his thoughts. :)

  2. July 29, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Oh my, what a story!! For our Matthew, now 6, it’s been hard to find sitters, at 4 we went through five potential babysitters, I mean, who likes changing a 4 yr old’s diaper?? We also have two other children, one younger and one older than Matthew. We did the college thing but they too didn’t last. Our blessing is our former birth to three worker. She has known Matthew since he was 2 and she just marvels at his progress and isn’t phased by his differences. It’s so important to find one maybe even two, I’m still hoping to find another one as he gets older…but I’m not holding my breath :)

  3. Mary
    July 29, 2010 at 11:43 am

    My son once saw a parent from my school while we were out at a restaurant. She had a cape on, and a large hat. She also had a skinny face with a prominent pointed nose!!! Of course, the first thing he thought of was to tell her she was the wicked witch from the “Wizard of Oz”!!! He kept looking at her while at dinner and every time we passed their table on the way up to the buffet he kept asking where Dorothy was and she’d better start being nice. He also wanted to go up and get a large cup of water to throw on her to see if she’d melt!!! Needless to say, we had a lot of conversations that night!!!!

  4. Mary
    July 29, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    My 6yo daughter with autism once asked a woman in Target why she looked like a man. Then we kept bumping into her all over the store, I couldn’t wait to get out of there!

  5. Lauren
    July 29, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    In the past, I babysat for. 9 year old nonverbal boy who had severe Autism and a behavioral disorder. He used PECS to communicate, but would often get frustrated when he would repeatedly ask me for say, a nutragrain bar, but he had already had his allowed amount. He would begin to self injure himself, but I learned over time that when I spoke in a soft and caring voice instead of a stern voice, he didn’t self injure himself when I denied him the excess food. In addition, I learned that my smiles had a great effect on him, and they greatly diminished his negative behaviors!

  6. Jake
    July 29, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    My son Ian is an Aspie coupled with Semantic Pragmatic Disorder. He’s 9. And I’m very aware of how blunt conversations can be. I’m a little embarrassed by this story and the circumstances of why this situation existed, but sometimes we do stupid things in the name of love that we come to regret later.

    I’m a divorced father of three children who I have full custody of. In the summer my son and my two younger daughters go to visit their Mom for 6 weeks. They were excited and couldn’t wait to see their Mom. Earlier in the year we had moved to the other end of the state, so it was a 470 mile trip, and the kids were missing out on their every other weekend visits so it was high time for some fun with Mom.

    She had arrived and we loaded carseats, snacks, their bags and toys for a summer adventure. I hugged and kissed the kids goodbye and as they pulled away, I thought “now it’s time for a nap!”

    It seemed like moments before I had just laid down and my phone rang. It was my ex wife. I didn’t get out more than a groggy “Hello?” before I was hit with “Jake, I’m going to jail!” It took me a minute to process this.

    Now the unfortunate and embarrassing part is that my ex wife was behind on her child support payments. It wasn’t (and isn’t) much money at $150 a month, but I don’t really need it, and when I did get it, I’d treat the kids to dinner and a movie and maybe a toy or some new item of clothing. She had trouble keeping a job and a place to live. So I didn’t worry about the money (and they were going to their Grandma’s for the summer, so I wasn’t worried). The state however, did worry about it, and unbeknownst to me, had issued an arrest warrant for non payment of child support. And they suspended her license.

    She had been pulled over for drifting onto the shoulder in front of a State Patrolman.

    After I had time to process the statement of “going to jail” I got dressed as fast as I could and drove the 40 minutes to where the patrolman was waiting with the ex and the kids. The Trooper had waited for me because he didn’t want to call child services and didn’t want to put their Mom into cuffs in view of the kids.

    So I got the kids stuff loaded into my car (everything I had loaded into hers about an hour prior, and the kids hugged her goodbye and said they’d see her later. On the way back to the car Ian (my Aspie with SPD) says “Dad, we gotta bust her out!”
    I stifle both a feeling of panic and laughter responding with the tersest whisper I can manage, “Ian, be quiet! Get in the car!” Undeterred by my attempt at handling the situation Ian pipes up even louder “Maybe we can bake her a cake with a file in it!” Again, fighting laughter, I whisper “IAN GET IN THE CAR NOW!” while quickly ushering him into the vehicle.

