Revealing Your “Special Needs” During the Matching Process

by cv harquail on February 17, 2012


When is the best time to discuss with a prospective au pair candidate that a host child has special needs?

When your child has special needs, you need to be sure in advance that your au pair is up for the challenge.

Many au pair candidates will indicate on their applications that they are open to caring for a child with special needs, and there are also many au pairs who would be great at it but haven’t indicated their interest. The pool of possible candidates may be quite large. But — and this is a big ‘but’ — Dept of State law requires that an au pair have previous skills and experience relevant to caring for a child with special needs. 

So, to maximize your chances of finding a great au pair, when do you actually start talking with prospective au pairs about your child’s specific needs?

Do you consider only au pairs who are ‘special needs willing’? (I suspect that some agencies, knowing your situation, would require this.)

Do you go straight to an agency that specializes in au pair candidates with special needs skills?

Or, do you wait until you have identified a candidate you like and who’s interested in your general situation, and then lay out the full details?

Let us know what you think, and share some advice with HM in Napa.

Dear AuPairMom –

We’re halfway through our first year as a HF with an amazing, wonderful AP. Part of our motivation to hire an AP was that our son was language delayed. We wanted to find a caregiver that would become part of a supportive extended family for our son, and the nannies we’d used and interviewed just didn’t seem willing to participate that way.

During the match process with our first au pair, we found out that our son (now 3) was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, which has been changed to Autism Spectrum Disorder during our AP’s stay. When we first learned that the delay were more serious than we thought, we wrote our AP (3 months before her arrival) and told her about the changes and what that might mean for her schedule (therapists working with our son, etc.) and offered to release her from the contract. She thanked us for the information and said she still wanted to work with us.

She has turned out to be an amazing and mature young woman and we are sad that she’s chosen not to extend but support her decision to go home for school.

The dilemma is this – now that we have a diagnosis of Autism, how do we approach hiring the next au pair?

Our son has blown away everyone who has worked with him – he’s caught up with his typically developing peers to the point that some of the therapists are telling us to get him out of his mixed typical and special needs preschool (and into the private preschool we’d originally chosen) as fast as we can. Skills that they expected to take 3-4 months to teach have taken 3-4 weeks or less. So, we feel excited that he is learning and growing.

At the same time, he needs firm boundaries and clear communication just like any three year old. He also needs to be prepared thoughtfully for transitions between activities (also like most three year olds).

On top of these needs for our son, our family schedule is unusual. Host Dad is a firefighter/medic, so he’s home and a lot more involved than most of the other Host Families we’ve talked to. HD and I monitor the specialists that work with our son, as does the au pair when she is on duty. Our AP’s schedule varies from week to week.

Our APs suggestion is to not tell anyone about the special needs until we find someone we want to match with and then talk to them about it directly. I feel like now that we have a formal diagnosis, we need to be straight with the agency. However, I’m concerned about being restricted to a smaller pool of au pairs.

  • For host parents and au pairs of children with special needs, what has your experience been?
  • What do you recommend for finding the right kind(s) of au pairs for our family?

Thanks in advance for your help. HM in Napa


See also:

Regulations & Additional Training for Au Pairs of Children with Special Needs

Au Pair Asks: What happens when you discover that you can’t provide what your Host Kid with Special Needs needs?

Finding an Au Pair for a child with Special Needs: Willingness is not enough

Matching with an Au Pair: How much info to share about an Atypical Host Parent Situation

Note: ProAuPair has a specialized program to identify au pairs with significant skills and training for working with children with special needs. (not an affiliate link, not a “referral”)


Delicious baby photo Attribution Some rights reserved by PhotoCo. on Flickr


Brit Au Pair February 17, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Hi, I am currently going through the matching process to au pair in America. I would have to say that I understand your rational for considering both options, but I agree with your current au pair. If I found a family that was a perfect match for me I would be much more willing to consider a family with “special needs”. Not because I wouldn’t want to look after a special needs child, but because moving to a new country where very often there is a new language, and into a family with different rules and ideals there is already so much to learn and adapt to without worrying that I wouldn’t be capable of adapting my skills to what the family need and want.
However, if I felt the family and I connected first and had the same expectations of the programme I would be much more confident in my ability to meet the “special needs” of the family.

