'You Can't Just Find A Babysitter' - Schooling A Special Needs Child Amid The Pandemic

Sep 11, 2020

Like many Maine parents, Amanda Hutter was left without a safety net when schools closed and switched to remote learning this spring. Her son is autistic and has behavioral challenges. Without access to special needs child care, Hutter was forced to leave her job in order to support him.

Credit Rebecca Conley / Maine Public

As part of our Deep Dive: Coronavirus project, Hutter talks about some of the hard decisions her family has had to make as the new school year begins.

Isaac Hutter on his first day of school.
Credit Courtesy Amanda Hutter

I loved my job. I put everything into my job. I've been there for almost four years. So it was quite a change going from, you know, an eight-to-five office job where, you know, dropping off my kiddo before work, my husband's picking him up after work, I'm coming home to make dinner, to being home all the time meeting and participating in all of his therapies.

People don't understand like when you have a son that has special needs that include behaviors that are aggressive and unsafe and stuff, you can't just find a babysitter.

One of the people at my employer's said, "Can't you find a neighbor to watch your son?" And I'm like, "No, I can't." It's really not that easy. I actually wound up emailing and calling over 160 people. They all came back and said no, it's a safety concern and they don't have the staffing. The private nannies - they're three-quarters of my salary. I would interview them, they'd come and meet my son and then tell me they're not interested. It was a lot to go through.

And my husband and I, we earned about the same amount of money. We built our life based upon our income. We had a little bit of a cushion in case something happened. But that something we didn't expect to be more than six months.

So I actually was going to go back to my employer, and we found out a few things about the program that we had arranged for my son.

We were able to rearrange his private therapy schedule, so we had to either cancel that to send him to school. Now, we found out that his school is waitlisted for providers, so he wouldn't be getting that therapy via CDS either. So, and then, in addition, we didn't have transportation for two out of the five days.

So I was trying to like call my family and be like, "Can you bring my kids to school on Thursday? Can you pick them up on Monday?" Can you do this? Can you do that? And it's so many different people that were involved, my husband and I were under incredible stress because I wanted to go back to work - the schedule sounded great. And so I called in, turned down the job offer. And so right now I'm home, and home indefinitely until maybe next school year.

It's just hard because I wanted to be able to go back to work. I felt financially pressured to be able to go to work. But being able to be a part of my son's care has been such, like, a gift.

Even going back to school - I mean, like I said, they're going back to school with masks, they have to leave their backpacks outside to be sanitized there. They can't see their teachers' faces. He's coming home and he's anxious. He's having meltdowns. He's having tantrums again, and that'll get better as the school year goes on. You know, he's coming home and saying positives too. But he said to me this morning when I dropped him off, he goes, "Mom, I really hope you go and get a coffee, and then I'll see you at pickup." So it's just like, it's so sweet. He's like, he cares about me, but he also knows that I'm going to be there for him.

What would be really nice is for some sort of program to be developed where there's extended hours offered at an affordable rate, something that was more supportive of us parents that do want to work and are fully qualified to do so. But we can't because there's nobody to fill those day care gaps or child care gaps.

This piece was produced by Willis Ryder Arnold, with reporting from Robbie Feinberg. You can find it, and all of our Deep Dive: Coronavirus coverage of school re-opening here.