Autism funding – not a game for the faint-hearted

12 Apr

When George was first diagnosed with autism, I remember being overwhelmed by many things.  The overload of information, the attempts to separate the good information from the inaccurate yet guilt-inducing nonsense, the diagnosis itself, the fact that in an instant, all of my preconceptions of what my family’s life would be like were shattered, the confusing labyrinth of autism funding.

Somehow I navigated my way through the confusion and the funding.  It’s so easy to say that in one sentence, but the acquisition of funding was a long and painful process, one that was so complex that thinking about it made my head hurt.  Trying to figure out how the funding worked was like trying to memorize pi to 59 decimal places while simultaneously doing long division in my head.  In the end, once I had been told that I qualified to apply for funding (see?  You have to qualify just to apply), I took the application forms and all of my information to the good folks at Respite Services.  The Respite Services guy, with endless patience, helped me fill out the forms.  He wrote down lists of what supporting documentation I would need to send with which forms, where to send them to, in what sequence to send them, and what I would be able to actually use the funding for.  If it hadn’t been for the Respite Services guy, I would still be wandering around in the metaphorical maze looking like a lost fart.

If I’m to be completely honest, I still don’t really have my head wrapped around the funding.  Some of the funding is used for things like educational materials, specialized equipment or support aids, parking costs for medical appointments, anything that I have to actually purchase as a result of George’s autism.  Other funding is used to pay respite workers to come to my house and work with George.  Some funding is deposited into my account on predetermined days, other funding is reimbursed when I submit invoices.  I couldn’t tell you, though, which agency provides what funding or what all the acronyms stand for.

Anyway, I recognize that I am extremely lucky to have any funding at all.  Once our funding was first approved a couple of years ago, we hired a respite worker.  George had actually known her for some time – she used to work at his daycare and kind of transitioned into babysitting for us occasionally.  When the funding came through, she agreed to come to our place every Sunday morning to work with George.  She would play with him, give him some lunch, talk to him – all geared in a way to develop his speech and social skills.

This arrangement worked very well for a couple of years, during which this wonderful lady became a friend to our family as well as a respite worker.  Sadly, she became ill a few months ago and had to step back from respite work in order to focus on her health.  It was a blow to our family, but we completely understood.  We still keep in touch with her, and she has visited us a couple of times to say hello and see the boys.

We did have to get a new respite worker, though.  I had never actively recruited for one – our previous worker kind of came to us through circumstance.  So when the need arose, I called up my friends at Respite Services and told them I needed a worker.  They asked me a bunch of questions.  On what days would I need a worker?  What goals would they be helping George to achieve?  How energetic was George and what kind of things did he like?  Was he allergic to any foods?  Did we care whether the worker was a man or a woman, what age they were, or whether they spoke with an accent?  Some obvious questions, some fairly obscure ones.  In the end, we came up with a profile, and the Respite Services people sent out a notification to the workers they had on file.

Two weeks later, I got sent an email with four matches.  I read through the resumes, and immediately eliminated one because the worker had indicated a preference for working with adults over children.  I contacted the other three and last week, I met Catherine.  You know when you like someone instantly, the moment you first meet them?  That was Catherine.  She was cheerful and outgoing, and both of the boys liked her on sight – and they are pretty good judges of character.  We spoke with her at length, and agreed on regular days and times for her to work with George.  And she will be starting with us on Wednesday, when George gets home from the therapy centre.

We are looking forward to this new chapter in George’s life.  We are looking forward to seeing him interact with a new person, and we are excited about seeing the ideas that Catherine might come to the table with.

The jury will be out for a while, until we as a family have gotten to know Catherine better (and she us – we may be really groovy people, but she could turn out to not like us!), but we are hopeful.  And in the life of an autism family, hope is essential.

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