By Christine Marchant

We’ve all been there. 

You accept the position of the child development facilitator (CDF). I came from the background of running my own day home for 20 years and over 10 years as a nanny and as a daycare worker. You’d think this was the best experience to prepare me for the job position. No. All the other jobs were easy. I was able to hand pick the families or children I would work with. This job position? I never knew what I was going to encounter. 

I’ll share with you some of the tricks I learned over the last 9 years as a CDF. I will say “him” as the gender to make life easy. The word “child“ will refer to all the ages of the people I’ve worked with. I’ve worked with “regular“ kids to anyone with any diagnosis. I tend to not define my clients by their diagnosis—so I don’t respond to them in the way too many people tend to do. 

SO many times I’ve been told—

  1. “Little Bobby has autism—you can not talk to him like the other children.”
  2. “He doesn’t understand what you are saying- you must talk slowly- after every sentence- stop talking and give him 30-60 seconds to process what you said”
  3. “Never change the routine or the order of the words because he can’t understand what you mean and it will stress him out.”
  4. “Autistic children can become violent if they don’t get what they want!“
  5. “Don’t make jokes!!! Little Bobby thinks you’re serious!”

I can’t tell you how many times I have been given a “dressing down” by therapists, teachers, or a co-worker. Maybe it’s all true. Maybe I don’t know anything. I’m not telling anyone what to do and what to say to the people in your job position. (Note that I didn’t put any diagnosis in front of the word people). I’m only going to share my experience with this job position. 

I actually don’t read the IPP or anything about the child I am working with ahead of time. I spend a minimum of two weeks of observation and gentle interaction with the child. After I see for myself the child in his environment, I read the IPP and the notes. I don’t recommend you do this—I do it because I have been working with children since I was a teenager. After graduating grade 12, I immediately went into the childcare center and became a daycare worker. Then a nanny and then a private day home provider. You do your own way of preparing for the job position.

I’ll now explain to you why I don’t believe these 5 suggestions on dealing with little Bobby. I’ll then share how I responded to the child in each example.

“Little Bobby has autism—you can not talk to him like the other children.”

A child with any diagnosis is a child first. Any person with any diagnosis is a person first. Respond to everyone as a person first—then their diagnosis.

“He doesn’t understand what you are saying—you must talk slowly. After every sentence, stop talking and give him 30-60 seconds to process what you said.”

I have seen adults do this to the child. They are so convinced that they are doing the right thing that they start to think inside of themselves and don’t actually look or listen to the child. I am standing there watching the actual facial expressions and the child is just as confused as I am. An example of this—I was working with another CDF from another company in the classroom. This aide was very intense and believed she was very good at her job. She would constantly take me to the side of the room and lecture me on how I am supposed to respond to little Bobby. I was treating him like the other children and I was messing him up! I began to avoid the whole situation. But!!! The child wouldn’t leave me alone!! One time, I was “doing my own thing “ with my child and I heard a little voice say, “Can I play with you guys?” Without lookaying, I said “Sure you can play. Pop in the chair and put your car on the road.” And then I realized it was little Bobby!! The aide charged over to my activity—in front of the child and his classmates and lectured me on how I just made a huge mistake in responding to him like that. The child put the toys down and walked away with the aide. She told him what to do and what to say etc…VERY slowly!! I believe in responding naturally to the child, if they think you think they are capable of handling it, they are actually able handle it.

“Never change the routine or the order of the words because he can’t understand what you mean and it will stress him out.”

This mistaken myth is how the child gets stuck in that loop. The adult is so eager to “not upset” the child that they buy into the idea that he can not handle any changes to his routine or environment. When the adults do this, they are actually setting the child up to think change is NOT okay! When the adults acknowledge that the child cannot change the routine or anything in their environment and they respond to the child with respect, kindness, gentleness, and compassion….. they show the child that it’s okay and that it’s okay to feel like that. 

“Autistic children can become violent if they don’t get what they want!“

This is another myth. Children do not become violent if they don’t get their own way. Children become stressed out or very agitated when they feel like their environment is not in their control. It’s not the getting what they want that is the issue. It’s the way they are expressing their stress and fear. The violence is because they aren’t taught that they have other ways to respond. As a baby, flinging themselves around and having a temper tantrum was the only way they had to communicate with their environment. As adults, we must teach the child that it’s okay to be disappointed or upset and then give them the skills on how to appropriately express themselves. If a child becomes violent, don’t respond immediately. Stop, watch, listen, and respond to his feelings—not his words or actions. 

“Don’t make jokes!!! Little Bobby thinks you’re serious!”

This one REALLY gets me upset!! Life isn’t that serious! If you respond naturally, you will teach the child that it’s okay to be silly! Make silly jokes! Put the cow on your head and OINK like a pig and hop like a bunny!! Use simple toddler humour to start. If the child becomes upset or confused, stop, assure him it’s okay! This is called “being funny”! Then make a point to be funny twice a session.

These are only the first 5 things I learned while being a CDF. This is a job that takes a lot of flexibility while staying consistent. There’s no one way to respond to each child in each situation. You need to be able to recognize that by the time you arrive in that house or classroom, the entire environment is in crisis mode. The adults are stressed out and not open to new information and new people telling them what to do. 

That’s why, instead of reading about the case before I arrive, I try my best to stay out of the way and see what is going on. I allow the adults to get use to my presence. I say nothing about anything. I see how they are coping, and I listen to the adults talking about their stresses and their troubles and their ideas. I stay quiet and I learn how the children behave and how the adults behave. I listen to the therapists, the parents, the teachers, and the assistants, etc. I then read the IPP and look at the whole thing as a whole situation and start asking the adults for their input into the situation. I follow their suggestions. I gently show them the successes and the failures. I then slowly start inserting my way of doing things. I don’t tell the adults what I’m doing or why. I just model it. When I sense they are opening up to be accepting the new information and new ways of doing things, I start explaining as I’m doing. I don’t tell before I do it. I tell as I’m doing it so the adults can see it and hear it and then they can see the results. Once the adults are trusting my skills, I start giving them the responsibility for the decisions of what we do. Then I invite them to model what they have learned and, finally, at the end of the contract, I’m stepping back and allowing the adults to take over. It’s a formula I created years ago. Once I caught on that there’s a formula for success, I wrote it out and started to actually follow it. Now? Every time I enter a new job situation, regardless of if it’s in a school or a home, I follow the formula. It hasn’t failed yet, even though sometimes I don’t get past the first step. But at least I’m consistent and I know that eventually it will be easier.