Good luck with finding another great au pair x

Pokermom February 17, 2012 at 8:17 pm

We just went through this! I have 3 special kiddos at home, and I am home with them, supervising all the behavioral programs, therapies, and going to school. I felt that given our situation it was best to disclose immediately, it’s in our host family letter. I also was very clear in the letter about my expectation for the AP. I’m not looking for another therapist, but she does need to have extra patience, understanding and an openness to learn and work with my kids.

I understand that the rule is that in the US you have to have someone who has a background with special needs to work with a special needs family. I can see both sides. I have had wonderful providers in my home with lots of experience and I have had wonderful providers who learned “on the job” with training from me/therapists about how to work with the kids etc. I didn’t come to be a special needs parent because I had experience with it! I had to learn like everyone else who ends up blessed with our kids.

To select our soon to be arriving AP, I looked through tons of applications. I discarded anyone who did not check special needs experience or special needs willing. If they were willing I looked at how much childcare experience they had and what kind of care they provided. The two girls we were choosing between were kind of opposites. One girl had lots of experience and a huge heart for children with special needs and the other is a teacher, a coach, worked with kids in a life skills class where she had some difficult situations to deal with, but no direct skills for higher functioning autism.

What we did was we made a video with the kids answering questions and talking about their favorite things and then posted it to youtube without making it public and just sent each girl the link. That way they could each see how the kids function, and brings them more to life than just on paper. Both girls loved the video and in the end we ended up choosing the girl who wasn’t as experienced because she seemed to have more of the patience my kids need and there were key things that she had in her application and things she said in our interviews and emails. She arrives March 9th so I’ll let you know how it goes.

I really think that it’s best to say something upfront because it gives you the opportunity to really get someone who has a passion for your kids, it can weed out the party girls, and it’s something that I think if brought up later it might make someone feel like they had been misled.

Good luck!

German Au-Pair February 17, 2012 at 8:26 pm

I am happily placed in a family with two kids with Asperger’s.
I had experience with a child with Down’s Syndrome at home and actually said in my application that I was not willing to au pair for children with special needs because of this experience. I stated that while I loved this little girl, I would not feel up to the challenge of handling that all alone (without a special ed teacher right around the corner if I needed help) every day.
My hostfamily could select me anyway (I’m with APC) and had information regarding the situation in their letter.
They talked about the diagnosis very specificly and how it affects the children and the au pair and what character traits the au pair needs to have.
Even though special needs was not exactly what I wanted, I looked into it and decided to match with this family right away. I’ve never regretted this decision.
My advice would be to be open and honest about this right in the letter, just as my host parents were.
If you end up “falling in love” with an au pair and then she says no when you open up about your son’s special needs, it will hurt you. This can be avoided by giving the candidate the option so review the situation right away.

Also a little advice about that: I would not only ask women with the willingness to take care for children with special needs. During the application process I have talked to many, many young women who wanted to say that they were up for this and the agency specifically told them: “Don’t do that. If you do, you will only get suggestions with special needs.” So while they were up for this and would have been perfectly capable, they didn’t want to get JUST special needs suggestions and didn’t do it at all.

massaupairmom February 17, 2012 at 9:28 pm

This is a timely post for me. We are facing a possible add diagnosis for our almost 7 y/o son. We are also in the process of rematch (for reasons unrelated to the kids), and I have wondered, know that I “know” this, what must/should/ought I disclose to candidates? We have had three au pairs who have worked successfully with this child without a “special needs” label. I am very concerned that if I disclose this diagnosis, potential candidates will see is as code for badly behaved/difficult, and he is neither of those. I think op must be considering some of the same questions – given that he child is progressing so well, must she really say asd, which will scare many candidates away? My approach this time has been not to say anything, but I hope our new au pair will not feel deceived if it turns out that our son is on medication by the time she arrives… I have provided contact information for our previous au pairs, which I feel gives her the opportunity for greater insight than a mere label or diagnosis would.

German Au-Pair February 18, 2012 at 2:49 am

I would have felt extremely betrayed and tricked, if someone hand’t disclosed something like that before the match. I’ve heard of some cases where the HP didn’t say anything and every time the au pair wondered why they would do that and how they could base a trusting relationship on this.
There are many nice girls out there who will try to find out more about the specific child and how the special needs will affect them. (Or you could tell that right away in the letter).
I will never understand why someone would even WANT an au pair who would have decided against them if they had been totally honest with her right away.