    From what the ex said, the Trooper had heard everything and thought it was pretty funny and had wondered aloud what cartoons he’d been watching.

    Fast forward two years later, the ex got caught up, has regular work and is due to be married next summer. Ian still quite plainly tells it like it is, and I’ve been laughing the whole time.

    • Angela Cosand
      July 29, 2010 at 1:48 pm

      I have a five year old Aspie, Your story is hysterical. Made me smile.Thanks for sharing.

  7. Kristy Minor
    July 29, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    I have an 11 year old with autism. A few years ago we were at a train station waiting to pick up my parents who were coming to visit. While we waited he saw a group of Asian men walk past us and he said, “Look dad! Ninja’s!” he was pointing and very loud and excited!

    Another time quite awhile after this incident we were shopping in a store and he saw a young teenage boy who was African American, wearing a jersey, and he said, “Look! It’s Shaq!!” once again excited and pointing.

    For about 7 years my husband and I would not go out anywhere. It had been a very long time since we saw a movie theater. I will not let just anyone watch my children. We now have two teenagers in the family who we can call upon if we’d like to go out on a weekend and we usually schedule it so it’s late and they would be putting the kids to bed and spend the night.

    Other times we have grandma or aunt babysit because they are great with all three of our kids and they know how to handle my 11 year old.

  8. Melissa
    July 29, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    I can relate! We’ve been through 4 sitters in one month thanks to my older son – who has Asperger’s. He told a grandmotherly type that she was old. He also threw her shoes out of the house because “they smelled”.
    He left a home daycare provider’s home because she was also watching babies that “wouldn’t stop screaming.”
    We ended up using a Y program that had a lot of physical activity but he still gets written up constantly for things he says and does impulsively. They’ve been pretty patient, though.
    When it come to date night, we have to rely on the kindness of family!

  9. July 29, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    Hi my name is Jamie, I do not have a child with ASD but I do respite for several families that do. I think you have given great resources on how to get the right person for the job. Taking care of any age child with ASD is a challenge in their own way. I work for a local Intermediate School and I have been highly recommended by Teachers and Behavioral Specialist to families with children with ASD and I have had nothing but great success and repore with these families.Size is not always an issue when it comes to caring for children with ASD I believe it all has to do with patience, compasion,and the experience in working with children with Autism not just special needs. Autism has such a wide spectrum that you cannot just say.. my child has special needs and then in turn be able to find the right person to care for your child,that person has to understand ASD and not be a person who has watched children with disabilities. Communication is also very important when you are looking for a caregiver for a child with ASD. So my hat is off to you for going through this experience with this particular caregiver as i know it was not that it was a uncomfortable experience for the caregiver, but also uncomfortable for you as a mother.I wish you nothing but good luck in finding the perfect caregiver for your child with ASD and your other children.Just a word of advice..Explain to your child that just because some people are bigger than others does not mean that they are not any fun.I certaintly do not weigh the weight i should but that does not stop me from being the wonderful,caring and patient person that I am!!! I wish you all the best! Sincerely, Jamie

  10. Jeanette
    July 29, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    Oh my God that sounded just like my son Nicholas who is now 6 1/2 years old. He was diagnosed with Autism right before he turned four. About a year ago, my friend came by to visit. She is about 75 lbs overweight. My son started poking her stomach and saying, “beep, beep.” The he asked, “Do you eat a lot?” I wanted to die. My friend said, “Yes Nicholas I eat a lot, maybe I should stop.”
    Recently, my son watched with us a comedy show with Gabriel Iglesias. Gabriel considers himself “Fluffy” not “Fat.” This past weekend Nick saw my friend again. He told her, “You are fluffy.” I almost dropped dead! My goodness my son has a speech delay, but when he makes his comments they are very clear.

  11. Jeanette
    July 29, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    My husband and I hardly go out by ourselves. Normally, we do family things or take turns to give each other space. We have four kids. Our youngest Nicholas is 6 1/2 years old and has Autism. Our oldest are 12, 18, and 23. Finally, on June 5th my husband and I decided to go out to a friend’s b-day party. The three oldest kids babysat Nicholas. We left very clear rules for Nicholas. He was excited to be left alone (no parents). When we came home from the party, Nicholas was sleeping. We realized the best sitters for Nick were his siblings. They knew how to handle him, how to talk to him, they knew what would make him calm and what would set him off. The best part was that they were home where it is Nick-proof. The kids had played board games, watched movies, and had dinner. The older kids want to do this again and so do we.

