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Why I Hired a Friend Instead of an Aide for My Special Needs Teenager

Hiring an aide for my daughter was a tough thing for me to wrap my brain around, even though it was necessary in order to receive certain county services she needed. You’d think it would be an easy decision. My daughter, Emily, had both a cognitive and physical disability and taking care of her took up most of my time. But she’s my daughter and my responsibility, I reasoned, and I knew how to do everything just right.

We went through a dozen aides in five years. I kept picking the wrong ones and expecting the wrong things. I thought I needed to hire someone to handle tasks like giving Emily a shower, doling out pills, preparing her meals, and conducting the physical therapy exercises my daughter needed to do every day. But those were all things I handled in a very precise manner. The thought of someone else doing those things sent shivers down my Type-A spine. Plus, Emily was never quite comfortable having someone else do those things with her.

When Emily was 18 and desperately needed another new aide, I interviewed a girl who was three months younger than my daughter.

During the interview, I explained that Emily loved arts and crafts and playing the Wii.

“Awesome! I love art,” my interviewee squealed.

I explained that Emily had some cognitive delays and memory problems, but also had a sense of humor that won’t quit. “She only has use of one hand and will need your hand to hold onto if you go for a walk,” I added. “And sometimes she has seizures.”

This young girl just looked me in the eyes and sincerely said, “It’s okay, I’ll help her.”

Finding Assistance for a Child with Special Needs

The deadline to hire an aide was approaching, so I ended up hiring her because, frankly, she seemed nice and I thought Emily would love her.

And I was right. Emily fell in love with her new BFF, as they were quick to call each other. The new aide treated my daughter like I imagine she treated any of her friends.

At first, I didn’t ask her to give Emily a shower or help her in the bathroom because she was so young and new to the job. I thought I would eventually ask her to help with the personal tasks. But I soon realized that Emily needed a friend like this more than I needed someone to help give her a shower.

I was learning to let go of my control, but I couldn’t help eavesdropping when the aide came by each day—and I heard genuine giggles from both girls every time.

Shortly into their friendship, the aide asked Emily if she felt like going out for some French fries. Emily smiled so wide I thought her cheeks were going to split. She glanced at me and I nodded my approval. The aide took Emily’s hand, helped her into her car, buckled Emily’s seat belt, and headed to the local McDonald’s. I sat in my living room and watched them drive off with a smile on my face that matched my daughter’s.

My teenager was doing something most other teenagers do. It’s not often I had that feeling.

Finding Support for Children with Special Needs

Like other teens, Emily finally had a friend come over on a regular basis. She had someone to talk to about her day at school while they drew pictures or played video games together. Emily also asked about her aide’s day, her brothers and sisters. She wondered if her aide felt tortured by math like Emily sometimes felt. They commiserated together. They also laughed, hugged, high-fived, and teased each other.

The girl I chose as my daughter’s aide was exactly the person my daughter needed in her life.

Within a few months, I realized I felt fine leaving the girls at home while I went to the grocery store. A week after that, I found myself asking the aide to come over so that my husband and I could go out on a date. Pretty soon, I started scheduling my outings, work meetings, and one-on-one time with my other child for when the aide was going to be at home with Emily.

For the first time in decades, I felt freedom.

My daughter’s aide was giving me a life I so desperately needed. And she was busy giving my daughter a life she so desperately needed.

Maybe someday down the road I would hire an aide to help Emily with her showers and help her with her physical therapy exercises, I thought. But at that moment, we were all happily enjoying my daughter’s new friendship.

Amy Daniels shares her experiences raising a daughter with disabilities and complex medical needs due to a brain tumor on her Facebook page as well as Twitter and Instagram. Her memoir, Reaching For Normal, is available now.

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