Jeana February 18, 2012 at 8:11 am

My children spent time in orphanages prior to their adoption and this has affected them them greatly. I needed an aupair for three years because my younger daughter was too aggressive to be in a traditional child care situation. She would have hurt other children. I was as clear as could be about this situation, the challenges our aupairs would face with my daughter, and the importance of them being willing to learn about Reactive Attachment Disorder. I was able to provide written information in the native language of one of our aupairs. I communicated this information from the first contact, had detailed info in our family book, which was e-mailed to each prospective aupair, and was very realistic in the info I shared. For our family, complete honesty from the initial contact was the right thing. We had aupairs from the time my daughter was adopted until she was attending school full time. My daughter was hospitalized at a psychiatric hospital for 45 days at 7.5, as she had homicidal/suicidal ideation. She has been in residential treatment for 13 months. I can’t imagine how quickly we would have had aupairs depart if I hadn’t been honest about the realities of living with a child that is unable to attach to her family, who would prefer living in a hospital, than living with family members and being part of a family. Living with my daughter, a child that lacks empathy, was challenging for our aupairs, on the best of days. One of our aupairs observed that my younger daughter is so smart that she knows exactly how to hurt the different people in her world. She could determine the way to inflict the worst pain on each person she knows. Our aupair was right. So, with each aupair, I shared the best of what our family could offer, and the realities of living with my daughter with reactive attachment disorder, lack of empathy, weekly therapists, neuro-reorganization work, and the need to provide an environment that is appropriate for a child that told us daily that she despises us, wishes she could live anywhere else, and used her above average intelligence to threaten and hurt others. My daughter remained in our home until the last possible hours that she could remain safe. At the time she went into the psychiatric hospital, she was threatening to jump out her second floor bedroom window, and had tried to open the window. About a week after her hospitalization I learned she had abused other children in the awful way she had been abused, prior to coming to our family. Sharing the truth with potential aupairs was the right action for our family.

Want to be Wonder Women February 18, 2012 at 10:34 am

I actually just went through the matching process as a first time host mom. I was very upfront initially with the agency that while my son does have an anxiety disorder and is considered special needs, we do not require someone with special needs experience. The agency didn’t bat an eye…told me to change the part of my application that said I had a special needs child, because if I left that part checked they could only match me with those au pairs who were special needs willing. They did advise me to describe in my host family letter the specific issues that my children have. It made me wonder what the agencies consider special needs??? But since I was getting what I want, I didn’t question it.
I did find out that at that time there was exactly one person in their database that I would have been able to match with if my child was listed as special needs. I did look at that application, but that aupair was not at all what I was looking for. There were several au pairs that listed they had special needs experience, but then did not check that they were special needs willing. Apparently there is a difference. I did give preference to those au pairs with some experience.
I have hired college age nannies in the past, so I know that I needed to be upfront about my child’s issues. I do need to make sure that the person taking care of my child can handle them. Like the OP, my child is responding very well to therapy and medication, and 90% of the time is just like any other kid. It is the 10% of the time I have to worry about. I thought a long time about how to describe his issues without making it sound worse than it is. I didn’t want to scare away a good au pair, but I also wanted to make sure I was getting someone who was capable, and understood what they were getting into. I did put a few lines about his condition in the third paragraph of my host family letter. This was after I described all of his interests and his general happy personality. I did have one au pair immediately turn me down. She said she didn’t think she could work with a child with those issues. I was very glad with her honesty, and thought it was a good thing that she ruled herself out now, instead of after we had invested more time. I did end up selecting someone who had worked with a child with a physical handicap. I thought it showed she had alot of patience…a trait we need more of than actual experience. She comes in a month, so we will see.

nj LC February 18, 2012 at 10:39 am

Special thanks for posting this subject and to the honest and relevant comments provided by everyone.

I am a local community coordinator as well as a parent of a child with special needs – higher functioning autism. I can not stress enough the importance of being forthright about your child, your needs and lifestyle with the agency and the prospective au pair whom you will be welcoming into your home. You are not helping anyone by not being open. That said, you should balance your reality with the sincere commitment that you have a caring and guiding approach and that you believe an au pair will be happy and loved in your family.

Au pair qualities that increase your chances of a successful match include hardiness, emotional resilience and above all – a sense of humor. By asking the right questions and thoroughly interviewing his/her references you will get a sense that this person is open and willing to explore differences, and then you can share more about your child’s needs.