  12. Maya MacArdle
    August 8, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    -a little off topic, I apologize. A Regular Guy inspired me to explore farming environments for my 20 year old son with autism. It seems like a good fit, but hard to come by. Does anyone know of any farming residential communities with farm animals in CA?

    • December 5, 2010 at 12:15 pm

      Hi Maya,

      I am Allison’s mom. I hope you get this post. Allison is moving to an apt. on the FNE farm! Unfortunately, it will be in Hillsborough until they build in Epping, which will be awhile. If you would like to connect, contact me by email and we can also talk by phone…

  13. November 23, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    I always know that I am going to have a smile and a bit of a chuckle when I ready Laura’s blog, but most of all I know I am going to always get a million dollar tid bit to pass on to other families
    Thanks again Laura
    Karen Kaplan

  14. Julie Wiens
    November 23, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    How did I get on this mailing list? I have three children, none of whom carry the diagnosis of autism. I would like to know if someone has given you my name in error, or if this is just a spam.

  15. Jackie Mostyn
    November 23, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    I have truly loved reading all of the stories here today. I have a friend whose daughter is Autistic and she has found amazing support from her schools, friends and caregivers. The lesson I get from YOUR stories is that ALL children/adults could benefit from the honesty of the children mentioned in these stories. My mother had dimentia and quite often did and said some very embarrassing things to people she didn’t even know. She had no idea that she was hurting their feelings or putting us/her family in an awkward situation at the time. But, it taught us to be more compassionate for those who are “stuck” in this body of confusion and lack of control. I learn something new every time I read this newsletter. I thank you all for sharing.

  16. M
    November 23, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    I actually find this story rather offensive. I realize that the main point is supposed to be advice on finding a sitter for an autistic child, but the message that comes across is that Anna was unqualified because of her weight.

    (Anna had, according to the article, a special ed teaching degree; the writer then suggests getting referrals to use psych or education students as sitters because of their qualifications. Is a student somehow more qualified than someone who actually has a degree?)

    Maybe my degrees in psychology and social work are not worthwhile because I’m overweight, but I had gotten the impression in my training that it’s not such a horrible idea to expose autistic children to different types of people.

  17. Jackie Mostyn
    November 23, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    One more suggestion. Have you ever watched Parenthood on TV? I think it is great the way they are bringing Asperger into awareness by using this sitcom.
    Perhaps it is not a good representation of true happenings and I would like to know if it is not. Please reply.

  18. Socorro
    November 23, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    My son Josman is 13. By the time he was 6 and I would ask how was school he could only reply I did school. Once he began speaking more we notice the bluntness and he has done it all. the overweight lady ordering a pizza….maybe you should be ordering a salad. the stranger smoking……smoking can really kill you. The friendly man in the elevator……why are you flerting with my mom because she is married to my dad. the waitress that asked if all was ok…..NO everything is not ok, there is a pesty fly trying to land in my food! to a school staff……is that a moe in your nose or is it a wart? to the lady behind us making a line to pay for our groceries…..did you just fart because I really think I heard you fart………..The good news is that he is finally getting it!! Year after year of communicating to Josman that being so totaling honest can sometimes hurt people’s feelings is paying off. He is doing this less and less and I am in heaven!!

  19. Linda
    November 23, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    I have a 10 yo son with ASD, low functioning socially and communication but high intellect and high energy who needs constant supervision at home. Because of that I’ve hired many sitters over the years and here’s what I’ve learned: look for bright, funny, high energy, easy going and flexible. We typically hire college students who have no special needs background, and we like to get them as freshmen, treat them well and keep them till they graduate. Very often the ones who work out the best are the oldest of several siblings: they’ve seen little kids do lots of weird things, changed lots of diapers and understand that dirty dishes do not magically transport themselves into the dishwasher.

