Au Pair Candidate with Uncommon Medical Issue: Would you match with her?

by cv harquail on January 30, 2014

We get a lot of questions from au pair candidates who wonder whether anyone will match with them, given that they ______(fill in the blank here).

For example, we just got an email (below) from an au pair with (non-swearing) Tourette’s Syndrome, who wonders whether host parents will consider her application.


When you have an uncommon medical or other issue

As long as the issue is not something that would affect your ability to care for a child, the advice is the same:

  1. Offer a clear, succinct, and honest description of your issue.
  2. Mention whether you take medication, have any side effects, can anticipate additional problems later in a year, how you’d get help if your condition changed,
  3. Discuss how you think it might affect your host child(ren) relationships
  4. Discuss how you think it might affect your host parent relationships
  5. Offer a few examples of how other people respond to your condition/situation, so that a host parent can understand what your experience usually is, and
  6. Maybe add a photo or a video so that host parents can see for themselves, before they even contact you.
  7. Give yourself a little more time to make a match, and
  8. Don’t take it personally.

We depend on the judgement of  your In-Country Interviewer

We Host Parents expect that your local interviewer or recruiter has met you and confirmed that your issue isn’t a deal–breaker.    So if you’ve passed that evaluation, what you really need to address is a host parent, family, child or community discomfort with your condition.

And by discomfort, I mean the emotional and social awkwardness that we experience the first few times we interact with someone who has a difference or a situation we’re unfamiliar with.

Good Intentions vs. Previous Experience

Most of us have good intentions. We want to be flexible, adaptable, open, and inclusive — and in our minds, we are.

But when we’re faced with a situation that’s new and maybe scary, it can take a little while to get accustomed to it and feel comfortable.  For example, many people have good, positive intentions about same-sex couples or interracial couples, but feel a bit awkward the first time they sit next to couples who are different from them at a church supper. In their minds- Hey, they’re open! But it takes a little bit of effort to put that openness into warm, welcoming behavior and then to take the next step into taking whateveritis for granted.

Give potential Host Parents as much honest information as you can, be ready to share more details when you talk with them, and treat this as part of the learning process.

Parents, any additional thoughts?

Here’s the email:

I’m considering an international AuPair program for a year or two before attending college. I’ve worked at a nursery looking after 0-3 year olds since I was 13, and I’ve worked at a summer camp for the past three summers. I babysit nearly every weekend for a whole variety of ages of kids, and I’ve always gotten good reports from parents that I’ve worked for. I speak fluent English (first language) and ideally would be looking to improve my spanish. I’m as fluent in spanish as I can be without any immersion. I have had my drivers license for several months (mainly because of age restrictions in my state) but have been driving nearly daily since I turned sixteen.

I also have Tourette’s Syndrome. It’s a neurological disorder that causes vocal tics (involuntary sounds) and motor tics (involuntary movements). While this disorder has a bad rap because of media sensationalization of coprolalia and copropraxia (involuntary swearing and vulgar gestures) this has not been present for me. My primary tics are whistling, blinking, shrugging my shoulders, and short bursts of humming. While not super severe they do happen for most of every day. I would be on medication during my time as an aupair but would likely require no other care.

I truly believe that I can be an excellent AuPair. I have had to work harder then average to manage and succeed in school despite my challenges, and I think that the maturity that I have gained from life not always being fair to me will help me to manage the challenges of adjusting to another culture and caring for children. I am warm, energetic, and confident.
Would you consider Tourette’s Syndrome a dealbreaker when searching for an aupair?
If not, I would appreciate advice in presenting my situation in an honest yet positive light to prospective families. Any advice would be appreciated.  Thanks!


Aligoll January 31, 2014 at 3:28 am

We had an au pair with mild autism, she didn’t tell us before she came and as I work with special needs children, I suspected it quite early on. Eventually I asked her outright about it, she said she was worried we wouldn’t accept her. Anyway, once it was out in the open things were much better.

She wasn’t severely autistic, just was socially a bit awkward and couldn’t read people’s faces. If she was going on a play date with the kids or meeting someone new, we would just have a little talk through about social behaviour in a supportive way. She said she was really glad of the support we gave her and that she learned a lot about how to cope with her issues by developing her own strategies to deal with it.

I think honesty is the key though, you don’t want to have the family change their minds once you have arrived. Maybe you could skype the family first and they could see and talk to you face to face.

Good luck, I hope you find a great family!