The next step is spending lots of time getting to know each other pre-arrival. Under no circumstances should a special needs match be rushed.

Two years ago, a male Chilean au pair won our organization’s Au Pair of the Year award. When he read his letter at our annual conference, there wasn’t a dry eye in the in the room. He spoke about the way his autistic boy made him look at the stars in the sky for the first time in his life in a way that was pure joy and love and wonder. He said that his experiences with this child gave him more of an education about human love than he could ever have expected.

Honesty in your application process, balanced with a commitment to support your child and au pair can open up a world of learning for everyone in the family.

Rebecca Butt February 18, 2012 at 10:58 am

I am under the impression that you are obligated to disclose this information–the applications I completed required it otherwise I would have been lying. In fact, I wouldn’t want it any other way but to inform the prospective au pairs about my son’s diagnosis. This helps you weed out the au pairs who would have absolutely no interest in taking care of your child with special needs or understanding & appreciation of his unique self. Individuals who have a desire to work with the special needs populations are truly dedicated & loving individuals. To find a young woman or man who already has developed this interest is incredible. If you are honest, you will find there are some unbelievably mature au pairs out there who would be a fit for your family.

We are on our second au pair. I was up front with both about my son’s Autism diagnosis & his behaviors. The first au pair’s whole family practically worked in the special needs arena. She was great with my son. The second au pair actually wants to pursue her degree in psychology specializing in autism. She is fully taking advantage of the opportunity to learn by attending my son’s therapy sessions, taking psychology classes, going to conferences, observing in his class at school. We are both getting so much from this relationship–it is helping her with her life goals & my kids are thriving under her care.

One final thought, why would you want to begin your au pair relationship by being deceptive? It doesn’t set a very good tone for your year. I would strongly encourage you to be open & up front. Those au pairs who are dissuaded by your son’t autism aren’t the right individuals for your family. There are many, many out there who would be.

lifestartsnow February 18, 2012 at 11:31 am

as a former AP who was deceived by her host family about the true needs for one of the kids i can only recommend to be upfront as soon as you realize that the girl/boy you are interested in has potential to become your AP. what i mean is, if you realize right away that your personalities don’t match then don’t bother and move on. but if you have a good feeling about the potential AP then tell them about the needs of the kids but also about other potential problems such as a dog that jumps at every visitor or the fact that the next mall is super far away.

i don’t want to compare (special needs) kids to a mall or a pet but i hope you see what i am getting at. the needs of your kids will not deter away a mature person who really wants to be an AP. rather your openness about the situation is likely to be appreciated and reciprocated.

it wouldn’t have been a red flag for me to hear about the autism of the boy i was to be taken care of. but being told he has “difficulties to concentrate” and then once i had arrived realizing he is autistic (and the parents and the former AP knew the diagnosis) made me feel betrayed big time.

don’t start your time with an AP with a lie please.

Returning HM February 18, 2012 at 12:35 pm

When our second was young, we registered as an SN family because the care we required was really specialized – someone who would be willing to communicate by sign language, someone who would help with feeding therapy, someone who would work with our son’s occupational and physicl therapists and practice each activity between appointments. Once our child began to speak, walk, and eat – albeit very late – we were told by our AP agency to remove the SN designation because, like a PP stated above, it limited our selection of APs and made us very hard to match, and we no longer needed anything specialized in terms of care.

Unlike others above who say that labels are very important and that families are being untruthful if they don’t disclose official diagnoses, I am not sure what a label will tell anyone. If I say “my child has apraxia,” what do you know about him? He had this label at 2 and has it still at 7. At 2, it meant he could not make any sounds at all, could not chew, could not eat any solid food, could not stick out his tongue at will, and was at constant risk of choking. At 7, still with the same label, the child in question never stops talking, eats everything in sight, but has an “accent” for which he goes to speech therapy. So does this label help a prospective AP at all?

Personally, I think labels in many cases are useless. I have family members on the autism specturm, but labeling them AS tells you nothing. It is the BEHAVIORS that are so important and that I think all HFs have to be very, very clear about.

