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In the afternoons, I have been leaving my online work for a second job. This supplemental employment is a change from typing up documents at a keyboard, and that’s what I needed after fourteen years. In this job, I drive a half-hour into town. I wear a small apron around my waist, with pockets that hold small toys, containers of crackers and sweets, and my phone, which comes in handy in this line of work. After an active several hours of leading a small person about by the hand, I go home with snatches of nursery songs in my head and put off the required quarter-hour of note-taking until late in the evening. Now and then I think, “I’m sure glad it worked out this way.”
It started a year ago; the need to earn a few hundred bucks extra per month and get away from the glowing screen for a few hours a day. It just did not seem healthy to spend my life in a chair, straining my eyes mercilessly, reading and writing, and fighting distraction. Substitute teaching, which had been the attempted supplement for the past decade, was just not cutting it. While often satisfying, including riffs of real teaching and enjoyable relationships with colleagues, substituting not only did not pay enough for the required outpouring of energy and time; it also sapped the resources I needed for my online job. It was time to look for a regular source of income, but I couldn’t see myself at a grocery store or working retail. I answered ads for tutors of young kids; these seemed hopeful, and then fizzled to nothing after promising phone interviews and even a meeting with a family. My photographer sister sympathized, all too familiar with the phenomenon. It’s called “ghosting.”
Finally, from my job hunt website, I came across an unusual entry. Drive to clients’ homes and work with kids who have autism, it said. Requirements were a car, driver’s license, and a high school diploma. The pay was 12.50 per hour. The item was a little dry, a little bald, and frankly mysterious. But it was unique, and I qualified. Would I like it? I wasn’t sure.
But I remembered a friend in San Diego who had set up early intervention for her son with autism, who when he was three had a therapist come to the house. He would emerge from the room after his session with a focused expression, moving slowly as if he had been concentrating fiercely and hadn’t yet shaken it off. He would be asked an ordinary question and he would ponderously and deliberately answer, choosing his phrasing while eyes stared ahead in his mental effort to access the right response. I was impressed. The therapy sessions were taking hold, creating new channels for his thinking and actions. And more recently, I’d worked informally with a friend’s son who wasn’t talking, using a variety of tactics, including songs that he loved, to entice him to demonstrate the speech I was sure he was capable of.
Perhaps, though, the ad was talking about older kids. That’s who came to mind every time the position came to life in my head: me navigating the roundabout near the high school (my mental image conjured a clunker of a sedan instead of my own car), me in a home looking up at a lanky client a foot and a half taller than myself. I imagined pulling from my own resources to do the work. And I wondered if I should go for something that paid more. But I had already used up several weeks looking for a job, feeling the opportunity cost of responding to an ad, preparing and sending the required materials, getting hopes up, visualizing the job as part of my routine, and then having it all come to naught. I decided to submit my application.Published in