Skny January 31, 2014 at 6:26 am

O personaly wouldn’t. But might be the only one.
Having had the experience of being an Au pair and family.
You’d be surprised of how diet, stress, and other different circumstances can affect the most simple conditions.
How will she acquire medication? What if dosage needs adjustment?
Even though i am a physical therapist, Work with special needs kids, And feel i should say yes, the reality is that I am too busy with all my kids, work, household. I can’t worry if my Au pair will be on the ball all the time, will be affected by stress, diet, weather, dust in the house, or watever it is… The Au pair year brings enough unknowns as it is.
Yes, I probably am missing some great Au pairs… But oh well…

Afhostmom January 31, 2014 at 6:57 am

I would match with an AP with Tourette’s syndrome. Unfortunately this particular condition seems to be one that people have an especially negative (and false) view of, so my heart goes out to this girl. I do agree that I’d put the responsibility for self-monitoring on the AP, as I don’t have a ton of time, but as long as she was taking care of herself, it shouldn’t be a problem. We deal with so many issues every day just by virtue of having another person from a different culture live in our home, this wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me.
Good luck!

Taking a Computer Lunch January 31, 2014 at 8:36 am

I have been a baseball coach in a rec league (yeah, as if raising a special needs child and working full-time wasn’t enough) and over the years many of the kids had issues. One of my players had tourette’s, and once his parents took me aside and told me what was happening, I realized that he was paying attention and concentrating (as much as any of the other little boys). He also plays basketball on my son’s team and is a strong second-string player.

Now, because my son has grown up with a severely mentally retarded (teenager functioning at infant/toddler level) and mutiply-handicapped sibling, he is very tolerant of differences in others. He also has several cousins with mental illness and is very tolerant of them. While teenagers can be cruel, I don’t think he would make fun of you, or any other AP with a medical condition. The Camel, wouldn’t care.

My recommendation, given that you have a lot of experience already with children, is that you take the opportunity to work with children with a variety of special needs, because I think that would make you more marketable. As the parent of a special needs child, I would consider you if you had solid experience, because of the amount of time you have already spent caring for children. However, you have to steel yourself for disappointment, because not every HF is going to be flexible about what they will accept. I’ve hosted several APs with allergies (all mild, but some severe enough that we altered our diet so they could eat with us), diabetes, and other medical conditions that required medicine, and it has worked out fine for us.

Julie January 31, 2014 at 10:41 am

Great comment and I totally agree. It sounds like you are looking to be an au pair elsewhere in the world? If so, that’s a different question because other countries have varying opinions of disabilities and I’d be careful about the organization that supports you in case there is an issue. In the US, I think special needs families, in particular, would be open. Taking the time to write a stellar application would be key! Open yourself up and address your differences and you’d be surprised how that really affects opinion on your Tourette’s.

Host Mom in the City January 31, 2014 at 8:37 am

I admit, I’m torn. I had a coworker with Tourette’s and she was completely fine and high-performing. It didn’t seem to affect her work at all and once we all understood what was going on, I stopped even noticing her ticks. So I don’t doubt that it wouldn’t cause too much of a problem if any.

That said, our second au pair had a number of medical issues and they flared up muh worse than they normally did just because of stress and fatigue and whatever else. I don’t think she took much sick time, but it affected how she was with the kids and required a lot of assistance by me in terms of finding proper care. She was the one that nearly turned me off of the program entirely too, so it was really difficult to find the patience to help her when she wasn’t even doing the basics of the job I hired her for. Based in how time-consuming it was to assist her and how I saw how the au pair year affected her health, I would be very cautious about anyone with a medical issue.

I think my conclusion would be that for a really great candidate that I really clicked with, I would match anyway, assuming she was able to articulate a thought-out plan for what she would do if she needed medical assistance and how it might affect her performance.

Good luck! I hope you find a great family soon!

Darthastewart January 31, 2014 at 9:43 am

Honestly, if I knew of an au-pair who had tourettes applying, I’d do my best to put her in touch with other families who have the issue.
I’d probably be OK with Tourette’s in my house too. Lord knows my children tic all the time.

I think that if you start early, and look hard you should find someone. And if you do decide to apply, give me a private message, and I’ll try to plug you in with some friends who might also be willing to help.

Returning HM January 31, 2014 at 10:43 am

I may be unusually blase about Tourette’s because my brother-in-law and one nephew both have it, but this would not phase me at all. My BIL has very similar tics to those described by the OP, and honestly, I don’t notice them anymore. He is hugely popular, successful, and social – this disorder has not held him back at all from being excellent at everything he does, so I would have no reason to think that OP’s experience would not be the same.

Both TACL and Darthastewart have great points about OP getting some experience with children with special needs, as families dealing with difference may well be more likely to understand and not be put off by difference in the same way as those for whom difference can be scary. I actually look for people who have struggled with something in their life to be our au pair, because I think that they are more likely to have empathy and at the same time high expectations for my son, for whom things come very hard. This dx would not phase me in the least, provided OP shared the information clearly and forthrightly and was comfortable talking openly about how she felt the AP experience might trigger or amalgamate her symptoms.

Should be working January 31, 2014 at 12:47 pm

I personally would pass on an AP with Tourette’s. My heart, like other posters, goes out to the AP, but I need the transition to be easy and I know my kids would be unsettled by this disorder.