In our matching process, I do not list my sons labels because, as I wrote above, apraxia tells a potential AP nothing and the terms executive functioning disorder and auditory processing disorder also tell her little. BUT telling her that he will talk all the time but not use correct grammar, that his word pronunciation sounds very young for his age, that he cannot find things even when they are right in front of him, that he is like a slow computer in that he “gets the job done” but takes a long time to “process” information – which can be frustrating, in the way a slow computer can be frustrating – and that anyone who works with him has to be able to break down tasks and instructions into one-step chunks – well THAT I think is useful (and they have agreed). In this case, I’ve been clear about behaviors, but honestly, the labels are not useful and don’t help do anything except, well, label a child and reduce him to a list of medical terms.

When our son was younger, we used to send prospective APs videos of him signing and making his “uh uh” sounds so they would know what they were getting into. Now, once we like a candidate enough to move to skype, we have her skype with him so they can get a sense of him first hand. Personally, I think my neurotypical child, in all her moody tween-ness – is SO much harder to care for than our “SN” child. I actually do my best in matching to explain HER behaviors really clearly too. Has anyone read the article about “Parenting the Nine Year Old” in Mothering Magazine? I used that to explain to last year’s match what joys (!) she might be in for with our now-ten yr old daughter. Luckily for us, she matched with us anyway. :-)

Former HostMum, now overseas February 21, 2012 at 3:07 am

I also have a 7 yr old with apraxia. Same scenario. We had 4 Au Pairs (from age 2 to about 4) and I was very up front with them, from behaviours to signing to using the PECS (communication book).

Glad things are going better.

AFHostMom February 19, 2012 at 2:49 pm

I’m torn in this situation. There are some cut and dried situations–like TACL’s child, or (in my opinion) children with RAD as described above–but with a new ASD diagnosis, it’s a tough decision. The spectrum is a spectrum for a reason, and the word “autism” can be terrifying to anyone who’s been exposed to a severely autistic child, even in passing.
For what it’s worth, my son has a significant speech delay. He’s 3.5 and we’ve had APs since he was 1.5. The speech delay is becoming more significant as time progresses, and we’re probably going to push for an IEP in the next few months. So if we do another year with an AP, I don’t know what we’ll do. Since it’s “just speech,” I doubt we will identify as special needs in the future but we will discuss it with our counselor. This last time, and the time before, we mentioned it in our host family letter (“x is in therapy every week for speech,”), and that was it.
My son is also adopted from a foreign orphanage, and we do not disclose that, simply because he is from a country where RAD is virtually non-existent and his adoption is at this point irrelevant. When AP3 arrived in January, my eldest told her “(son) is from Africa!” and she actually thought my daughter was making it up. It was then I realized wow, we hadn’t even discussed it before–not intentionally, just because, in OUR situation, it doesn’t bear “disclosing” other than in passing. But that’s off topic; sorry :)

NoVa HostMom February 19, 2012 at 3:33 pm

I had never thought of this until this post…. my daughter was diagnosed with Sensory processing delays (auditory/visual/fine motor) last year in Kinder – at that point we had just extended with our current AP for a 2nd year. She is in 1st grade this year and we are getting our new AP – not special needs. And even though she is on an IEP for accomodations at school it truly never occured to me to list her/us as a special needs family since there is really nothing that an AP really has to do/deal with. At home and most other circumstances she is just fine – a normally difficult 6yr old who does wear glasses. Only at school in loud and chaotic environments does her issue show as an “issue”. We do go to private OT and vision therapy as well, but I generally take her. and even on the rare occasion our AP has, it is no different than taking them to any other afterschool activity.

As with others, I try to describe my children, their positives and challenges. And my non-IEP son has patience in the negative range which can be much more challenging to deal with than anything my daughter.

So i guess ultimately it depends, but for in our case i don’t see that it would effect anything from the AP perspective, so would not include it.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 19, 2012 at 5:59 pm

I believe in being forthright, and now of course that my LCC knows me, she would double-check my application anyway. Yes, it is harder to find an AP with a special needs child but there IS an upside – your child will weed out the good-time party girls before you make your first telephone call. Personally, and I think a conversation that includes, “and BTW my child has autism” might be a deal-breaker for which you will have lost time Skyping/telephoning when you might have been in touch with a better candidate.

Here’s what I do – I include a link to a YouTube video of The Camel in action. That way the APs who have made it through the first level (I personally don’t look at anyone without some special needs experience), can see that in addition to the shopping list of special needs, that The Camel has spunk and personality and that the people around her love her. So, of the 100 dare-to-match-with-us emails (I did not coin this phrase, but I love it), I get 5-6 responses that lead to an interview.

