Susan's Blog

Friday, July 20, 2012

Autism Mommy Swami #14: Hiring a Tutor

Dear Swami:

My son’s mother and I do not think he’s getting much out of his summer camp, which is supposedly tailored towards special needs children, it’s not worth the three grand for ten weeks.

What we’re thinking about for next summer is potentially hiring a one on one aide to watch him in one of our houses for 6-8 hours a day. We have no clue what the going rate is, or even how to go about doing this.

I’m guessing you have some experience in hiring aides, any advice or tips on where to go?
-Guy Rude


Dear Guy,

First of all, yes, I have advice. The Swami wrote an article about this in 1999 for Exceptional Parent Magazine.

You have asked for my advice, not my opinion. But I do have an opinion, but rather than express it outright and tell you what to do, I will ask you pointed questions so that you may decide for yourself.  What do you imagine your little guy will do with those long 6-8 hour days at home(s)? If you believe that his days will be more fulfilling at home, then pursue this idea. No matter what it costs, if a camp is mediocre, it is not worth it. And yet, is it feasible and worthwhile for Little Guy to be with only one person of uncertain training every day for ten weeks? Even if you were to plan a curriculum of 20-minute tasks and assignments and outings, 6-8 hours is a long day for both of them. There may likely be long moments of not much going on.

There are, however, midpoints that are not as risky as one or the other.  Perhaps you can send him to camp with the aide you hire, for the purposes of having the aide act as a liaison who can adapt the camp curriculum.  It seems to me that if you can show that Little Guy is not getting much out of the special needs camp, your school system should be getting involved. He should have an Extended School Year, and sometimes that can come in the form of an aide in a camp. From what I know of Little Guy, he should be getting ESY to prevent regression. If he is already getting this, then you must have your team reevaluate the program’s efficacy, and perhaps have them add an aide or find a different program.

Another midpoint is to have him do a half day of the camp (perhaps getting the tuition prorated for a half day, citing ADA accommodation as the reason; tell them Little Guy can’t attend a whole day due to his extensive needs). This way he gets his socialization/communication/community/physical goals met in the camp and then the other half of the day the aide can work on one-to-one communication/academics/pragmatics/community/computer/you name it.

For many years, long ago, the Swami hired tutors for Nat’s after school and vacation times, the purpose of which was to keep him engaged as much as possible. Our feeling was that if someone were always “in his face,” making sure he always responded in some way, it would keep him in the habit of attending to others. So the first thing we did was hire the person, after coming up with a job description: (hours desired, pay rate, qualities of employee — humor, flexibility, ability to think on her/his feet, dependability, punctuality.)

How did we find the person? 1) We advertised at all nearby colleges and also let teachers know that we were offering an opportunity for extra cash. 2) I simply asked aides and tutors what they expected to earn. 3) I called all references. 4) I set up times for the person to come and interact with Nat so that I could see if I liked her/his style and the relationship with Nat. 5) If I hired her/him the first sessions would take place with me in the room or nearby. 6) I would develop a curriculum: I set up a notebook divided into separate goal areas. In each section would be suggestions of how to meet those goals. For example, in academics the suggestions would be: trace alphabet letters in coffee grounds (sensory satisfaction); fill in the blanks of sentences; do Spell-A-Puzzle to practice reading… 7) I would provide space in the notebook for the tutor’s notes on activities and progress, what worked and what did not.

I would try to keep my expectations low at first because you really don’t know how Little Guy will take to this format nor do you know how the aide will turn out. Do not be afraid to model correct interactions for her/him and do not be afraid to fire them. If you have any kind of bad feeling, don’t hire them.  Many people can be worked with to give them better teaching approaches but no one can be taught compassion.

Good luck, my friend.



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