This matching round I’ve had a few go-rounds with candidates with medical issues and realizing that things were more severe or questionable than the agency or au pair might realize. First I talked to a lovely candidate, but she had a nut allergy that would require a trip to the hospital in case of accidental exposure. I tried to imagine what this would mean (and spent too long imagining how I could feel ok about it) but then just came to the scenarios of being somewhere on vacation (e.g. Mexico) and unsure of ingredients; or all the packaged junk that could accidentally have nuts; and so on. Too much responsibility for me, even though she said she herself would take responsibility–yeah, right, until it’s time to call an ambulance!!

Another candidate had a history of an unusual pancreatic insufficiency that was now supposedly improved and she was about to stop taking her medication. Note from the doctor and everything. Well, I did some research and it looked to me (cursory web research, admittedly) like this particular problem is the result of some UNDERLYING problem, and it doesn’t go away. So after I found myself talking to physician friends and reading more than a few articles on this, I decided I just can’t take the risk of an AP with a bad diagnosis or weird treatment ideas. And what especially decided me was that ALL my cursory research indicated that the problem is often an effect of Crohn’s or celiac, and I asked her about these, and she had never heard of these–which means she has never researched her own problem!!

FYI I saw a CCAP profile where the AP was a cancer survivor! Age 12, something on her hand, and a finger needed surgical removal plus she had chemotherapy. I really respect her for living her life after that, but I am surprised the agency accepted her application.

AP hosting is enough on my plate without medical issues, although I realize I’m likely missing out on some great candidates.

ToniAmericanAuPairIntheNetherlands January 31, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Interesting article, I have mild ticks, like I jerked my neck every so often, I did it worse as a kid, but they’re still there so I can understand. Especially when it came to medical issuses, my file would turn people off if they knew, even though a few years have passed, I have dealt with brain surgery, and a blood clot, and I know that’s enough to turn people away and make them think hell no, but some host familes are very much open to you, especially if you know your body, and you’re positive that you are fine.

I don’t know, it just worked out for me. I had a friend with tourettes, it used to freak me out when she drove her car, because she would have her tics but all in all it was fine.

If I was a host mom I would give her a chance, because someone took a chance on it forward

OpinionatedHM January 31, 2014 at 6:10 pm

I read this and my first thought was that it would depend entirely on how the candidate answered some key questions. The first of which would be, have you considered how stress will affect your symptoms? Followed by just about every question and concern that SKNY mentioned. I would want to know if you had been under stress before and/or had a complete change in lifestyle and how that affected your symptoms. I would want to know what your plan is for finding support in a new city where you don’t speak the language fluently. If you had thought through these issues and had ready sensible answers, I would have confidence that you can truly handle a year as an Au Pair with a medical condition.
We considered an Au Pair who had a medical condition that is easily transmitted during a flare up. However, she said she didn’t really think it was a big deal. We did not match with her because she did not take her condition seriously, which led me to feel that she would be irresponsible about handling it while in our home.

TouretticAP January 31, 2014 at 11:54 pm

OP here:
I am leaning towards working with an au-pair agency in new zealand. I am half Newzealander, and a citizen of the country, so although I live in the US there would be no legal issues. I do agree that finding support in a city where i don’t speak the language would be difficult. New Zealand actually has a fairly active Tourettes Syndrome Association! As far as stress goes, high-school at a demanding New England prep school has been just about as stressful as you can get haha. While my tics do flare up somewhat during stress i can solve the problem by finding time for exercise and also getting lots of sleep! (i am definitely of the early to bed early to rise mindset.) I communicate with my neurologist mainly via email, and I would probably continue to do so during my time as an AP although one of my first priorities would be finding a doctor for continuation of prescriptions. I don’t imagine my dosages would need to change much though, as they haven’t for years! In terms of lifestyle changes, I have experienced some, and i have found that as long as I have my own room/private place to sleep/rest then I have done just fine. BTW, I have done EXTENSIVE research on my symptoms and have seen several specialists, some the best in their field, and Tourettes is the cause. I completely understand Should Be Working, but I have actually found that people, especially children, adapt very quickly to my tics if they give me enough of a chance to get to educate them. I have some HILARIOUS stories from the children that i have cared for. One girl tried really hard to imitate my humming and clicking tics! It was the cutest thing :)
Thanks for the Advice,

third February 5, 2014 at 4:42 am

I would match with you! You seem like you have thought through all the nuances. I have a great ap at the moment, but will be more open-minded during future interviews.
I do feel that when faced with many profiles to review that the presence of a medical condition of any degree could serve as an elimination criterion….. for better or worse!
Good luck to u!

Y. February 6, 2014 at 6:11 pm

I would not. There were actually two girls in my boarding school growing up that had the condition, and stress (and general stubbornness) affected their tics quite a bit to the point that they’d just shut down. Not only did it kind of drive me batty, I wouldn’t want to have to worry about my kids being in the care of somebody who could just shut down like that. I think I’d feel the same about similarly stress-effected medical issues.

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