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Nov 2 2010

Special Needs Babysitting

By at 10:53 am

Catalina Lopez, 17, gives some free time to Jennifer Choi, 39, by baby-sitting for her sons, Logan, 6, left, who has an attention disorder, and Spencer, 3, who has a developmental disorder. Michael Nagle for The New York Times

It’s always nice on my commute to work–when I usually want to scream out, “For the love of God, move all the way into the subway and stop shoving,”–to have a moment when I’m actually warmed by humanity.

That moment came this morning when I read about a family in Queens coping with two young children with learning disabilities. Caught in the middle of not poor enough to qualify for free childcare by a trained professional and not wealthy enough to actually pay for it, Jennifer Choi relied on  a 17-year-old who lived in her building.

But the teenager didn’t understand why the 3-year-old  started “jumping, over and over, on the toy kitchen” or walking around in self-soothing circles. Ms. Choi, exhausted and overwhelmed herself, was convinced that her babysitter would quit. But the two of them found out about a six-week training class at the JCC in Manhattan for young people who want to care for children with autism and other developmental disorders.

So, the babysitter, Catalina, traveled an hour each way to attend the special needs babysitting class.

Catalina finally understood why, when Spencer behaved wildly, his mother hugged her son to calm him down, rather than disciplining him. She learned to use the simplest possible language, or pictures, to plan out the day’s events. She began to address Spencer and Logan at eye level, on her knees. She grew confident redirecting the boys’ energy when they felt out of control.

Now, that’s a happy story. And some darn good PR work by the folks at JCC.

For more info about the class, go here.


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