We’ve had some wonderfully honest, thoughtful and insightful conversations here on Au Pair Mom about how to manage relationship dynamics with Au Pairs who have emotional challenges or histories, and children who have cognitive or developmental ‘special needs’ — chronic cognitive or relational challenges that families need to support.
But we haven’t even talked about when a host parent– a person in charge of the whole family- finds him or herself diagnosed with a cognitive challenge.
It’s a delicate subject, so please be gentle as you read and (as per usual) assume the very best intentions.
Dear Au Pair Mom–
My husband was been diagnosed with Asperger’s a few years ago. We partly decided to try the aupair route because of issues and difficulties that are associated with his diagnosis. (For example, he gets stressed easily and finds looking after our daughter uncommonly difficult– despite his deep love for her and his connection with her.) At the same time, he is extremely considerate, helpful and reliable to a degree that he will fail to look after himself and his own needs – at all. I had hoped that having an Au Pair- another person in the house, close to our child, and dependable in a range of ways — would help my husband feel more relaxed about household demands and able to do ‘his own’ stuff.
The Host Parent application forms here (New Zealand) always specifically ask whether anyone in the house has physical or emotional disabilities, and truth be told, his diagnosis should probably fall under this question. So far, we haven’t been honest; we’ve always answered ‘no’. I’ve done this for the same reason as some au pairs omit information about their counseling history– I am afraid that our family would be disqualified, and at the same time I feel confident that my husband’s diagnosis is not unfair to an au pair or dangerous in any way.
That said, I feel bad about lying, since his diagnosis (and understanding it) is such an integral part of who he is/ we are.
Friends and even family always say that if they had just met him, they’d think he was geeky and maybe a bit odd; I think someone slightly more empathic would pick up on something being not ‘quite right.
A little more detail:
My husband is at the ‘high-functioning’ end of the spectrum, highly intelligent, focussed, excellent at his job (in science), not interested in many other things outside work, very black-and-white, quickly stressed, doesn’t like crowds and noisy places, needs a lot of his own space and time (which, as mentioned, he doesn’t always seek on his own accord) and likes to keep busy/ active and can’t sit still for very long…
We are still learning to live with it, and might be getting better at it but there are still issues (and disagreements) around communication and interpretation. Some of our arrangements and ways to conduct our relationship might seem odd to the outside and when measured by the conventional relationship yardstick.
When we were looking for an aupair, we increasingly (we weren’t so clued on the first time round) tried to emphasise in our profile that we lead a very quiet, home-based life. Although we do love the outdoors and to be active, we we spend a lot of our time doing separate things often while we’re both at home, etc. We need an aupair who has a natural desire to spend time by themselves (or with people their own age)… so that they don’t depend on us completely for emotional support, and so they give us a little space.
However, not being straight about the Asperger’s has made writing our application/ presenting ourselves difficult to a certain degree.
Describing my husband as ‘geeky’ doesn’t explain our relationship or the family patterns of interaction that we have developed to accommodate his challenges.
Being diagnosed so late in his life (at almost 40) meant that he developed a lot of coping mechanisms (emulating mainly, what he perceived / perceives as ‘normal’ or expected behaviour), that coupled with what I call the (British) English small-talk gene (I am originally from a less chatty European country) means most people who know him would never suspect him as non-neurotypical (and we usually don’t talk about it).
However– this is his ‘public’ persona — Someone living in the house, someone who is somewhat empathic, would notice that there is more behind it. When he was diagnosed, I wasn’t surprised, but of course I’d never said to him “I think you might be ‘on the spectrum’ of autism.”
My actual questions:
How is this handled in the US (same question about ‘disabilities’ on application forms?)?
How would you / do you answer such a question?
Would being completely upfront help us find a more perfect match? Or would this scare off agencies and candidates?
Is anyone in a similar situation (broadly: special needs / non neurotypical parent)?
This is an issue I’ve found difficult to address. I’d like all of you on AuPairMom to know is that I am extremely grateful to you, and all the great contributions you’ve made from your experiences.
I’ve learned a lot (or so I hope) and you’ve helped a lot through the long months with two more or less unsuccessful aupairs over the last year. Reading people’s posts and comments here have made me laugh and cry (both, with/ about others and my own), helped me put difficult things in perspective, and especially helped me see how our family – au pair dynamics could be better — which is why we are giving it another shot with our 3rd aupair arriving in 2 weeks.
I appreciate your advice, and I hope that you’ll have some thoughts to share with me.
Very many thanks, NZHostMom