The Truth About Special Needs Aidesby Kimberly Kaplan
What should you expect from your special needs aide or therapist or facilitator?
First, and this may sound a bit simple, but they are people. They have lives. You must always try to remember that the adults who work with your kids have their own lives and their own problems.
How much does this matter?
It does matter. Yes, when they are at their job your child is their responsibility. But, they may have an emergency phone call and they may have to leave. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen often - then you’d have to consider replacing that person. But, if their mother just died, give them a break.
Our child has been in the “autism system” for over eight years. I think he has had approximately 30 aides. This includes DTT therapists, OT and speech therapists, a physical therapist, facilitators for various groups, school aides, respite persons, and everyone in between. And that number probably doesn’t include the rare time when a substitute had to step in because an emergency came up with the regular person.
But, let’s stick with 30. Which means our family has had to coordinate our schedule with the schedules of 30 other people every week for eight years.
In my experience, many therapists, facilitators, and aides are young adults still in their 20's. And, in general, most of them are women.
And here’s another thing I’ve learned along the way - that the pay that these people receive is not all that great. Let’s just say we have lost aides and therapists because they were simply not making enough money to pay their bills. They had to take higher paying jobs out of the field or move out of this area. Some returned to school, others left their careers to get married and start a family.
It seems like our kids are constantly having to deal with transitions.
What do all these transitions mean for our kids?
Since we've had a transition or two under our belt, I feel somewhat qualified to offer advice on how to help your child transition from one adult support to another.
The first thing you hope for is that the adult gives you plenty of notice that they are leaving. In my opinion, you could broach this very topic near the beginning of your relationship. Bring it up casually, “By the way, my child has difficulty with transitions, so if you ever decide - for whatever reason - to stop working with my child, just you inform us immediately so we can prepare our child for the transition?”
How much notice should you expect?
I think a fair amount of time is two weeks. Some aides or therapists will already be sensitive to their clients and will give even a longer time frame. These folks understand that their clients need the time to help with their transition.
Of course, the hardest situation is one in which you’re given no notice. This just happened to us last week. I took my son to his social group only to find out that this was the last day for one of his two therapists. Because I find it hard to keep quiet sometimes, I mentioned the inappropriate time frame to this facilitator. I said to her, “I wish you would have given us more notice. Why are we just finding out today?” The facilitator shrugged and said, “I just happened that way.”
This type of situation upsets me. Even though I do understand that sometimes things happen very quickly in life. I am not being insensitive here.
However, I also believe there are sometimes plans in the works. I believe this is what happened with my son’s facilitator. She told me she was moving on to working with a school district and she said, “It’s more of a stable job with better benefits.”
I believe this facilitator, three weeks earlier when she was applying for the job, has a responsibility to say to their groups, “I applied for another job so you may want to prepare for a transition in case I get it.”
Our kids are not typical kids. They struggle with transitions. So help us out! Having a facilitator give you no notice is not only a bad situation for your child but it also reflects badly on the outgoing aide. Some people do not plan well or communicate well, but hopefully these people learn from their mistakes and the next time they’ll understand that their decisions affect other people.
What's the best case scenario?
With a decent amount of notice, you can arrange some quality overlap. An overlap - where the outgoing adult works together with the incoming adult for a session or two or even longer - is, in my opinion, the best way to transition your child from one adult to another.
We have had this situation. The outgoing facilitator knew she was leaving at the end of the summer and arranged to have her replacement sit in on her last two sessions. My child, as well as the other children in the social skills group, were then able to get to know the new facilitator while the outgoing facilitator was also there to broker the new relationships.
Now that's a responsible transition!
How else can you help your child?
Talk to your child about the transition. Let her know that the person she has been working with is leaving in however number of weeks and that a new person will be working with her. Explain why that person is leaving, to the best of your knowledge, of course.
Explain that this type of situation is normal - people occasionally have to leave their job and be replaced by new people. Let them know that change is okay and change happens all the time all over the world.
Promise them that they'll get to know the new person and that they'll even get to like the new person just as much as they liked the old person.
What should you deal with the "rough" transitions?
The “rough" transitions would be like the one I described above - a person who gives you no notice.
First, it is out of your control.
Second, if the adult wasn't really into their job anyway, it may end up being a good thing.
Third, try to put a positive spin on the situation. Try to be happy for the person who says they have to "move on with their lives."
Transitions may cause issues with your child. They may disrupt your life. But, it will pass eventually.
Try to accept that the world changes. And it’s you job to teach this credo to your child. They may not like it when their lives get turned upside down, but they must find way to accept change, because change will always be a part of their lives.
Treat it as practice for the future. By practicing change when they’re young, change may get easier as they get older. You never know, it may all work out.
Find Kimberly Kaplan:
www.smashwords.com - ebook “A Parents’ Guide to Early Autism Intervention”