I interview 5-6 potential candidates (I make sure the LCC and my contact at HQ work for me – although over the years they have made it easier for me to keep excellent candidates in my queue until I’ve made my decision or the candidate matches with someone else).

I don’t always get my first choice. It happens. But in the 11 years my family has hosted, we’ve only been tempted into rematch once and it was driving not childcare. I’ve hosted 7 excellent APs who have been responsible and loving adults (and the only one we have not asked to extend was the one with inadequate driving skills).

I only match with women with special needs experience – and that’s my choice. Few of them have had any experience with a child as disabled The Camel, but I figure that it’s hard enough to adjust to a new country without having to take care of a special needs child for the first time.

The bottom line – if your AP feels that she has been deceived, she will have the weight of the agency behind her in going into rematch. Look at your contract closely – what will you lose if you fail to reveal your child’s special needs to an agency and an AP complains?

The bottom line – in my opinion my child has the most to lose from a rematch. It’s important to me that she have consistent care for her well-being. I cannot afford to have an AP go into rematch because she felt that I had not prepared her sufficiently for The Camel (I have a back up, but it’s miserable which is why I shell out big bucks for great care for my special needs teenager).

I don’t think it’s worth it not to reveal your child’s condition to the agency and to AP candidates. Use your successful AP as a contact for candidates – her love for your child will shine through and may be helpful to potential APs in their decision to say yes.

Rebecca Butt-again! February 19, 2012 at 9:33 pm

I guess coming from working in medicine & social work for 20 years is my basis for revealing my son’s dx. To the general public when you say a child has autism, they usually are only able to muster an image of Rain Man. Those who have familiarity with autism know this is a spectrum ranging from mild delays to severe impairment. When an au pair has listed indicated she/he has experience with autism & describes exactly what that is I know she/he has some inkling about social stories, repetitive behaviors, picture schedules, transition meltdowns, stimming behaviors, etc. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel to train someone about autism-something I have no energy to do yearly.

My family profile states right on it my son’s dx AND his good/bad behaviors & strengths. Our current au pair was drawn to our situation because I promoted free training/education from experts in autism. He gets 16 hours of therapy a week plus specialized Kindergarten she can attend if she wants too. What an opportunity to not only host an au pair for the cultural exchange benefit but to make a contribution to the world my son lives in by educating a future professional on what life with an autistic child is truly like. We would not have had this opportunity if I had not listed his dx or “limited” myself to special needs candidates.

emilia saravia February 19, 2012 at 11:46 pm

im an au pair and I work with a kid with autism, Im really the happyest person on earth because I got the chance to work with him and his family, my host mom was straight and honest with me since the beggining, and I really appreciate that, that helped me be prepared for what was comming; of course the work is hard, its obviously harder than kids with no special needs, but I knew what I was getting into, so I took it completly conscient of wat I was choosing, and I dn´t regret it at all… Acctually Im going to extend with my family.

If she would have lied to me, I would rematch as soon as I found out the kid has special needs, even if I want to take care of kids with autism, why? because people who lie at the beggining, will keep lying the rest of the relationship..

And if YOU start the relationship lying, then you have no reason to be angry or mad if she ever lies to you… the best about my host mom and I is that we are honest with eachother, I strongly recommend you to be honest, the year will be better, I assure you that.

mama mamayek February 21, 2012 at 1:14 am

My son in SN and currently 16y/o. We have had au pairs since he was 1y/o and we still have au pairs as our afterschool care because it works… BUT honesty is the best policy! We state his needs (and his normally developing younger sister’s) right up front. We have had fabulous APs… and not so fabulous ones. But each and every one became a special friend, a best buddie, a companion and careprovider to my son fully knowing that he was special!

AnotherDCMom February 21, 2012 at 9:02 am

I agree with TACL that having the SN diagnosis up front weeds out a lot of non-serious candidates. It is required by State Department regs that any AP placed in a family with a child with SN MUST have special needs experience. I also lack the energy to re-educate APs about special needs each year. It is much easier to work with an AP who has some experience with SN people. You have a common basis to start the cooperative work.

Here’s what we do: I have a private blog for AP candidates that includes our HF handbook plus tons of info on the kids, including a tab all about the flavor of autism that my kid has. I also include a section where I have “notes from previous au pairs” where they talk about him and what life is like with this kid with ASD. (They also offer to talk with AP candidates.) I also have some short videos of him in daily action to show it’s not all “sitting in a corner and banging his head” (which a lot of people think when they hear “Autism”). I send a link to this blog to all candidates we are considering. If they are still interested after that, we move on to Skype, phone interviews, etc.

