When Kai, a 2-year-old with tuberous sclerosis, began to show rapid developmental progress, his parents took notice. Anthony and Claudia Smith (not their real names) were pleasantly surprised the first time they saw Kai successfully place his wooden shapes in the corresponding slot, a skill he had difficulty with only a month before his Early Childhood Intervention assessment. Kai also began to follow commands (in English and German) and to communicate verbally and with sign language. The Smiths knew that Kai’s impressive progress was a result of the professional au pair who had recently come into their lives.
Gitte Shulz (not her real name) is the fourth live-in au pair the family has had, but the first professional au pair. As a professional au pair, Gitte is trained in occupational therapy and has the skills and knowledge to reinforce the therapy Kai needs on a consistent basis.
Tuberous sclerosis can manifest in many different ways depending on the individual. For Kai, tuberous sclerosis means benign tumors on the heart and brain. The brain tumors interfere with development and lead to various delays.
“We have three different therapists that come to the house,” Claudia explains. “She is there for all of those sessions and observes what the therapists do with him. Then she works on all these problems and solutions. Ever since she has been here to do that, he has excelled, things happen so much faster and on a much broader spectrum.”
Claudia hails from Germany and has a history as an au pair herself, so it was always important to her to use au pairs to provide a multicultural and bilingual upbringing for her children. Once the Smiths realized that their son had special needs, they began to search for more substantial child-care options. With one Google search they found proaupair.com and Gitte’s profile.
“We started Skyping and it was love at first sight,” Claudia says.
Founder Susan Asay’s belief that “every family and every child, special needs or not, deserves highly qualified child care,” led to her creation of ProAuPair. The agency sponsors young people from abroad to work legally in the United States as child-care providers. ProAuPair focuses on recruiting au pairs with a background in nursing, therapy, special needs education or teaching.
For 22-year-old Gitte, the au pair program provides an opportunity to connect her therapy career with the experience of a new country and a new culture.
In addition to consistent care catered to Kai’s special needs, Gitte is able to provide creative activities that promote the learning of big sister Sophia, age 4. Claudia says, “The really cool thing about Gitte is that she’s so creative. Sophia gets her to do arts and crafts that promote her learning as well. Just to have that, all packaged up … I can’t stop talking about it!”
To make the program accessible for as many families as possible, ProAuPair charges host families an average of about $440 a week. For the Smiths, this is a small price to pay for their peace of mind.
“It’s a very assuring feeling when you can go and come back and hear, ‘Hey, your son now speaks 10 more words!’”
Gitte is actively aiding the Smiths in the search for their next professional au pair, since she will return to Germany in October following her one-year stint. The family is hopeful that Kai will be talking by then.
Gitte says, “My dream is that he will say, ‘Bye bye Gitte. I will miss you.’”