Jenna came to us as an occasional babysitter when the kids were very young. Back then she was a vivacious and quirky 14 year old, full of spirited energy and often showing up with her best friend with some off the wall on what they could do with the kids for the night. Those early times were quite the adventure as it wouldn’t be abnormal to come home to an arts and crafts hub, mani/pedi spa, bathroom explosion, mud party, dress up dance party and more. Jenna won our kids over with a sparkle in her eye and a smile that is absolutely stunning. She was amazing with T & N and we really felt comfortable having her sit for us.
So comfortable that when the situation arose the next year that we would have to look into full time care at home for the summer before the kids transitioned to a new daycare (& Jenna was looking for a job) it became a natural fit to hire her as their “nanny”. We had just left a daycare where T was having an absolutely horrible time (see The Importance of Routine and Sensitivity of Sound for children with Autism) . He was undiagnosed at the time and was constantly getting in trouble with the centre for either biting or striking out at kids.
Hindsight being 20/20, the incidents were always happening around the time that free play would occur (when children were given no direction) and when they opened up the room from 20 to 40 kids. T often shows signs of sensory sensitivity and that much noise just became something he couldn’t handle and no routine absolutely threw him into a free fall.
If only we knew that when Jenna took on the job to keep the kids entertained and busy throughout the summer. We went to Scholars Choice. We got lots of crafts. We came up with adventure ideas that Jenna could do. We DIDN’T have a clue that T was Autistic. We just thought he was going through a phase. (I still remember one particular day, T kicked her and had a total meltdown- Jenna’s dad (now close family friends) let me know she was done. She wanted to quit. I was devastated. Fortunately, her dad is a pretty excellent voice of reason and managed to convince her to stick it out.
THANK GOD. The summer ended up being a helluva lot of fun. As I was just starting my business and was flexible in hours, we ended up on a number of adventures hitting up the Zoo, African Lion Safari, Canada’s Wonderland and more. It was a blast and Jenna added such a great dimension to every trip.
The following February we went for a developmental assessment and received the diagnosis of ASD. Jenna got busier as we reached out to her to help cover for the parenting classes we went to at Geneva Centre, the support group meetings we attended, the support group we created, the school meetings and date night. A weekly/bi-weekly effort that became constant in our lives to help maintain our relationship while navigating this new one.
Throughout these years, Jenna has never changed in the way she played and dealt with the kids. She is our steady, consistent support that bar none helped T (& N) stay relaxed at home and gave us the chance to get out and take a deep breath when we needed it. This past year, Jenna decided to do her co-op in an Autism class for her final year of school and she got to know more children with Autism, their particular pieces of the “puzzle” and the wonderful ways so many of these kids use to show they care.
Jenna is now 18 years old, a little quieter, an awful lot more mature and still has that sparkly smile. She is leaving this week for college to take Special Education as her major. Something she shared was inspired in part by being with T all these years. She has gone from babysitter to child-sitter (N cannot STAND Jenna being called a babysitter anymore) to an incredible friend. We’ve had a chance to enjoy an outstanding dance show together and even went skydiving this past June with her mom and another dear friend. We are so sad to see her go but beyond excited for the next chapter in her life.
We will miss you Jenn…Xo