  20. Renee
    November 23, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    That was such a great story. It was just a day or so ago that a co-worker asked me “why can’t you get a babysitter to go out with us? Are your kids really that BAD???” No, they’re not but they are painfully honest and do throw tantrums at ages 9 and 10 years old. I’m just happy my son can wipe himself this year and my daughter can dress herself!
    However, on our vacation to my home in Florida last year, my high functioning autistic (but in the gifted program) son, discovered the world of asian americans with heavy accents that he could not understand. We are trying to teach him about the value of a dollar and let him make his own purchase at the Daytona Flea Market. The cashier was asian and asked him if that would be all? My son looked up at him and said “I’m sorry, I don’t speak your language! I speak English.” Of course he had no intention of insulting the man, he just didn’t recognize the man was speaking English. We tried to educate our son and tell him in front of the cashier that the man was speaking english but just had a different accent. But my son insisted the man was NOT speaking english. The cashier was obviously not happy with him so after his purchase, we just scooted him away as quickly as we could…. and of course, shared quite a laugh once we were out of sight and sound. It’s extremely difficult to keep babysitters or make people that we are just encountering briefly, such as a cashier, understand the situation. Even so, when we know we’re nearing a time we need a babysitter, we start advertising and bring the babysitter to our home to “interview” aka meet the kids to see if she wants the job. 4 out of 5 interviews, the babysitter says they want the job but never returns our calls after that.

  21. Kathy Roemer
    November 23, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Did it ever occur to you to tell your son his questions are inappropriate? Having Autism is no excuse for bad manners, I don’t care how old the child is? I have an 18 year old with Autism and he was always taught proper manners.

    • Socorro
      December 10, 2010 at 9:42 am

      In our case. Good manners, awareness of people’s feelings are communicated on a daily basis. It is wonderful that your son gets it. Not everyone is as lucky as your child. My son is getting it…..slowly but he is getting it. Please don’t asume that all children with austim are created equal.

  22. Michelle
    November 30, 2010 at 10:02 am

    I don’t have a child that has Autism but i want to go to school to be a teacher for autism and i was looking for some familys in my area that needed some help. I have some experience i watched a girl who had autism and i know some sign language. I’m very understanding and patient which is something i believe any babysitter that is going to watch an autistic child should have. If anyone can point me in the right direction please email me at mishy1804@yahoo.com
    Thanks

  23. Patti Moore
    November 30, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    I ran a family childcare center for 14 years. I have two sons with autism. Now I am heading back to school to get a degree in Special Education.I am doing babysitting to make some extra money and if anyone needs a sitter for their wonderful child(children) with autism in the Chelmsford Massachusetts area I am available! I do not think much would surprise me! My house is DEFINATELY autism-friendly!!

  24. Angela
    December 7, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    I have to say that I can soooo relate!! My son Chris is 18, and when he was about six, my mother had a tanning salon. Well, there was a woman that came to tan that was large. My son Chris told her it was ok that she was fat. She could still come in. I know our children can make us feel smaller than a microbe at some times, but I know that life would truly be bland without them. Thank you for that wonderful article. Wish I would have had that when my boys were little. See, I have two boys that are autistic. Now both are old enough not to have the sitter anymore. Thank you for your honesty with your son’s story. It made me know that I am not alone.

  25. December 7, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Good afternoon

    Im hoping I can find a provide for my daughter she is 10 with ASD she uses PEC therapy and some sign language. She is a sweetheart loves ice cream and cookies. Loves to swing, swim and listen to Mozart. Her granfmother is her provide but I want to give my mom a break she has been working with my daughter with the help of Tropical Texas for 3yrs now. If anyone is intrested please writ me back we reside in Harlingen Texas 78550 regards

  26. Melissa Bonnet
    April 21, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    My daughter with autism is now 15 years old, and my other children are 12, 16, and 18. We have lived in poverty for so long that it cannot continue any longer. My oldest daughter and I are working our way through brief programs, at the end of which we’ll receive licences and be able to finally support ourselves. However, as aresult, I’ve had to put my children in school, all of whom have adjusted well, except for my 15-year old. Our expereince with the school system has been hell. I’m honestly thinking of putting her in a home, because I can’t sacrifice the rest of us to homeschool her. There’s no one to help, and I don’t know what to do. I’m especially scared about the upcoming summer months, when my schedule will remain full-time away from home, and she will be home full time. Any ideas?

  27. January 26, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Did Matthew grow up to be more confident now? It seems he has come a long way which is a true inspiration. I’m glad to know that there were people out there that were so capable and willing to help him in such a profound way. What an impact this has made.

  1. August 4, 2010 at 9:01 am
  2. January 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm
  3. September 28, 2011 at 9:47 pm

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