I’ve found that the candidates that make it past the blog are serious ones and have had good AP years with us. We’ve been hosting for 7 years (5 with the diagnosis). I’ve also found that registering with more than one agency will vastly improve the pool of candidates to choose from. Good luck!

Taking a Computer Lunch February 21, 2012 at 1:21 pm

I don’t think it is a State Department requirement that APs have special needs experience, but I do know it is a State Department requirement that families with kids who have special needs sign a form declaring that they have revealed to their AP that they have special needs child.

While I can see any application, APIA only lets me contact those who are “special needs willing.” It also blocks me from contacting candidates who are allergic to cats. Frankly, there are more than enough candidates for me, I haven’t felt like I’ve needed to cast my net wider.

It is my personal choice to select candidates who have had some special needs experience. My APs have varied widely, from Germans who have done ausbilddung that gave them practical experience with children with emotional and mental disorders, to a kindergarten teacher who had a high-functioning child with Downs syndrome, to a pediatric intensive care nurse. I don’t expect them to have experience in giving injections (so far I’m the only one who had to do that or even g-tube feedings), but it gives me piece of mind that they have had direct and prolonged contact with people who are not typical.

What is special needs may depend on the eyes of the beholder. I had one friend who lost an AP within days of arrival because she had not revealed that she had a child with epilepsy. The AP didn’t want to be responsible, called her LCC and demanded a rematch. My friend then had to categorize her child as having special needs.

APIA APs are told to reveal to their HF any medications they take regularly and why. I’m always like, “Whatever, but tell me if you have problems in getting the medicine while you are here.” I do want to know if my APs have food allergies. We have avoided corn and shellfish in different years because of food allergies. It was no big deal to us – we figured we could have those foods out and it was only one year.

My point is that if APs are supposed to reveal information to us, then, in my personal opinion, we should reveal it to them. I don’t think you should hide the information out of fear that you won’t match with an excellent AP. If I have found 7 excellent women to care for The Camel, then the right AP is out there for you, too.

massaupairmom February 21, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Apparently, it is entirely in the eyes of the beholder – specifically, the host family. I looked at the State Dept. regs. and it says an agency should not: “Place an au pair with a host family having a special needs child,
as so identified by the host family, unless the au pair has specifically identified his or her prior experience, skills, or
training in the care of special needs children and the host family has reviewed and acknowledged in writing the au pair’s
prior experience, skills, or training so identified.”

sweetheart March 8, 2012 at 12:27 am

I think you should specify what excactly your kid has so the au pair in advance know what she is gonna be dealing with. Pay attention to my story, when I first came to USA I have matched with a family of three children, they say the were regular kids that sometimes had fights over stuffs but not a big deal, everything sounded great so I matched woth them. When I first saw the kids they were actually ackward and not even nice at all, i thouhgt it was because they missed the previous AP, but days went by and the oldest one was so mean and aggressive and talked about nonsense stuffs, he hurt himself and his sibling and to make it shorter I did not feel safe with him around as he useally freaked me out with comments or acts. I talked about that with the host mom but she said that everything was fine and that I was doing it great… but one day I heard a conversation between my HM and he sister about “the thing” this kid has, I heard that he had been been diagnosted of schizoprenia months ago (before I matched with them) and they never told me …and he was not being medicated because the mother wasin denial…. I rematch because I was usually hurt and scared with no support at all… that is why it is important to have everything straight since the beginning

concerned au pair July 10, 2012 at 11:13 pm

hello. i am an au pair, and i take care of two kids. girl 2 boy 5. i love them both very much, and i have been with this family over a year now. i always thought that the boy was “diffrent” than other kids, but never really thought about it deeper. well, until recently. i love to read, especially about children, how they develop, what you can teach them etc. i also read a book about aspenger syndrome. while i read the book, i was shooked how much of the”syntoms” apply to my hostboy. like; socially not very good, has 1 to no friends, picky, everything has to be in order, noise is often to loud for him, very interested in one specific topic and he knows A LOT about it, very expanded vocabuary he talks like a grown up, very good in math. there were even more. i am not a doctor, and i am not saying he has aspenger syndrome, i am just thinking it could be. now, i am not sure if i should tell my hostparents about it. we have a great relationship. i am just wondering,what would you think if your au pair tells you something like that? i just think, IF he has it, we could all teach and care for him diffrently. also to make his life easier. i love this kid so much, i just want the best for him. any suggestions are much apreciated!

