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Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Fat

July 29, 2010 33 comments

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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