Taking a Computer Lunch July 11, 2012 at 7:07 am

A conversation will go better, if you start with “X is so bright, he talks well and understands math, but I can’t get him to play with the other children or accept change in his schedule as easily as Y. Is there something I should be doing to help him learn to do those things or to make his life easier?” Do it when X and Y are in bed!

That way, you throw the ball in their court, as parents to be the experts. They may suspect that X is different and not know what to do, but don’t offer them a diagnosis, just your observations. Even if they don’t act on what you tell them (and don’t hold it against them if they don’t – it’s very hard for parents to accept that their baby is not perfect – even when it’s obvious), they may change the way they write their guidelines so that the next AP understands X’s preference for a rigid schedule and order in the house.

If they reject the information you offer outright, then keep a log of times when X had difficulty, the behaviors he exhibited and what you did to settle him down. Ask for another time to have a quiet conversation and present them with the log and ask if they have had the same issues when they are caring for him.

concerned au pair July 11, 2012 at 7:57 am

but i mean it has nothing to to about not having a perfect child. he just thinks diffrent, and i just think that we do him wrong in a lot of things if he really has that. i might just tell them, that i read this book, and maybe they want to read it too. because, i did a lot they suggested in the book with him, and he reacts better if i do things other parents do with asperkids. i don’t think that we can consider this as real special needs, because, he gets along just fine if you know know how to deal with him. i know you probably say now, that this is a special needs etc, but i just figured out,that they here, very quick call kids: special needs kids.

LuvCheetos July 11, 2012 at 9:17 am

I would tread very carefully. I think it’s hard to understand unless you’re a parent, but it’s a very sensitive issue. I’d share your observations of him, but nothing more. I have a child who has been in OT and speech therapy, so I know it’s hard for parents — and I would guess you wouldn’t be telling them something they didn’t already know . Also, I will caution you against an amateur diagnosis. Many kids exhibit symptoms of various disorders. It does not mean they have them. That call can only be made by professionals and sometimes they disagree.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 11, 2012 at 10:39 am

I’ve got to agree with LuvCheetos here. Don’t give them the book or suggest it, just have a quiet conversation with them after the children go to bed, that puts them in a position to be the leaders in his care, as I suggested earlier. If you are able to put what you have learned in reading the book successfully into practice in way that lets the child move forward, fantastic. Parents of children who are “differently abled” love pro-active APs who take time to master their children’s needs and help them mature. It sounds like you are a great AP.

As a parent of a child whose special needs are severe and obvious, I will tell you each fresh diagnosis of further disability and medical fragility was like a sock in the gut – but it came from a trained professional. DH and I adjusted and moved forward with The Camel’s care and have been fortunate to have had fantastic and pro-active APs who have played a huge role in become the teenager she now is. If any of them have attempted to diagnose her, they kept it to themselves – they were great at pointing out changes that put DH and I on high alert – including meeting us both at the hospital and drs. offices for emergency appts.

concerned au pair July 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm

thank you for your answers. it really helped. i am glad i asked here first, before i did a stupid thing. i will talk to them and just let them know what i see how he behaves etc. i am very nervous about that… i hope i choose the right words…thank you again!

Should be working July 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Your idea wasn’t stupid. It was loving and thoughtful. I don’t know that I would suggest Asperger’s to them, but I was not as strongly against that idea as LuvCheetos and TaCL. Still, their ideas of how to discuss with the HPs are good ones.

We had one au pair we sent into rematch. But although she was not a good AP, she had one golden moment for which I will always be grateful: She asked me if I thought my sister (who had spent some time with all of us) might be a little autistic or Asperger-y.

This had never occurred to me. My sister has always been a know-it-all, difficult to talk to, too vehement, rigid, peculiar, very intelligent, very lonely, obsessed with certain topics she knows a lot about to the point of being annoying. But I didn’t ever think of autism/Asperger’s until then. And then it all made more sense. I have not said anything to my sister, but it makes it all a little easier to understand. Totally off-topic for this blog would be the question, “Would you tell your (adult, middle aged) sibling if you thought s/he were autistic/Asperger?”

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